The Story Between Us: The Letter to the Romans

It helps to read the Letter to the Romans as a symphony in four parts, Romans 1-4, 5-8, 9-11, 12-16.  When read in parts, we begin to see that Paul is telling the BIG Story of salvation for all people. To allow this writing to speak afresh into our lives, we invite you to look for themes, ask questions, wrestle with the text, pray, read it again.  We encourage you to not only read Romans but listen online.  How do we need the message of the Gospel today?


The Letter to the Romans is  a story of a God who is deeply and abidingly committed to keeping the Word God spoke long ago and that is echoed throughout creation — a God who keeps his promise that all people, all nations will have access to the good news that they are God's created ones,  who matter. Embedded in the sometimes complicated style of Paul's writing, is the Big Story of how God reveals and fulfills this promise through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and provides a new way of being together through the power of the Holy Spirit.

In this story we have these two groups of people who have heard the gospel of Jesus, but are having a hard time living into the story they have embraced as true— because they are having a hard time embracing one another.  They are both a part of the newly formed 1st century church but both groups are vying for first place in the heart of that God. As if they could compete for such a place…but the disciples were the same with Jesus!

The  Jewish believers – are holding tight to a very long history with God.  Okay, yes, Jesus is fine and good but, remember, they seem to be saying:  we are people of the law…the law is our identity. The Gentiles, boast in their new status — They are the new kids on the block.  They don't have the baggage of the past. Perhaps they are boasting in grace…. The more they sin, the more grace can abound. Their identity is that they don't need the law or tradition. They certainly don’t need circumcision or any of these food laws!

And, into their struggle, Paul tells them there is only One story and it is the story of the cross of Jesus.  There is no other story, in fact. When they call upon the name of the Lord, their new identity is through the cross and to be joined as a new people.  This is the way to righteousness.

As Romans 3 states so powerfully, both Jews and Greeks –are all under the power of sin – no one is righteous…not even one.  Or as the Message translation says: Whether insiders or outsiders, we all start out in identical conditions — sinners. The playing field is level, Paul writes in Romans 5…'while we were still sinners …Christ died for us.   Jew, Gentile, Insider, Outsider.

And, there at the cross, Paul states in Romans 8 "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  God has done a new work of taking people who were estranged from one another and makes them a New People…a new community…God's People.  

For, Romans 10 states:  There is no distinction (no matter what our back story) between any of us..For the same Lord is Lord of all and generous to all who call on his name.

The challenge Paul lays out to these first century believers is this, will you live in the BIG story of the grace of Jesus Christ?  Will you receive the Second Chance that Jesus offers to live by His Spirit?

If so, then Romans 12 provides a way to respond.

Just as in any good story, there comes a point after the crisis has ended, when the question must be asked:  What is next for our heroes?  How will Dorothy live back in Kansas?  How will the scarecrow lead now that he knows he has a brain?  The tinman, now with a heart?

Romans 12, asks us the same question:  The crisis is over.  There is nothing that can separate you from the love of God that is found in Christ Jesus our Lord.  How then will you respond?

This passage has so many rich words and phrases that you could stop to meditate upon. Rather than analyzing each word, there  is one overarching invitation that I would encourage you to focus upon and let the words of Romans 12 hang on this one invitation:

Love as you were created to love!

Then Romans 15 gives us imagination of how to live outwardly “welcoming one another as Christ has welcomed you.”

And, Paul will then invite them boldly -- will you join me in my assignment and bring witness that Jesus is the one who brings joyful hope and abiding peace?

Will you participate in a new humanity  -- that is not based on ethnicity, heritage, gender, status or skin color?

And, Romans 16 concludes with greetings from a diverse community  of faith that is living into this message of good news for all as they seek to form society anew -- and radical to the culture around.

The Letter to the Romans  is about identity -- Who are we?  Beloved saints, who are part of an new humanity formed through God by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and sustained by the Holy Spirit. We are people invited into a Big Story of God’s hope and transformation for the world, united by the reality that God’s Spirit is working in each of us. And, you are invited to be yourself in this Big Story, created, loved, valued by the one True God and free to live in response.  You are God’s beloved saints.


Prayers of the People 07.01.18

Our gracious God,
You have told us through your prophet Micah, “O people, the Lord has told you what is good, & what he requires of you: to do justice, to love kindness, & to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). We confess our failure to live these values of Your Kingdom, & we ask for your cleansing & healing from our self-centeredness. We confess our national failure to live these values, & we pray for revival in our land, that people across our country will turn towards you & welcome the transformation of Your Spirit in their lives, that we may see our prejudices transformed into justice for all persons, our meanness & desire for revenge transformed into kindness & mercy, and our arrogance & self-centeredness transformed into humility.

Jesus, you welcomed the children, you took them in your arms & blessed them. You said that anyone who welcomes a little child welcomes you. You told us to let the children come, not to stop them, for Your Kingdom belongs to the childlike (Mark 9:36&37, 10:13-16). Jesus, we pray for the children, all the children of the world who suffer due to war, famine, disasters & injustices of various kinds. In our country we pray for the swift reuniting of families. You know who each child is, where each child is, where each family is. We need & ask for your miraculous intervention to bring about the restoration of families. Thank you for all those working & advocating for this.

