2016, 02-21 - Jesus' Priority: What Matters Most?

By Rev. Christopher Helton
02/27/2016

Jesus’ Priority: What Matters Most

Mark 12.28-34

Week 2 of Lenten Sermon Series:

 What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian? A Guide to What Matters Most

Lent 2C; February 21, 2016

 

     In a scene from the movie Up in the Air, a young man is about to get married but is overcome at the last minute by cold feet. A relative is sent in to try to calm his nerves so he will go through with the ceremony. When asked why he suddenly feels that he can’t go through with the marriage, the young man explains:

     “Well, last night I was kinda laying in bed, and I couldn’t get to sleep, so I started thinking about the wedding and the ceremony and about our buying a house, and moving in together, and having a kid, and then another kid, and then Christmas and Thanksgiving and spring break, and going to football games, and then all of a sudden they are graduated and getting jobs and getting married and, you know, I’m a grandparent, and then I’m retired, and I’m losing my hair, and I’m getting fat, and the next thing I know I’m dead. And it’s like, I can’t stop thinking, what’s the point? I mean, what is the point?” (quoted in Thielen, What’s the Least…, New Edition, 199-200)

     What’s the point? What really matters? Why are we here? Why do we go through all of this? The question of purpose and meaning is as old as humanity and, it seems, has been raised in some form by almost everyone.

     This is essentially the question a scribe poses to Jesus. Impressed by Jesus’ teaching, he asks what is the first—the highest, the most important—commandment. It is as if he asked, “What is the essential point of the Law? What matters most for those who are seeking to be God’s people and to do God’s will?” (Ibid.)

     Jesus answers by pointing the scribe back to Deuteronomy (6.4-5). He quotes the Shema, the basic Jewish confession of faith and a part of their daily prayers: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” There are a lot of parts of a person mentioned in this command. The point is that we are to love God with our whole selves, with all that we have and all that we are. Jesus underscores this point by adding one additional part to the quotation. He adds mind. We are to love God with all our mind, or as the scribe rephrases it, with all our understanding. Faith seeks understanding. Part of being made in God’s image is having the ability to reason, the ability to investigate, to ask questions, to seek answers. So, for heaven’s sake, bring your mind to church, because you can’t love God without it!

     The scribe has asked for the first commandment and Jesus has answered by quoting the shema. But he’s not done yet. Jesus immediately quotes a second commandment, this time from Leviticus: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself (19.18b).” He calls it a second commandment, but then he and the scribe both treat the two as one. They are opposite sides of the same coin: if one loves God, one must also love other people. If you love other people, if you truly seek their good, then you are not far from the kingdom of God. As Victor Hugo wrote in “Les Miserables,” “To love another person is to see the face of God.” These two commandments together form the Great Commandment: love God and love other people. Jesus is telling us what matters most, the very meaning of life. We have been made for loving relationship with God and neighbor.     

     Reinhold Niebuhr, the 20th century American theologian from the German Evangelical Church (a forerunner of the UCC), believed that in these words Jesus indicated the church’s purpose and mission. “The church,” he wrote, “exists to increase love of God and neighbor.” I have long felt that Niebuhr hit the nail on the head. This is the core of Christian worship and practice, the foundation of our prayer and our works of compassion, the basis for both our hymns of praise and our struggle for justice.  Everything we do should in some way promote this goal: that all people would grow in their love of God and each other.

     I believe Paul is getting at the same point in 1 Corinthians 13, the famous love chapter that we heard a few weeks ago.  He reminds the members of the church at Corinth that no matter what spiritual gifts they may exercise or what great deeds they may do, if they do it without love, the deeds are worthless. Commenting on this passage, William Sloane Coffin summed up Paul’s argument bluntly, “If we fail in love, we fail in everything.” That’s because, as the scribe points out, loving God and neighbor is much more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices (v. 33). Religious practices are important, but only to the extent that they help to nurture love within us or help us to express and enact that love.

     So, Jesus tells us clearly what matters most. He points us to the meaning of life in deceptively simple terms. But, to quote again a U2 song from last week: “Love is easy not the easy thing. The only baggage that you bring is all that you can’t leave behind.” (“Walk On”) We can’t leave behind empathy, compassion, relationships or a desire for the good of the other. None of these things are easy, though. Loving is fraught with challenges.

