Youth Sunday Reflection by Clara Ramirez

Clara RamirezYOUTH SUNDAY REFLECTION
Sunday, June 7, 2015
Clara Ramirez

Good morning everyone. I want to start off by talking about my experience at graduation from Los Altos High School. It was really interesting to watch graduation for three years prior to my own when I played in the graduation band every year. I thought about what it would be like when I was one day up there in the stands waiting to graduate. It was pretty much the same as being in my performance band except from a different angle. There was so much expectant energy from the audience and also from the people sitting around me. Yesterday I felt proud and accomplished. I was very satisfied with the work I have done in high school.

I am not very good at remembering exact ages for my memories at First Baptist Church, but I remember many little snippets of happiness during my years here. For me, a big part of coming to church is about enjoying the company of others.

I remember Jamie and David Shi from Sunday school. I was probably about 6 or 7 when they were with us. I remember appreciating the things they had to say, even at my young age. I felt comfortable in their presence. We all learned from the “crazy lady”, I’m sorry I don’t remember her name. She taught us great music and even invited us to summer camp at Cantabile music camp in Los Altos. Maybe this is where I started to have a love of classical music and performing. A love I continue to have to this day.

I remember Daniel Ha when he was he was really little. He was very energetic and talkative. I think when we are Sunday school now he has some really good ideas… when he feels like sharing. He really contributes to the conversations and makes me think. The conversations that we have in Sunday school stay with me for longer than just the hour that we are together. This is a valuable, positive part of my time at church.

One particular Sunday I remember is when we were asked to write, “God is here” on a rock. I didn’t want to do it so I didn’t. I think I felt that I didn’t want to write “God is here” in letters because for me a rock just by itself is enough to feel the presence of something. Looking at any rock made me feel like “nature” is here, not “god”. I have a very deep connection with the earth and nature so I didn’t feel like the letters saying “god” were necessary.

I want to show you this rock. We have this special rock that sits in our living room, a rock we got from Lake Tahoe. When I touch it, it’s cold and makes me think of the fresh air and open skies, pine trees and snow melted water. Having this rock makes me think of the possibility that there could be more than one word to say what most people would use the word “God” to represent. That word is nature. I used to feel that the wind was a spirit, breathing into you, making you feel refreshed. That to me was a type of natural experience that could be equated with what some say is the spirit of god.

I feel comfortable saying to you that I do not use the word “God” because I trust you all. Having grown up in this church gives me the confidence to freely express my opinions.

Being comfortable in the presence of others is important to me because I know I can be who I am and be accepted. I have always felt accepted here with this church family. Thank you for that.

I wonder if my experience will be different now as I am getting older. Will I learn new things? Will I get closer to the other adults in the church? What are the adult’s visions of church? How do they do church? Do you just listen to Rick all morning? Will I be able to use the word God more easily in my future? Maybe God already knows about my word choice and doesn’t care.

Thank you to the church for always bringing me happy snippets of good memories and for making me think. I am excited for the experiences that are to come.

See how they love one another!

Doug Davidson with ChildrenWhen I was a member of Central Baptist Church of Wayne, Pennsylvania, we went through an interim period of about a year and a half in the mid‐1990s when the church was between pastors. During the previous decade, our church was led by a visionary pastor who provided strong direction. After he left, the church was very intentional about going through a slow and careful discernment process about its own ministry priorities. What parts of the congregation’s identity and activities were primarily the previous pastor’s vision, and what parts truly belonged to the congregation? I thought this discernment
regarding the congregation’s mission was essential. The church needed to be clear about who it was; then it could open itself to the leadership of a new pastor whose vision would compliment the congregation’s sense of its calling.

I was reminded a bit of this experience during the past month, as I have had different opportunities to see our congregation in action during Pastor Rick’s sabbatical month. Although Rick’s absence during the month of January certainly isn’t the same as an interim pastorate, the change in my responsibilities during these weeks has invited me into aspects of this congregation’s activity that I don’t experience as much in my usual role. I’ve enjoyed participating in Tuesday morning Bible studies, planning and  leading worship, preparing the Midweek Message, and other tasks that aren’t normally on my plate. But
what I have appreciated most has been gaining a more intimate perspective on the way members of our congregation care for one another.

The members of our church’s Congregational Care Task Team play a primary role in coordinating our church’s effort to minister to one another. I appreciated having the opportunity to sit in on that team’s brainstorming session about how we can minister more effectively to the seniors in our congregation, and then to be in the council meeting as the team reported back. But it’s not just the members of that team. I am touched by how you pray for one another, visit those who can’t be with us on Sundays, check in on one another with phone calls and emails, provide rides to make sure people who don’t drive can get to worship, and so much more. I have long appreciated the strong sense of mission outreach that  characterizes this small congregation.