And for the children here among us, may we each take the opportunity to welcome & bless a child this morning by speaking to them & showing an interest in them. We pray for our day camps this summer, that children will feel welcomed & valued, that they will deepen in relationship with You, with one another, with adults in our community. We thank you for Lena’s leadership of our Children’s Ministry, & we pray for just the right person to lead in this next season. We thank you for Laurie’s leadership of our Middle School Ministry, & we pray for just the right person to join her in co-leading.

Jesus, you are the Great Physician & the Good Shepherd. You said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary & carry heavy burdens, & I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). You have invited us to “come boldly to your throne of grace that we may receive mercy & find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:16). Sometimes we can’t do these things for ourselves, we need one another to do it for us, and so we come boldly before your throne of grace on behalf of those among us who are weary, who are carrying heavy burdens, who are in special need of your mercy & grace. We lift up those who are struggling with health issues, with chronic health conditions, with frightening diagnoses, with mental health issues, with woundedness, with loss & grief, with relational issues, with a struggling marriage, those who need a job, those whose jobs present daunting challenges. Jesus, we pray for your healing in body, mind & spirit, for your comfort, for your restoration, for your hope, for a strong sense of your presence with us in the midst of whatever our circumstances are. We pray for the grace to stay connected to you, to your community & to your greater purposes in the world.

Lord, thank you for bringing Ashish, Kaeli , Brennan & Adeline into our midst. Thank you for the beautiful story they shared with us a few weeks ago of how you led them from youth ministry in Portland to the ministry of hospitality in South Lake Union. We pray your blessing upon their family & their presence & ministry here in SLU. As Ashish shares your word with us this morning, fill him with your Spirit, with your joy, with your freedom, & we are grateful that you will interpret his message to each of our lives. May our hearts, minds & spirits be open to receive your word to us today.


Cathy Thwing , Sunday morning worship

Prayers of the People 5.6.18

David prayed: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” Ps. 139-23, 24

Lord, we pray, search us, and know our hearts. Try us and know our anxious thoughts --all the places where we have questions, fears, doubts, and lack of understanding. Lord, see if there are any hurtful ways in us, ways that are hurtful to you, to ourselves, to those around us and to your world.

Lead us in the path of everlasting life. Help us to follow in your footsteps, to be humble and patient, to see and love a person fully and wholly, and to seek You always. Help us to access your wisdom and truth in our lives. Use us as your instruments, your hands and feet to bring your good will to fruition. 

We pray for places in the world where war, violence, poverty, epidemics, both human-made and natural disasters have torn families apart and destroyed lives. We pray for hearts to change where conflict seems to have been a way of life for a long time, such as in Palestine & Israel. We pray for people fleeing violence in South & Central America. Lord, bring healing and restoration to all these peoples.

We pray for government leaders all over the world. Give them wisdom, integrity, and commitment to justice. May they be agents of goodness and change. 

We thank you for the newly restored relationship between North and South Korea. We pray for these countries and others around the world to be kept accountable to their promises. Lord, bring your true peace to these places. 

We pray for those among us who are suffering from health issues, those who are going through difficulties finding work or at work, those who are hurting from loss or strained relationships, those who are experiencing financial hardships and more. You know each person by name and every detail of what they’re going through. Lord, please step in and make your presence known to us. Please use us as your hands and feet in the lives of people around us. Help us to be attuned to these needs and to how you want us to step in.

Gracious God, we ask that you open our eyes to see how you’re moving in our lives and in our world. Thank you for including us in your Kingdom work of healing, justice and peace. Help us to trust in your equipping us and using us in community. We give You thanks for sending us your Holy Spirit, your Son Jesus Christ, and in your Triune Name we pray all these things. Amen.

Sayuko Setvik , Sunday morning worship

Spring/Summer Series. 2018


Water is essential to life, as we know.
Therefore it is not surprising that water would literally flow through scripture from Genesis 1 with the Spirit of God hovering over the surface of the waters to Revelation 22, "Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life."

We are spending Spring and Summer reading, learning from and wrestling with what we learn from passages of scripture that are connected to water. What themes about our relationship with God, with one another, with the environment and with ourselves will jump off the pages of God's Word and into our lives?

Part of this journey of focusing on water for me began when I was reading the Gospels during Lent and realized how much time Jesus focuses on water – in the dry, arid land of first century Palestine – water into wine, walking on water, receiving a cup of water from a woman at a well and then offering living water, rebuking the waters even as he seemed at home on the water. 

So, we start at the beginning... Genesis 1

In the beginning, as if before a blank canvas, with the Spirit of God hovering, trembling, moving over the formless, empty deep and into the void God moves the waters and creates.

Our scripture gives space for there being nothing from which God created and there being a chaotic deep of water from which God moved to create.  I love this pre-historical ambiguity that puts the emphasis upon God not the HOW.