     One challenge is the existence of many distractions. Our society tells us that happiness and meaning can be found in things like accomplishments, possessions and status. Thielen tells the story of Ron, a pastor he knows. Ron is talented and ambitious. He has degrees. He’s written a book. He has a high status pastorate at a large, influential congregation. He serves on many boards and committees in the community and the denomination. He’s received civic awards. He has an incredible resume and was very proud of it.

     But then, following a back surgery, Ron had a dream, in which he died and meet God. Ron told Thielen, “In my dream God didn’t ask me one thing about my resume. God didn’t ask me about my degrees, my publications, my speaking engagements, or my denominational work. God didn’t even ask me about how large my church was….Instead, God asked only one question, “Ron, did you love me with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and did you love your neighbor as yourself?” (Thielen, 81)

     We have to avoid all the distractions and focus on what really matters: loving relationships with God and each other.

     Another challenge is that we cannot grow complacent and think that we have achieved the pinnacle of love. John Shea tells of a handicapped man who sat outside a local pharmacy every day, begging. He had no legs below the knees and always sat on the ground with a cup between the stubs. Shea always gave him some money. But then, one day, he saw something that gave him pause. A woman was kneeling by the man talking with him. She was saying, “So you haven’t always lived in Chicago…?” Shea says, “She was inquiring about his life, caring for him in a personal way. My dollar or two tossed in his cup seemed impersonal, even demeaning. [What inspired her to this expression of love?] I think there was an inner consciousness of love that bumped into a situation and found a way to express itself. Love of …God makes us one with our neighbor [and inspires us to new creative expressions of love.] (Shea, Eating with the Bridegroom, 263)    

     Shea deserves credit for recognizing the man’s need and not judging him. He was showing love, but there were other ways he could also show love: he could have gotten to know the man, he could have treated the man with dignity by listening to him, he could have formed a relationship with him. We must not become complacent. We must be open to the work of the Holy Spirit guiding us to love new people and to love familiar people in new ways.  

     How can we cultivate this love of God and neighbor? How can we be open to be led by the Spirit into deeper relationships? Adam Hamilton shares a good suggestion that he picked up from Scott McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others: we should use the Great Commandment like Jews use the Shema, reciting it in our prayers every morning and every night. Each morning, Hamilton prays, “Lord, help me to love you with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. And help me, in every way, in every interaction, with everyone to express your love.” And each night, he prays, “God, forgive me for failing to perfectly love you and others. Even as I sleep, form my soul to more truly love you and others.” (Hamilton, When Christians Get It Wrong, Participants Book for Small-Group Study, 99-100)

     I think this is a great starting point: pray the Great Commandment morning and evening and try with God’s help to live it in between. Ultimately, this is what Christianity is all about, this is what matters most: You shall love the Lord your God with the totality of your being and you shall love your neighbors, everyone you encounter, as yourself. Amen.        

2016, 02-14, All That You Can Leave Behind

By Rev. Christopher Helton
02/19/2016

All That You Can Leave Behind

Matthew 23.13-15, 23-28 & 9.14-17

 Introduction to Lenten Study: What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian? A Guide to What Matters Most

Lent 1C; February 14, 2016

 

Today we begin our Lenten Sermon Series. This is the first of seven sermons based on Martin Theilen’s  book,  What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian? A Guide to What Matters Most. Now at first hearing, this title may seem negative. It may sound like an attempt to figure out the minimum beliefs necessary to gain the full benefits of Christianity. This title may sound like cheap grace, that is, like Christianity without the cross, without suffering or sacrifice, without discipleship, without works of love and deeds of compassion. That would be a most un-Lenten theme, indeed. But, let me assure you, this sermon series and the book study that accompanies it will not present a cheap, watered down version of the faith. Indeed, I think you will find that the opposite will be true.

 

The focus of the book and our study is indicated by the subtitle: A Guide to What Matters Most. That’s what we are concerned with—the essentials of the faith, all of those things that you can’t leave behind if you want to follow Jesus. The title of the book is actually derived from a question the author was asked by a young man, named Danny. Theilen, is a Methodist pastor. So, one of the first things Danny said to him was, “Preacher, you need to know I’m an atheist. I don’t believe the Bible. I don’t like organized religion. And I can’t stand self-righteous, judgmental Christians.” (p. ix)

 

Nonetheless, the two struck up a relationship. Over the course of about a year, Danny moved from atheist to agnostic to very interested in Jesus. One day, he declared, “I’ve had an epiphany. I realize that I don’t reject Christianity. Instead, I reject the way intolerant Christians package Christianity.” Not long afterwards, Danny said, “Martin, you’ve just about convinced me on this religion stuff. So, I want to know—what’s the least I can believe and still be a Christian?” (Ibid.) What Danny wanted to know was what is essential; when you get beyond all the denominational packaging, beyond all the secondary doctrines, what are the core beliefs of Christianity. That will be our focus during this Lent.

