Archive for the ‘reaching out’ Category

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Week of Compassion

February 9, 2015

vynguyenVy Nguyen is a long-time friend of First Church Berkeley and the Executive Director of Week of Compassion. He formally worked for Church World Service. In that previous role, he was a guest in our congregation several times.

In this short video he shares some of his story of escaping Viet Nam, ending up in a refugee camp in Thailand and then making his way to the United States.

Week of Compassion is a program of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and supports refugee assistance, emergency relief and sustainable development.

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The Axis of Friendship

September 14, 2011

Kevin Omi at the Axis of Friendship eventThese words were spoken by First Church member Kevin Omi at an Axis of Friendship event held at the time of the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The event honored relations between people of the United States and Iran and celebrated connections with people of all cultures and nations.

I am a member of First Congregational Church of Berkeley, a progressive Christian congregation serving the East Bay. In church this morning, Dr. Rahim Nobahar, the new Imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California, was our special guest for our 9 am service. Amir Soltani who has visited with us several times, read poetry in our 11 am services.

More about the various ways First Church commemorated the 10th anniversary of 9/11…

Two years ago our congregation in conjunction with churches and Conferences throughout the country brought a resolution called the Axis of Friendship to our denominational meeting in Grand Rapids, MI. I am proud to say that our denomination agreed to:

• stood in solidarity with the people of Iran as they expressed their will toward self-government;

• promote and work for friendship between the people of Iran and the United States of America,

• call for an end to the violence, repression, and bloodshed, against peaceful Iranian demonstrators, media, and others

This July our denomination declared its support for our neighbors in the Muslim community, both in the United States and around the world, who feel the impact of anti-Islamic rhetoric and action.  We agreed to denounce actions against Islam or Muslims based on ignorance or fear; and to learn more about Islam and to build relationships with Muslims and peoples of all faiths.

I am also a Japanese American, the proud son of soldier in the 442nd regimental combat team.  The 442nd was the most highly decorated regiment in the history of the United States armed forces. My father fought in some of the most brutal battles of WW-II while the rest of his family, along with 110,000 other Japanese Americans were stripped of their belongings, property, and dignity.  Some were forced to sleep in horse corrals in Tanforan before they were sent on trains to the most desolate parts of the county. They lived in concentration camps surrounded by barbed wire, in tar paper shacks, during brutally hot summers and freezing winters; because of wartime hysteria and a long history of racism against persons of color.

Japanese Americans have been among the most vocal and passionate supporters of embattled Muslims. When we heard talk of “rounding up Muslims”, we immediately saw the potential parallel with our own history. We have folded thousands of paper cranes, which are a symbol of peace and decorated the windows in an Islamic school in Sacramento. We have rallied public support against hate crimes at mosques, signed on to legal briefs opposing the government’s indefinite detention of Muslims, organized cross-cultural trips to the Manzanar internment camp memorial, and held “Bridging Communities” workshops in Islamic schools and on college campuses.

As a member of the United Church of Christ, I believe that God is still speaking and urges us on to work with people of all faiths for the causes of peace, justice, and love.  As a Japanese American, I stand in solidarity with Muslims and all persons who are the object of suspicion, ignorance and fear.  Thanks be to the God that unites and sustains us.

More about First Congregational Church of Berkeley…

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The 10th Anniversary of 9/11

August 27, 2011

On Sunday, September 11, 2011, First Church will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11 in a variety of ways.

These events have changed the landscape of our country and the world. We stand with those who still grieve their losses, with those who were shocked and traumatized by these events. We also grieve the loss of life and limb that has occurred in the wars that have been fought since then in Iraq and Afghanistan.

9/11 MemorialAs people of peace, we must lift up the futility of war and the seeking of vengeance. We also stand against the demonization of individuals, groups and countries. Even as we claim our loyalty and love for our country, we also claim our global citizenship. All of us are brothers and sisters, even as we sit across the divide of nationality, religion, or conflict.

One of the outcomes of the events of 9/11 and the ensuing political and social turmoil, is that we have reached out hands of friendship to people of other faiths and are richer for these new connections and new understandings.

On this special Sunday, we will commemorate 9/11 in both worships services, welcoming guests from the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California, a mass choir will sing Verdi’s Requiem at 3 pm in the Sanctuary, and in the evening we will take part in an Axis of Friendship event at the Oakland Peace Center.

Read more…

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That Sinking Feeling

August 8, 2011

This is a condensed version of a sermon by Phil Porter’s based on the story of Jesus walking on water. You can watch a video of Phil telling the story (beginning at about 23 minutes) and preaching on the text (beginning at about 33 minutes.)

man sinking in waterThe disciples were in the boat and the wind was fierce and the waves were high and they were afraid. And then to their surprise, Jesus walked toward them from across the lake. Peter, eager to believe, begged to be summoned out onto the water. And off he went. But then he got that sinking feeling…

So few things are true for all of us. But I would guess that we have all had that sinking feeling. Worries, doubts, regrets—large and small. The flutter in our gut, a dark cloud obscuring clear thought, a nervous rush that tingles all the way to our fingertips.

Don’t we long for someone or something to reach out and take our hands and pull us out of the murky waters? Jesus did that for Peter. He grabbed Peter’s hand and together they walked back to the boat. The wind ceased and the waves quieted.

Isn’t that part of what community is about? We reach out to each other in times of need. We are pulled back into the boat or help someone else clamber in.

Isn’t that part of what prayer is about? We try to quiet the rampaging worries, we breathe deeply, we look for a deeper truth and a more stable center. We ask for help from a source greater than we can imagine.

Isn’t that what Jesus is about, a man who was of a time and place but also transcends time and place? If Jesus could be there for Peter and the rest of the panicking disciples, could he also be there for me?

Isn’t that what communion is about? We gather around a table and share food like a family. We take sustenance to use when we need it and we almost always need it.

Let’s take hands. Often. That way, even if you don’t know I have that sinking feeling, you may be pulling me out of the troubling waters. Together we will get back in the boat, the winds will cease and the waves will quiet.

More about First Congregational Church of Berkeley.

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Are We Ready to Feed 5000?

August 4, 2011

Meredith JacksonMeredith Jackson is a seminary intern at First Church. Here is an excerpt from a sermon she preached on Sunday, July 31, 2011, using the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 with just five loaves and two fishes. The prelude to this Biblical story was that John the Baptist had been recently killed.

I have hope that God will provide for our future. I trust that God will give us what we need by giving us each other. Jesus, even when he was mourning the loss of his great friend John, got out of the boat, onto the beach, and trusted that God would provide the food that the people needed. God also gave the people each other, and the people had food. They simply opened their knapsacks and lunchpails and shared what they had with their neighbor. God provided and all 5000 were fed.

I believe that First Church Berkeley can feed the 5000. I believe that there are 5000 people in the world that are searching for a place like First Church. In this space and in this time we have all that we need to feed the people. When we lift our gifts to God and give thanks and praise, we genuinely live into who we are. When we are authentic and thankful, we are able to feed the people.

Every day we hear stories of people who are searching for this church. I hear it every day—stories of violence in high schools because youth haven’t figured out that there’s another way to live. We hear of college students and seniors living far from their families and searching for people to connect with. Do you know of same-gender loving couples who haven’t been able to find a faith community that is willing to stand up for their human rights? When we hear all of these stories we know people are hungry for a place like First Church.

How many lives could be changed by this place? This community is a powerful place and it can create transformation we are longing to experience. The change towards a safe space for all people. A transformation away from loneliness and depression and into life in community. A change towards a world that knows how to seek resolution without violence.

Download the sermon…

Find out more about First Church Berkeley, United Church of Christ…