We worship a God that must create.  Central to God is creation. In the beginning God created, through Jesus God brings forth a new creation and right today – God is creating and creating through each of your unique gifts and personalities.

Throughout this passage that tells the story of Creation from nothing to the fullness of life – water weaves through this passage as space is created in the waters and in the space in between.

In the creation telling in Genesis 1,  Humans are placed central in a remarkable collaborative relationship – God speaks the rest of Creation in to being; yet God speaks directly to the humans!

“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.  And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.”

What do you make of this liturgy of creation and how we fall into the story?  What do you then make of our responsibility to “subdue" and “have dominion”? Some would say, what if those words hadn’t been put there, then there would be no abuse!

What if actually, the wording is there for exactly the opposite reason?  Because God knew those created in God’s image – would seek power and control, God gave responsibility. Perhaps this text is revolutionary as we look at what God is asking of us, and we as followers of Jesus, are meant to not stay silent.

The rest of scripture affirms that the word ‘dominance” refers to the example of a shepherd who cares for and tends animals for their well-being. Or, for those who were now living in cities and political arenas, a king – who does not exploit but rather seeks to secure the well-being of the rest of creation.

What an honoring responsibility…that can also paralyze us.

Today, on this Second Sunday of Easter as we live into the Good news that Jesus Christ is Risen, and as we celebrate that through Jesus WE are a new creation, it seems right and fitting to spend time with the original story of creation.

What does this story of God’s original intent for all of creation speak into our lives today?

Resurrection people are fools for LIFE


Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? …  For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,  but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”  I Corinthians 1:20-25

If you can't count on the dead staying dead then what foolishness is next?  

Anything. Anything is possible. 

How about experiencing God's acceptance and forgiveness in the midst of our messy lives –without being perfect. Yes! 

How about people we would never expect empowered by God to bring healing and reconciliation in our families, our city our world? Yes! 

How about taking off the armor dropping our weapons living more vulnerably more open handed? Yes! 

And how about death as the path to new life for us? That sounds like crazy talk but God's is not interested in cosmetic changes but inside out makeovers. We had a house years ago that wasn't really working for us and clearly was not going to work with the arrival of our third child, Luke. So we set about planning a remodel. Problem was the house already had a couple of self-improvements before we bought it and between wacky roof lines, different levels and where the bearing walls were located all our ideas to improve our house would not work. Finally, our architect said the only way this is going to work for your family is to tear it down and build new—same address new house. 

The resurrection foolishness says God has the power to make you and me new—not your old self trying to be better but a radical break with what was and entering into the new authentically you you-- not by your grit and strength but saying yes to that resurrection power. Risking that as we trust the One who soaked up all our brokenness—all that would disqualify us from being with God and put it to death along with himself on the cross—that that One will transform us and bring new freedom. 

Foolishness? To let go like that? A wise person once said, "One is no fool who gives up what they cannot hold to gain what they cannot lose." 

Living requires dying. Foolishness! But dying is swallowed up by resurrection so anything is possible. Aligned with the Risen Lord, the sky is the limit.  

The foolishness of God challenges us. The resurrection challenges us: How expansive of a reality are we going to live in?   

Are you going to play it safe or foolish?  After all, Christ is risen.., He is risen indeed!

Ash Wednesday. Valentine’s Day. 2018 Being Jesus’ Beloved

The season of Lent, the 40 days of journeying toward Easter and the celebration of new life and new beginning, begins today on Valentine’s Day and ends on April’s Fool Day. I am not unique in pointing this out, but I am needing to rest in the coincidence of these holidays.

Often on Ash Wednesday we begin with the marking of ashes. I do believe that the act of receiving ashes-if you do attend an Ash Wednesday service —is an important moment to acknowledge our need for God, our dependence on God and to remember that we are the created and God is the Creator.

But, this year as we travel from Valentine’s Day to April Fools Day—from the beginning of Lent to Easter — I invite you to bear another mark. Beginning today, I invite you to journey with me, to pause, and to take time each day during these days of Lent to claim our true identity in Jesus with the name Jesus took as his own and bestows upon us — Beloved.

Too often, if our view of God is distorted and our views of ourselves are warped, we can spend the next forty days attempting to earn our way to the cross and to show our worth through our efforts, our giving up, and our focus on our sin. Yet, once again, we discover we fall short because we are not perfect and there is no way to earn the grace of Jesus.

Wherever you are today, will you join me to begin the first day (and second, and third…). of Lent claiming this name, BELOVED, and journeying toward Easter willing to be a FOOL enough to daily say that Jesus, not the world,  tells me who I am? And, from my belovedness where will I be a risky fool for God and help others know they are beloved? This may involve giving up a bad habit of being hard on yourself or re-framing your time to take time each morning to say, “Jesus, as your beloved, how would you desire me to be this day?”

While recently in Colombia I was asked to preach at Cristhian Gomez’ church, Primera Iglesia.  I felt compelled to give this sermon on Being Jesus’ Beloved. (Some say that there is one sermon in each of us…Perhaps this is my one sermon.)

Also, here are some resources I am finding helpful for Lent.  What are resources that you find helpful for our journey toward Jerusalem and the saving grace of Jesus?