 

[Danny’s question is a very important one. There are a lot of folks, especially young adults, who cannot believe because of the package in which Christianity has been presented to them. The idea that Christians are self-righteous and judgmental recurs in almost every survey of young adults. Of course, every one of us is sometimes self-righteous and judgmental, but somehow, many folks have gotten the idea that these attitudes are essential and inevitable parts of the faith. They are not and indeed they are contrary to what Jesus teaches. Nonetheless, we clearly have an image problem.

 

In addition to those who are put off by Christianity, there are many of us who do believe, but we are confused about what is essential, or we are uncomfortable with some things that fellow believers insist are core beliefs. I hope that in the next few weeks, we can at least begin to clear up some of this confusion and shift our focus to the essentials.]

 

I want you to notice something that didn’t happen in the story of Danny. Theilen wasn’t judgmental, he didn’t quote an unending stream of scripture to show why he was right and Danny was wrong, he didn’t yell. Instead, he built a relationship. I’m sure he did quote some scripture; I’m positive he talked about his beliefs. But he did so in the context of a relationship. That requires effort and time. Just as important, he listened and he was respectful. Christians should never be obnoxious and judgmental—that only drives people away. But building relationships, listening, showing concern and compassion, walking with people through life, in short, loving them—that draws people to God. Judgement, well that is something we should leave to the God of grace.              

 

I think it is interesting to note that Jesus reserves his harshest language, his most judgmental language not for notorious sinners, but for religious leaders. Jesus goes after the Pharisees with both barrels for focusing on secondary issues and missing the point of their religion: justice, mercy and faith (Mt 23.23). By their teaching, they are actually distracting people from what really matters. No doubt, they probably drove some people away from God. That’s why Jesus was so upset them.

 

Now, Jesus doesn’t reject the core teachings of Judaism, but he does reject some of the contemporary beliefs and old-time, traditional practices that obscure those essential teachings. That’s the point of his discussion of old and new wineskins. Just as old wineskins cannot hold new wine, there are some old-time religious ideas and practices that are not compatible with the new things that God is doing in Jesus. Those tenets of old-time religion need to be discarded so that people will be able to receive God’s grace and join in God’s work.

 

In the first half of his book, Theilen mentions 10 things that Christians don’t need to believe. One of those, we’ve already discussed, the idea that it is okay to be obnoxious and judgmental. We don’t have time to go into all of the other nine, but allow me to briefly highlight a couple of things we can leave behind.

 

One thing we can leave behind is the idea that the Bible must be read literally, that it must be literally true. I addressed this in my February newsletter column, so let me just say this. In the UCC, and other mainline protestant churches, we take the Bible too seriously to take it literally. The Bible is a record of our ancestors’ reflections on and encounters with God. As such, it reflects their cultures and their understandings of the world. It is a book written by humans. At the same time, it is a book inspired by God. It is the chief means through which God speaks to us, though not the only means. Its stories shape our faith, our imagination, and our understanding of ourselves, God and the world. For more than two thousand years, Jews and Christians have heard God in its pages. Because the Bible is a collection of diverse literary styles written by humans a very long time ago, we don’t always have to take it literally. However, because it bears witness to God and because God speaks to us through it, we must take the Bible seriously.

 

A couple of related ideas, that we can also leave behind, are that Christians cannot affirm evolution and that science is an enemy of religious faith. These ideas are closely associated with a literal reading of Genesis. The point of the creation stories is not how God created. The meaning of the stories is that God is the Creator, all that God made is good, and human kind has been created in God’s image and likeness. Theistic evolution understands the evolutionary processes discovered by science to be God’s method of creation. It is a position that takes the Bible seriously without rejecting science. So, as Thielen points out, one can be both a scientist and a Christian. Let me give you a couple of examples of the compatibility of faith and science. Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project and advisor to the White House on scientific affairs, is a devout Christian. Then there is Sir John Polkinghorne. He is the only ordained member of Great Britain’s national science academy, the Royal Society. A theoretical physicist and a theologian, Polkinghorne has spent the last 30 years arguing for the compatibility of science and religion and promoting a dialogue between the two.