But in the last month, I have gained a renewed appreciation for all the ways the members of this congregation care for one another. The early church historian Tertullian, writing near the end of the second century, reported that what observers found most striking about the early church was the way people cared for each other. He reported that the Romans used to marvel at the Christians and exclaim, “See how they love one another!” I’ve thought the same thing several times this month as I have sat with different members of our congregation. I’m moved by the ways you seek to care for one another. If you listen to my conversations with the kids on Sunday mornings, you probably already know that I think this is pretty close to the heart of the gospel.

“What’s most important?” they asked Jesus.

“Two things,” he responded. “Love God, and love others.” May we continue to grow in our ability to live more fully into that invitation.

Doug Davidson
Minister with Children, Youth, and Families

An Embodied Advent

Doug DavidsonIn Advent we anticipate the coming of Christ, the Word made flesh. We celebrate that Jesus was born into the muck and ugliness of our fractured world. We remember that, in Jesus, God has walked among us, experiencing the joys and agonies of being human, in all its hungers and passions and struggles. We worship a God who became incarnate, who became more fully known to us in the life of a particular human living in Palestine 2,000 years ago.

What’s the significance of the incarnation, this peculiar Christian idea that God came to us in human form? More particularly, how does this understanding of an “embodied” God shape our understanding both of who God is and of what it means to be human?

This past Sunday, the youth and I were looking at statistics on the website of the American Baptist Churches USA that reminded us that 14 million children live in poverty in the United States and Puerto Rico. We sometimes romanticize the fact that Jesus was born to a poor young woman in an unremarkable village. But what does it mean to follow a Christ born into poverty when so many children are suffering, even here in the richest nation in the world?

We say that the church today is the living body of Christ. But just as Jesus’ own body was broken by the violence of the cross, our news is filled with the stories of other human bodies being broken, terrorized, and marginalized. I think sometimes it’s difficult for us to make the connections between the wounding of Jesus body and the bodies of those wounded by violence today. But when I heard that Michael Brown’s dead body was left lying in the street in Ferguson, Missouri, for four hours after he was killed,  I couldn’t help thinking of how the Roman Empire left the bodies of the crucified hanging on display as a symbol of what would happen to those who defy its power. Just as the child of Mary was the victim of violence, far too many of our own children fall victim to violence, especially in communities of color. Following the One who was crucified demands that we share the outrage of those who have repeatedly been treated as if their lives, their bodies, and their children do not matter.

Several years ago, a few months after Hurricane Katrina, the church where I was worshipping took part in a unique Advent celebration. Rather than the traditional Christmas decorations, the front of the sanctuary was “decorated” to look like one of the many makeshift emergency shelters that had sprung up in the hurricane’s aftermath. Blue tarps were draped around the chancel, and several large plywood signs were spray-painted with words like “Help!” and “Save Us,” and “Need Water.” It was a powerful and deeply disturbing reminder that Jesus was not really born into the kind of bucolic pastoral scenes depicted in our nativity sets. He was born into a world of extreme human need, a world in which people were hungry and thirsty and marginalized and homeless and suffering. This is the world God loves.

God became one of us, took on this vulnerable human body, in order that we might know God’s love and might be empowered to live into the fullness of our humanity. And then God allowed Godself to be subjected to the worst our world of sin and death could deliver, in order to show us how these forces might be overcome through love and compassion. The poor child born in Bethlehem, the risen Christ who has unified us as his body, calls us to solidarity with all whose bodies are broken and marginalized,
so that we and our world might be made whole.

Douglas Davidson

What to we want our kids to gain?

Doug DavidsonWhat do we most want our kids to gain from their involvement at First Baptist Church of Palo Alto? This is the question we began with when the parents of our children and youth joined Carolyn Shepard and me for a conversation after worship on October 12. Our discussion included a lot of affirmation for our current programming for children and youth, as well as some great suggestions for future directions we might pursue.

Parents expressed appreciation for the ways in which our Sunday school program helps to ground our children and youth in the primary stories, beliefs, and practice of our faith. For many parents, this was central to what they most want for their kids. We also celebrated the strong relationships that exist among our kids, the degree to which they enjoy being together, and the valuable cross-generational connections between youth and adults in our congregation. Appreciation was expressed for the ways Elizabeth Ramirez makes effective use of Bible stories and hands-on projects in working with our younger children, and for how the discussion based format used with our older youth exposes them to different opinions and understandings of critical faith questions.