Lent Resources

Brueggeman, Walter,  A Way other than Our Own: Devotions for Lent

Rohr, Richard, Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent

Sine, Christine, A Journey Into Wholeness: Daily Reflections for Lent

Weems, Ann,   Kneeling in Jerusalem

Please note our Lenten Personal Reflection & Prayer on February 24.  Hope you can join us!

A Generous, Gracious and perhaps even slow Christmas...

With the New Year our staff reflected on the different ways our community has come together to serve our neighborhood and each other. When we made a list of what happened between November and December we were blown away! The list below would not have been possible without your generosity, commitment and of course the grace and guidance of Jesus. May we continue to listen to the whisper of the Spirit in our city and world.

If you have a story to share from participating in Slow Christmas and our Advent Happenings, please email

Happenings at Union:

-Harvest Party
-Green Bean Casserole Collection
-DESC gift bags
-Compass House Giving tree
-Longest Night Service
-Family Advent Calendar
-Liturgical Canvases
-Christmas Eve Musical Play
-Art Corp Support
-Justice Advent Calendar
-Holiday Market
--Anti-racism training
--Prayer Retreat
-Organizing for Women’s Shelter
--SCCA Christmas Eve Brunch
-Lowell Teacher’s Gifts
-Meals, conversations & walks with new friends in our community
-Acts of Pause

Social justice Advent calendar: Union Church's "25 Steps Toward Justice"

In response to the examples of injustice we see in the world around us, our Union church community has decided to devote time during this Advent season to better understanding the ways that injustice poisons our world.

Every morning, we send an email that explores these issues through the lens of prayer and Scripture. If you would like to be added to the email list, email us at If you'd prefer not to receive daily emails, but still wish to participate, you can read a web version of each email below.

Injustice takes so many forms in our community, and in our world. The 25 topics we've chosen to focus on this year are certainly not an exhaustive list. But for those wanting to engage in a regular practice this year, and to focus on how Scriptural principles can be applied to our daily lives, in our current context -- we are excited to journey with you this season.

December 1: Blessing of Hope
December 2: Hidden bias
December 3: Overcoming our biases
December 4: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
December 5: Sexual harassment
December 6: Peggy McIntosh's "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack"
December 7: Food Justice
December 8: Lin-Manuel Miranda and Puerto Rico relief
December 9: Puerto Rico, immigration, and code-switching
December 10: Mental illness and homelessness
 December 11: Military Veterans and homelessness
December 12: America's poverty myth
December 13: Redlining in Seattle
December 14: Seattle's Native and indigenous communities
December 15: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, "The Danger of a Single Story"
December 16: Pastor Mike Thomas of Seattle's Radiant Covenant Church
December 17: Rev. Lena Thompson of Lake Burien Presbyterian Church
December 18: Ability and disability
December 19: Christian hip hop artist Lecrae leaves Evangelicalism
December 20: Asian Americans in the church
December 21: Dr. Soong-Chan Rah and the need for reform
December 22: Kerning Cultures: What's in a name?
December 23: Choose 180: Community support for youth in the justice system
December 24: Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus

25 Steps Toward Advent. Introduction. 2017

Tomorrow, we’ll begin 25 Steps Toward Justice. Every morning in December, you’ll receive an email inviting you to engage in an area of injustice by reading an article, watching a short video, or engaging in a reflective activity.

During Jesus’ time on earth, justice was integral to how he engaged with people.  As we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth—and the joy, healing, and wholeness he desires for each person —we pursue a deeper understanding of God’s heart for justice and how our brokenness manifests itself on earth. God gave us his Holy Spirit as our Advocate, to partner as his hands and feet in his work of justice today.

Are you feeling nervous yet? Yeah. Us, too. These topics can be difficult and uncomfortable. When exploring the reality of injustice, it’s easy to feel discouraged, misunderstood, overwhelmed, defensive, or unfairly stereotyped because of our skin color, gender, or other things we have no control over.
Yet, this is obviously important work as we seek first the kingdom of God.

During these next 25 days, let’s walk together through this season of Advent as we prepare to embrace the expression of God’s love for all of humanity and creation through the birth of Jesus.  Trust the Holy Spirit’s work in you. If you feel troubled, confused or perplexed, you are in good company with Mary as she heard the news that she would be the mother of the Prince of Peace.

We enter into this not as experts, but as people committed to continually listening, seeking, and challenging ourselves to see and interact with the world more as Christ does.

Jesus looked each person in the eye, saw them as valuable and forgiven, and asked them to follow him and join his work of healing, forgiveness, grace, and redemption. We pray that God will open our hearts and equip us to join in this work.

- If any of your friends, family, neighbors or coworkers would like to receive these 25 Steps emails, please email us at so we can add or remove you to/from the list.

Please note that the emails may initially go to your spam or promotions folder, so be sure to check those boxes! In Gmail, you can add to your contacts by clicking “More Options”  in the upper right hand corner of the message, and then clicking “Add Sender to Contacts List” in the email header.”

Wishing you and your loved ones a meaningful holiday season.