 

One more thing we can leave behind: the idea that Christians don’t doubt. A couple weeks ago, we read 1 Cor. 13, where Paul says, “we see through a glass dimly.” Faith isn’t certainty, it isn’t having all the answers. We are finite, limited creatures who can’t know or understand all things. Faith is trust and belief, trust in God and belief that seeks to understand. As Thielen writes, “Real faith asks hard questions. Real faith struggles. Real faith doubts. And real faith accepts ambiguity, mystery, and unanswered questions.” (196) I’ve always liked what Tennyson said, “There lives more faith in honest doubt, / Believe me, than in half the creeds.” (In Memoriam, 96) He goes on to say that he knew one who wrestled with his doubts and “thus he came at length / To find a stronger faith his own.” Doubt is natural and inevitable, and it can, if handled correctly, lead us to new and deeper understanding. Certainty, on the other hand, is often evidence of a lack of trust, a lack of faith.

 

I’m reminded of the lyrics to U2’s “Standup Comedy:”

The DNA lottery may have left you smart
But can you stand up to beauty, dictator of the heart
I can stand up for hope, faith, love
But while I'm getting over certainty
Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady.
(http://www.u2.com/lyrics/186)

We must use our minds, but we must also know our limits. Faith believes where it cannot see. It trusts God to be God, to keep God’s promises. It trusts that God’s steadfast love endures forever. So, while we seek understanding, we eschew certainty and we are humble enough not to try to explain things we do not understand.  

 

Well, there is certainly more that could be said. But, the bottom line is this: there are some old wineskins that we need to throw out, some ideas and actions that need to be left behind. They stunt our faith and they present stumbling blocks to many outside the church. Like Danny, there are many folks out there who think they are opposed to religion or Christianity. But what they really reject is the way that Christianity is often packaged. They reject the old wineskins and the self-righteous Pharisees. They need to know that there are other, newer wineskins out there; there are other expressions of Christianity, other ways to faithfully follow Jesus.

 

We in the UCC believe that God is still speaking, that doubt can lead to deeper faith, that science and religion should be allies, that women and men are created equally in the image of God and can equally serve in God’s church. We don’t believe in the Bible. We believe in the God who is revealed in Christ and speaks through the Bible, and therefore we take the Bible seriously. We believe in grace. We believe that the Christian life is a journey, an ongoing growth in goodness and love. So, it is important that we determine all that we cannot leave behind. As another U2 song says, “[We’re] packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been, a place that has to be believed, to be seen.” (“Walk On”) We’re packing a suitcase for the Kingdom of God, so we best know what we need for the journey.

 

And that brings us to the answer to Danny’s question. What’s the least I can believe and still be a Christian? Jesus. Jesus is the new wine. He is the one who uniquely reveals God. As Christians, we must believe in Jesus. We must look to his incarnation, life, death and resurrection for in these events, in this life, is revealed God’s character and the pattern for our discipleship.  In him, we find the faith, the hope and the love, the strength, direction and humility, we will need for the journey. And that will be the focus of our Wednesday night Lenten Study and our sermons for the next six weeks.

 

So I hope you’ll be here, and maybe bring a friend.  I hope you’ll come with open minds, hearts and hands, ready to receive the grace and wisdom the Holy Spirit offers, ready to embrace each other in love, just as we have been embraced. I hope you’ll come listening for the still speaking God and ready to learn what we can’t leave behind as we follow Jesus on the way of discipleship. Amen. 

2016, 01-10 - Guess Who's Coming to the Manger

By Rev. Christopher Helton
01/14/2016

Guess Who’s Coming to the Manger?

Matthew 2.1-15

Epiphany Sunday C

 

Perhaps you remember Barbara Robinson’s little book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. It tells the story of how the six Herdman children, Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie and Gladys, manage to turn a church’s annual Christmas pageant upside down. The Herdmans are “absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world,” according to the narrator, who should know. She’s in the same grade as Imogene. They lie, steal, fight, cuss, blackmail other kids, and even set fire to Fred Shoemakers’ tool shed. They are the scourge of Woodrow Wilson Elementary School. They only come to church because they hear an exaggerated story about delicious snacks. Though it’s their first time ever, something about the Christmas story catches their attention. So, they intimidate the other kids so that they are the only volunteers for the prime roles in the Christmas pageant: Mary, Joseph, the Angel of the Lord and the Three Wise Men.