Our conversations pointed to several ideas about how our Sunday schedule for youth might be adjusted. It was suggested that having the older youth remain in worship for the entire service on Communion Sundays would both strengthen their connections
with the larger congregation and involve them more fully in the overall worship life of the church. On other Sundays, it was suggested that both children and youth leave for Sunday school a bit earlier in the service (immediately after the special music) to allow a bit more lesson time. These suggestions were later shared with Pastor Rick and the church council, and will be tested out over the next several months.

I also shared materials from the Echo the Story curriculum we’ll be using for the next few months with our older youth. This month, I will be looking for a curriculum for our younger kids that might guide for teaching our younger children. I remain deeply grateful for the ways in which the nurture of our children and youth in the faith is a task that’s taken seriously not just by the parents of our kids but by our entire congregation here in Palo Alto.

Doug Davidson, Minister with Children, Youth and Families

God’s Story… and Ours

Doug DavidsonChristian Formation and Family Life

During Sunday school last week, the youth and I were talking about the ways our individual stories and God’s story intersect, and how each of us can play a role in God’s work in our world. I mentioned the work of author Sam Wells, who suggests we might understand the broad scope of God’s movement in our world as if it were a five-act play. But this story is not complete—Wells suggests that we live today in the midst of the fourth act of this divine drama. And the interesting thing is that we actors in this play are not given a script that directs our every word and deed. Instead, we are called to improvise, rooted in and guided by a vital tradition, but living out our individual parts with creativity. In doing so, our stories become part of that larger story.

A focus on the broad scope of God’s story is also shaping our worship and educational programming this year. Last month, our church began using the outline suggested in Brian McLaren’s We Make the Road By Walking to guide our worship on a year-long journey through the themes of Scripture. Similarly, in October, the older youth and I will begin using a new curriculum called Echo the Story, which uses videos, creative reflection, art, and story telling to help youth discover their own identity in the context of the biblical narrative. The youth curriculum breaks the Story down into 12 sessions, which means that even with an occasional break, the youth will complete the story before the congregation reaches the end of the year-long McLaren lectionary. I’ll make sure to tell the youth not to give away the ending!

Elizabeth continues to lead the children’s class, working with our three elementary school kids each week. I’m so grateful for her faithful service every Sunday. I always appreciate the various activities and crafts she puts together to help the kids in exploring the biblical themes of the day.

This month, I hope to schedule a meeting with the parents of our children and youth to talk about their hopes and desires for how First Baptist might meet the needs of its kids and young families. We’re aiming to meet after worship some Sunday in October. I look forward to this gathering, and to hearing how we can support our kids to faithfully live out their own stories, surrounded by God’s love and a community of care at First Baptist.

Doug Davidson
Minister with Children, Youth, and Families

Back to School

Doug DavidsonI’m writing to you from the Jersey Shore, sitting on a porch just a couple hundred yards from the beach in Ocean City, NJ. Since my youth, three generations of my family have gathered for a week “down the shore” near the end of every summer. When I was a kid, we would often drive home from the beach on Labor Day, and then begin the new school year the very next day. It was always bittersweet to jump from the relaxed pace of vacation to the challenges and excitement of a fresh school year.

Throughout our eleven years in California, we’ve found a way to get back to the east coast every year for this annual ritual. One of the joys of our trip this year is that, after our week at the beach, I will have an opportunity to preach at Chesterfield Baptist Church, where my dad was pastor for 28 years. And then we’ll hop on a plane, come  home, and I’ll get ready for seminary classes to start the next day.

It’s been a great summer at First Baptist of Palo Alto. About twenty of us had a blast going to see the San Jose Giants play on August 8th. I was a little worried when the game began and it was just the Satterlees, Pastor Rick, and I, but by the third inning, the two rows reserved for our group were packed with boisterous fans from FBC! That same weekend, our service in Mitchell Park was a truly wonderful experience, with five diverse Palo Alto congregations coming together for a truly unique and powerful service of worship followed by a shared meal.

As we enter September, I am happy to be celebrating my one-year anniversary with you. I remember my first Sunday last September, as I joined you for the worship service celebrated FBC’s 120th anniversary. It’s been a real joy to get to know all of you and to be a part of year number 121! And I’m so pleased that I have opportunity to continue working with the children and youth here. I don’t need to tell any of you that the youth here at FBC are awesome; getting to be a part of their lives is a tremendous experience for me. As we move from summer into the joys and challenges of this new year, may we all be open to the Spirit who calls us to times of rest and renewal, and then invites us to find new ways of expressing God’s love in our lives and in our world.

Doug Davidson, Minister with Children, Youth, and Families.