Beth and Sayuko
on behalf of Union's Truth & Justice Initiative

with special thanks to Kierstin for her resources and insight

"Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life." Psalm 139:23-24

Two Beginnings...

This Sunday, December 3,  marks two beginnings:

  1. The season of Advent when we prepare to more fully receive the love and lordship of Jesus in our lives.
  2. The recognition of Union as a new church independent of University Presbyterian Church with whom we had our origin.

The first means we are beginning a new series, "Slow Christmas:  Time to Ponder" and initiating two Advent practices:  an Advent calendar for our kids to pray for others around the world and a series of Advent readings, videos and exercises to help us develop the eyes of Christ as we look at and engage the world around us. The family Advent calendars will be available to pick up on Sunday. To receive the Advent readings called 25 Steps toward Justice, please email:   They also will be posted here.

The second beginning, calls for us to elect a governing body to help us discern steps to live into our vision of being Externally Focused, Internally Alive and Eternally Connected through a deepening communion with Jesus. This means that during Sunday's worship gathering, we will formal elect Studio 3, our current servant leadership team, to this office for the duration of their existing individual terms (one, two or three years).  

There will also be an opportunity for you to identify yourself as a part of this local expression of Christ's church known as Union.  There is no pressure here--just like we often say during communion, this is between you and God--if you identify as belonging to Christ and see yourself committed to the people and work of Union there will be an opportunity to underscore your commitment by signing a page that will be attached to the charter document.

On one hand, we do not want to make a big deal about this since nothing really changes in terms of what we do or believe. On the other hand, we are the first new church in the Seattle Presbytery in a very long time and there are people who want to be with us on Sunday to welcome us as a new church. So, if there is a touch more formality and a few people you do not recognize on Sunday, consider it an acknowledgement of God's faithfulness in our journey so far and people's excitement about the Union story.

 What does change with chartering as new church?  Our mission, ministry and financial decisions as a community are no longer subject to approval by UPC. We can create a budget and financial and human resource procedures that better fit our size and style and we will be able to have more timely and accessible financial reports. In short, we can more nimbly respond to God's call to seek the welfare of the city and reveal Christ's grace and truth that other's, as well, may know life and not just life but life abundant.

From a financial perspective chartering brings with it a need to increase our budget to take on the expenses for the services we received from UPC, namely payroll services, informational services and insurance expenses.  That is about an 8% increase in our budget. UPC has also functioned as a line of credit for fluctuations in giving throughout the year. 

To meet this challenge, we encourage you to set some time aside and consider how God may be calling you to further support Union as we go forward. In addition to increased giving, signing up for regular giving on the Union web page: be a great support as well. Since we are approaching the end of the year here is the dutiful reminder that all giving received by midnight, December 31st, either at 415 Westlake or on line, can be deducted from this year's taxes.

Your commitment and generosity, combined with God's faithfulness, has brought Union to this new beginning where we can all the more explore what it means to follow Jesus in a world full of changing ways but still in need of the one called The Way.  Thank you for the gift of journeying together.

Every Blessing,
James B. and Renée

Externally Focused+Internally Alive+Eternally Connected

What does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:8

Seattle Voter's Forum: Casting ballots with our whole city in mind. Worship in Action

By Beth Douglass

Seattle's next election day is coming. On November 7, we'll cast our ballots for mayor -- but Seattle voters have more to decide than whether to elect Jenny Durkan or Cary Moon.

As we flip through our Washington State voters' pamphlets and prepare to fill out our ballots, we want to be intentional about considering the impacts our vote has -- not only on our families and neighborhoods -- but on all families and neighborhoods in Seattle. As our city's economy continues to grow at rapid speed, we're becoming even more aware of the impacts on Seattle's underrepresented communities, which are receiving even fewer resources from industries focused on pouring into other areas of town.

For the past year, Union church's Truth & Justice initiative has looked to explore the different ways this gap in our city continues to widen. From youth incarceration, marginalization, homelessness, the history of America's criminal justice system, and workshops to help us begin to identify our own implicit biases and cultural lenses, it's been an exciting year. We are so grateful for the many community partners and leaders who have been instrumental in helping us host these timely events and discussions.

On Suday, September 22, we hosted a voter's forum at the close of our 4th Sunday community service and volunteer activities. Gathering in the cafe of Kakao Coffee and Chocolate, we gathered to discuss a variety of issues on our November 2017 ballot.

Our goal was not to walk away having decided how to vote, but to have the chance to engage in dialogue with others in our community, and to ponder together how we can vote in a way that is guided by Scripture and informed by Christ's heart for the world and the types of actions he took.

The forum began with the video, "That Is Privilege?," which we watched in an effort to see some of the ways our experiences are different from others, and to explore the ways that various parts of our identities and experiences can impact our experience with the world. 

View the full list of questions, compiled by Buzzfeed, used in the video.

In smaller discussion groups, we discussed a variety of current issues, paying specific attention to the impacts they each have on underrepresented populations, such as those expeirencing homelessness, immigrants (documented and undocumented), refugees, people of color, historically non-white neighborhoods, single parents, those with disabilities, who are renting their living spaces, who don't have a car, people with significant medical needs, and more.