 

Everyone expects a disaster [and events seem headed in that dire direction. Imogene, who’s playing Mary, creates a panic by smoking a cigar in the Ladies Room during a break in the final rehearsal. The potluck committee was also at the church counting silverware and baking applesauce cakes for a potluck the next day. One of the women went to the restroom, saw the smoke, and called the fire department. Chaos ensued: baby angels crying in the parking lot, the pastor running over from the parsonage in his bathrobe and pajamas. Worst of all, while the fire department was clearing the building and searching for a nonexistent bathroom fire, every one of the applesauce cakes burnt up in the ovens. Surely the pageant was doomed to colossal failure.]

 

But a funny thing happened on the night of the pageant. Imogene and Ralph, playing Mary and Joseph, hesitate at the door before walking through the side door. Dazzled by the candle light and the crowd, they stood for a moment, looking like the refugees on the six o’clock news (97) before proceeding cautiously onto the chancel. Soon, Gladys, the Angel of the Lord, appeared, but instead of simply walking forward and dryly repeating her lines, Gladys bursts onto the stage and hollers, “Hey! Unto you a child is born!” like it is the best news in the world. (97)

 

The biggest surprise comes with the appearance of Leroy, Claude, and Ollie: the Three Wise Men. They aren’t carrying the small chest and the bath salts jars that represent gold, frankincense and myrrh. Leroy alone is carrying something, something large and oddly shaped. At first, Beth, the narrator of the story, can’t tell what it is. But as Leroy comes closer, she recognizes the object.

 

“It was a ham,” she tells us, “and right away I knew where it came from. My father was on the church charitable works committee—they gave away food baskets at Christmas, and this was the Herdman’s food basket ham. It still had the ribbon around it, saying Merry Christmas.” (101)

 

The Herdman’s didn’t understand what frankincense and myrrh were, but they understood ham and the need of a poor, displaced family with a newborn to have something to eat. And they seemed to understand something about the event the pageant celebrated, and about the baby at the center of it all, something many in the church had forgotten through sheer repetition. So the Herdmans, who had never given away anything, made a sacrificial gift to the King of kings.

 

Funny thing, that expected disaster, turned out to be the best Christmas pageant anyone in the church could remember. Somehow, they all understood the wonder of Christmas better—and they had a bunch of outsiders, a group of delinquent kids who many thought shouldn’t have been there in the first place, to thank for opening their eyes and filling their hearts with joy.   

 

Today’s reading from Matthew is also about the wrong people getting it right. It too is about outsiders showing up to worship the Christ child, while the insiders, the believers seem not to notice what God is doing right in their midst.

 

The wise men are identified in Greek as Magi. This is a broad term that was applied to a variety of practitioners of pagan religious arts: magicians, astrologers, fortune tellers, priests who “read” the entrails of sacrificed animals and the flight patterns of birds. (Brown, An Adult Christ…, 11) Our word magic is derived from magi. All of these are practices that are frowned upon in the Old Testament, and yet here they are, a group of magi come to Jerusalem from the pagan east, seeking the King of the Jews. The ultimate Gentile outsiders have come seeking Christ.

 

Last week we heard from John’s Gospel that Christ is the Word, the Wisdom of God, the light which enlightens every person. Now, in Matthew’s Gospel, we see that light guiding wise men from Persia to the Christ child, even though they are not Jews. To be sure, they only know in part what it is they seek; they have to stop in Jerusalem and ask for directions, directions which come from the Jewish scriptures. Nonetheless, they are being led on by the Divine light, they are being enlightened by God though they are from outside the chosen people. God it seems is at work everywhere, among all people, in ways we can only dimly understand.

 

Indeed, the wise men are being held up by Matthew as model disciples.  They catch a faint glimmer of the light, a faint indication that God is at work, and they hurry to join in. They travel hundreds of miles and must have made great personal sacrifices so that they can give their gifts and their adoration to Jesus. Meanwhile, the good religious people, the experts in the scriptures, who ought to have been there, who one expects to have been there, stay put in Jerusalem. Somehow, for all their knowledge and belief, they fail to recognize the signs and to respond as good disciples. The wrong people show up at Jesus’ birthday party. According to the conventional wisdom of religious folks, they shouldn’t have even received an invitation, and yet, they did. The citizenship of God’s kingdom, it seems, is more broad, more diverse then we might imagine.