  • Homelessnes, right to shelter
  • Housing, zoning, and backyard cottages
  • Police reform
  • Income tax
  • Transportation
  • School funding, education equity, and access to resources
  • Seattle's rapidly growing technology industry
  • Access to healthcare

At the close of our discussion time, we talked about whether we see these issues different when viewed through the lens of another. 

As we choose how to vote -- and consider the many options we see for how we can sharing of our time and resources -- it is such a gift to engage in dialogue with each other. As we learn about others' experiences, areas of expertise, and the places where they are investing their time, we are able to learn, grow, and move forward with a continually growing and expanding view of our city and the complexities of the challenges we face.

Voters forum.jpg

Union's Truth & Justice will host a variety of events in the coming year.  Email Truth & Justice for information. 

Why worship in action matters

Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and earth were created, things visible and invisible...and in him all things hold together."  Colossians 1:15

At the heart of God is imagination! Who could have imagined that the image of the invisible God would be Jesus of Nazareth who walked this earth proclaiming good news to the poor and hope to the afflicted and purpose to all people who, he reminded, are image-bearers of the God of Creation.

Walter Brueggeman writes: "'Imagination' may be understood as the God-given, emancipated capacity to picture (or image) reality -- God, world, self -- in alternative ways outside conventional, commonly accepted givens. Imagination is attentiveness to what is 'otherwise,' other than our taken-for-granted world."   Testimony to Otherwise:  The Witness of Elijah and Elisha

Our fourth Sundays, worship in action, are an invitation to live and worship with imagination and hope. We invite you to step into our Fourth Sundays with imagination and attentiveness to what is "otherwise" in our world.   Let us pray together that we will have eyes to see God at work and be bold to participate in our world, affirming that Jesus Christ holds all thing together.  And, share with us what you are discovering about our imaginative, creative, restorative God!

Assurance for each day

Out loud I will say:  Bless the Lord

We worship our God

            who forgives our sins

                        who heals us to become whole

                                    who brings good news to the poor

            who sets the burdened and battered free.

who rescues and restore us

making us a people in whom Your light shines.

Help us to hear your words about us: 

            through You we are your beloved,

                        Fearfully and wonderfully made.    Amen

Side by Side: Living into Our Purpose

Throughout August and September we are focusing upon the letter to the Philippians.  We are basing the title of the series on Phil. 1:27,” stand firm in one Spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.”  

The letter to the Philippians was written sometime between 60-62 AD by the Apostle Paul who was in prison in Rome. He wrote to a faithful group of believers in Jesus Christ who lived in Philippi, an ancient city but a new Roman colony less than 100 years old established after Octavius defeated Antony (around 30 BC) and then settled Philippi with veterans from the war; transplanted Roman citizens.  Now, Nero was Emperor of Rome and the pressure to worship the emperor had only increased throughout the Roman territories. The primary title for the emperor were Kyrios and Sōtēr (“Lord and Savior”) and every public event was to be given in honor of the emperor.

Paul’s purpose in writing the Philippians is to encourage them that even as he suffered in prison because he claims Jesus as Lord and Savior, they too in Philippi can resist the pressure to succumb to the emperor that cares not a twit about them and to stand together in their commitment to the true Lord, Jesus Christ who “though in the form of God emptied himself taking the form of a slave.”  They can live as people striving side by side for the faith of the gospel as they seek the well-being of one another just as their true Lord, Jesus Christ, did. They can live as people whose hope rests in their true citizenship of belonging to the God on high and not be dismayed by the opposition that would frighten them to follow an earthly emperor. They can live with a joy that transcends all circumstances because Jesus their Lord is with them in all circumstances. Why?  Because they follow the true Lord who turned power on its head and said, “if you want to be first be last”…”if you care for the least of these you care for me.”  They follow the true Lord who assures them they are not subjects of a capricious lord but beloved partners and co-workers who are being transformed into their true identity as one’s created in God’s image.

Philippians reminds us that we know who we are as we seek to know our true Lord, Jesus.  We discover our true purpose as we work together to share in the sufferings of others and live together, in all our uniqueness, by the power of the one Spirit.  We can be content in all circumstances when we remember who we are in Christ.

Our challenge in reading Philippians today:  Who vies for our attention?  What makes it difficult to trust that Jesus is Lord?  What are pressures we face from the current day “empire”?   What does it mean to have faith in the gospel?   How does gospel living change how we live “side by side”?  What is our purpose as followers of Jesus?

May our attitude be the same as Christ Jesus… (Philippians 2:5)

Pentecost Benediction

Based on Acts 2

Go out into the world
Trusting this reality – YOU matter to God.

Go out into the world,
As people who practice Celebration

Go out into the world
With eyes to see those who need a hand;
Who need to be lifted up
And hear the Good news – they matter to God

Go out this week and
Dream dreams, pursue visions
and speak of God’s goodness
in the words of those who would hear.

And may the God who breathed life into creation be your delight.
May Christ Jesus give hope to your dreaming,
and may the Holy Spirit, your advocate and supporter,
........set your hearts ablaze with a passion for peace.

We go in peace to love and serve the Lord,
In the name of Christ, our Living Saviour. Amen.

May 28. Worship in Action Opportunities

"And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Colossians 3:17

Fourth Sundays provide a way for us to come alongside our neighbors in South Lake Union and beyond. Below are some opportunities for this month. Meet at 415 Westlake Ave N at 10 a.m. unless time or location specified.  Events usually wrap up 11:20 am.  Questions? Renee

Breakfast at Mary's Place Guest Rooms l 9 am | 2213 8th Ave, 98121
We are serving breakfast at the Mary's Place Guest Rooms located on 8th Ave just south of Denny. 2213 8th Ave, 98121. Join with us to welcome families to our neighborhood. If you can join us, please arrive between 8:45 and 9:00 a.m. for set-up and serving. Children welcome. Contact: Myla

Seattle Cancer Care Brunch Team l 10 am | 207 Pontius Ave N
Instead of meeting at 415 Westlake go directly to 207 Pontius Ave N, 2nd floor dining room. Serve food and engage in conversations with residents staying here for treatment. This is a vital ministry of presence. Contact:  Ted

Make our Neighbors Happy|10 am | 415 Westlake |
Work on removing our dilapidated awning and adding a beautiful Garcia designed wood trim. Ladders welcomed. This is going to be very satisfying. Let's go team!

Make Our Neighbors Happy II|10 am | 415 Westlake | 
Spruce up our parking strip tree bed and prepare it for a new garden.

 Card and Snack Making |10 am | 415 Westlake | all ages
Help create cards of encouragement for our Women's Shelter or snacks for the kids at Compass House and students at Compass House and Mary's Place.

Help for the Hungry l all ages l 10 am | 415 Westlake
Pack sack lunches for the Immanuel Community Services Hygiene Center. The ICS Hygiene Center, located in the gymnasium of Immanuel Lutheran Church, provides the opportunity for homeless men and women to wash their clothes, take a shower, and spend the morning in a warm, safe, and clean environment. The Center is open weekdays from 8:00 am to noon. 

Bulk Food| 10 am | 415 Westlake
Help provide food security as we provide and repackage food or our local Immanuel Food Bank this month.

Meal Support| 10 am | 415 Westlake
Join with Alicia Downey in our kitchen to create meals for people in our community who could benefit from some extra tangible love.

 Create Your Own 4th Sunday Action
Some folks like to take 4th Sunday to develop connections with brothers and sisters by attending another church in their neighborhood or gathering others to share a meal or help a neighbor in community. What is a way that you feel nudged to express God's love and acceptance and seek the "welfare of the community?"

You also may want to take time to meditate on Luke 15:1-10.  How does it make you feel to know that God rejoices over you?  When have you experiencing God seeking after you?  How does this change how you live each day? 

 No Open Mic because of the holiday weekend. Our next Open Mics will be Monday, June 5 and Sunday, June 18 both at 6:30 p.m.

Stealing From the Bounty of the Past

Stealing From the Bounty of the Past
Jeff Fisher

This past Sunday at Union we introduced a new song, “Prayer for Lent”. Despite the admittedly uncreative title, I’m very excited about incorporating this song into our worship during this Lenten season, because it draws a connection between our community and the nascent church in the Fourth Century. The lyrics are adapted from a prayer attributed to St. Ephrem, a Syrian monk who died in the year 373. St. Ephrem was a prolific hymn-writer, who became revered for his ability to teach theology through music and combat doctrinal heresies that threatened to divide the church in its early, vulnerable state.   St. Ephrem, a Syrian refugee who experienced persecution and was forced to flee his home in the war-torn trauma of the 4th century, never stopped encouraging others in their faith. 

I think that St. Ephrem would be pleased that we are using his words to edify the body of the church so many centuries later. After all, in one of his hymns he says, “The boldness of our love is pleasing to you, O Lord, just as it pleased you that we should steal from your bounty.”

It’s important that we “steal from the bounty” of the generations of the church that came before us, because doing so provides a necessary reminder that our faith is anchored in something lasting and eternal that proves God’s faithfulness through the ages. It’s so easy to become obsessed with novelty and to look for the “new” thing that God is doing, but I take deep comfort in the knowledge that ours is but one chapter the book of salvation, and that as we flip back through the dusty pages of that tome we find that the words of a 1700-year-old Syrian man can suddenly become fresh again and produce new fruit in our congregation.

So, I hope that singing this song over the next several weeks assists you in preparing for Easter, in letting go of the things that weigh you down and opening yourself up to the new life of the resurrection. I also hope that the story of the prayer and its author open you up to embracing the spirit of philoxenia, the love of the stranger, so that you might discover the ways that God will continue to minister to you as you continue the pursuit of justice and shalom in the places of hurt and despair in our city and beyond.