 

In her short story, “Revelation,” Flannery O’Conner writes about the Divine light that falls upon the outsiders and the unexpected. The story is about Mrs. Turpin, an upright, dignified women who takes pride in her clean living and in being proper. She looks down upon those who don’t live up to her standards, the sinners, the backwards, the ignorant, the socially inept. She is confident that her virtues separate her from those people in the sight of the Lord. But then one evening, while she is outside finishing up the chores on her farm, the light of the setting sun is transformed and Mrs. Turpin sees a vision of a “bridge extending upward from the earth.”

 “Upon it were whole companies of white-trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black [folks] in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and [Mr. Turpin] had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right….She could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.” [described and quoted by Stephen G. Lytch, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 1, p. 199]

The light shines on all people; God’s love is for the whole world: Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, cultured and vulgar, religious and secular, churched and unchurched, male and female, black and white, Asian and Middle Eastern. All who respond to the light they are given will be lead to the God they seek.

 

Our texts on this Epiphany Sunday remind us that God works in many and mysterious ways, even among the most unexpected people. Like Mrs. Turpin, we will find that in God’s kingdom there will be a strange and diverse multitude of people. There will be people there we never expected to see. But then again, there may be people there who never expected to see us! Even now in the midst of this life, we may encounter God’s light shining in the Herdmans of the world. The most unexpected and unlikely people may show us what it means to follow Jesus and remind us of why we worship God.

 

This is the good news of Epiphany: in Christ, God’s light has risen and it shines on the whole world, showing all who will open their eyes the way to God’s salvation. 

St. Peter United Church of Christ Calls New Pastor

By James Hiles
01/20/2015

 

The Reverend Christopher Helton Selected by Congregation to Lead Seven Hills Church

Seven Hills, Ohio (December 21, 2014) — The congregation of St. Peter United Church of Christ

has voted overwhelmingly to call Pastor Chris Helton as its new pastor. His first Sunday leading

the congregation will be January 11, according to Shirlyn Franko, immediate past consistory

president of St. Peter.

 

“Pastor Chris comes to the Seven Hills and Parma community as a dynamic preacher, gifted

teacher, and caring pastor,” Franko said. “He is a perfect fit for our congregation.” Helton will

serve St. Peter as its 26th settled pastor.

 

Helton has a geographically and denominationally diverse background. He was ordained by the

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in 2003, and has previously served as a youth minister in

Texas and an associate minister in Kentucky. He is also an adjunct instructor of theology and

philosophy at Walsh University School for Professional Studies.

 

“I am looking forward to serving the people of St. Peter and the surrounding community,”

Helton said. “The congregation has been very welcoming. This is an energetic,

multigenerational group of people who are concerned about the needs of the community.”

St. Peter does many outreach programs throughout the year. The congregation recently worked

in conjunction with the Parma Area Family Collaborative to “adopt” and provide Christmas gifts

for many local families.

 

The church also offers a Vacation Bible School (VBS) program for children and youth of all ages.

The past two years, VBS participants have raised funds to send to the United Church of Christ’s

Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Miss.

 

“I am excited to join the St. Peter congregation on their spiritual journey,” Helton said. “My

prayer is that together we can deepen our faith and become even more outward facing, so that

we can share and promote love of God and neighbor in Parma and Seven Hills.”

Helton succeeds Pastor Thomas Marlin, who retired in June 2013 after 10 years of ministry at

St. Peter. Pastor Raymond Deuring has served as interim pastor since Marlin’s retirement.

 

About St. Peter United Church of Christ

St. Peter United Church of Christ is a protestant church in Seven Hills, Ohio, which recently

celebrated 155 years of continuous worship services. St. Peter has 140 members who worship

and work together to serve the wider community through various mission activities. St. Peter

offers Sunday School for children, youth group activities, and other various adult educational

and fellowship opportunities for all ages. St. Peter also boasts a strong music ministry, including

chancel choir and chime choir.

 

St. Peter’s vision statement is: “St. Peter United Church of Christ, an inviting church alive in the

Spirit; Christian servants connected in community.” Worship services are held at 10:15 a.m. on

Sunday mornings. St. Peter is located at 125 East Ridgewood Drive in Seven Hills, Ohio. For more

information, visit www.stpeter7hills.org.