Prayer for Lent
(Adapted from St. Ephrem’s Lenten Prayer)

O Lord and Master of my life
Take from me the spirit of sloth
Take from me the spirit of despair
Take from me the lust of power and idle talk
Instead, Lord, give to me
A spirit of holiness
Of patience and humility
That I might serve you more
O Lord and King
Help me see these faults of mine
And not to judge my neighbor’s heart
For you alone are God
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen

A Lent question: To whom else can we go for DEEP, LASTING LIFE?

When people decide it is too difficult and disappointing to follow Jesus, he asks those still with him, “Do you also wish to go away?”  Peter’s response is “To whom else can we go?  You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68).

Perhaps Jesus had not met expectations or provided the quick solution they desired. Jesus did not magically lift them from the complex maze of their daily lives.  He did not pull unending loaves of bread out of his pocket, but instead offered himself as the living bread. Jesus invited them to trust that he is the daily nourishment and guidance they need because he IS God’s presence. I AM the bread of life, Jesus says. 

In a moment of clarity, Peter gets it:  Jesus, I will stick with you.  What are any other true options?  You are the one who brings deep, lasting life. I will stick with you. 

The literal meaning of Lent is “lengthening.” Just as the daylight lasts longer each day as we move toward Spring, Lent is a season to intentionally seek a space – a “lengthening” space in our daily lives to examine this question:  To whom else can we go for deep, lasting life?  (While giving something up for Lent is the traditional practice, I do find that intentionally taking on a new practice might be the more positive response, especially a practice that takes me out of my comfortable patterns. Maybe the better question each day needs to be:  what will help create space, awaken my senses and help me face unmet expectations and live each day differently and more alert?)

In the maze of life, we are enticed down many paths that lead to dead-ends. Jesus does not promise to lift us out of the maze but instead promises to lead us through the maze, meeting us daily and relevantly.  Lent is a space that invites us to intentionally and honestly ask ourselves, “Will I trust Jesus?”

We need these 40 lengthening days of Lent to recognize the ways that we are forgetful, to name misplaced loyalties and to focus afresh on our need for a Savior so that Easter, the celebration of the resurrection, can break into our lives as God’s earth-shattering, world-redeeming, hope-infused reality of new life -- a new life for all of humanity and a new life that invites us into reconciling relationships with one another. Where else can we go for deep, lasting life?


Fourth Sunday – Meet your Church Neighbors

Deirdre Curle's journey of becoming acquainted with her church neighbors on Fourth Sundays. 

In the summer of 2015, a good friend from Puerto Rico was visiting for a week, and I invited her to come to Union with me. Although my friend was warmly greeted by several of you, she was taken aback by the calm casualness of our church – people walking around in shorts and sandals, sipping lattes, quietly singing along with our mellow worship songs. When I asked her what she thought of our church, she commented on how low-key we were compared to churches in Puerto Rico. Then she paused and said, “You know, you guys should check out other churches and see how they do things.”

I can’t help but wonder what we could do if we all came together as the church. Perhaps meeting our church neighbors is the first step.

After my friend left, I thought about what she said. I’ve attended Union for seven years, and University Presbyterian for ten years before that. But I’d never visited any of my Beacon Hill/Georgetown neighborhood churches. I decided to use our fourth Sundays to meet my neighbors. Here’s what I’ve learned and experienced so far:

Every church I've visited has welcomed me warmly, many times literally embracing me. Even when I looked different from them. Even when I did not speak their language. People have shown me the love of God and have made me feel like their sister in Christ. They’ve invited me to stay for lunch, attend fund-raising teas, and even join their worship band. All have encouraged me to return.

Most of the people who attend church in my neighborhood don’t actually live in my neighborhood. Much like our Union congregation, many people commute to their churches. People drive to their places of worship in my south Seattle neighborhood from Burien, Renton, Redmond, and Lake City. It seems that once people find a church they like, they’re willing to travel quite a ways to get there.

The ways to praise God through music are limitless. As a musician, it has been absolutely fascinating to see how different churches present musical worship. A Ukrainian Orthodox church I visited had no instruments at all. Instead, an a capella choir led the congregation in singing four-part harmony. An African-American church I visited joyfully sang songs for over an hour with a lively and incredibly talented band and choir – altogether, they made up about half the congregation. And one church had no live music at all – they sang along with a recording of Hill Song. It was inspiring to see how each church found different ways to glorify God through music.

Child participation in church differs. Most churches have Sunday school programs for young children. But in others, children stay with their parents during the service. One church I attended was celebrating Youth Sunday. On this particular day, children played in the band, sang in the choir, passed out the offering plates, read the scriptures, and read the announcements – in essence, did everything but preach the sermon. At the luncheon afterwards, they helped serve the food. I thought this was a wonderful way to prepare children for active engagement in their church and community.

Church attendance is in decline. According to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research (2015), more than half of all American congregations have less than 100 people in attendance. And according to Gallup (2012), Washington is one of the least religious states. These trends were painfully evident in the churches of my neighborhood. As enthusiastic as they were, most of the churches had attendance of less than 50. One church I visited about a year ago had only about 20 people. I visited them again last month, and they were down to 11, including myself. A quick Google search will yield numerous articles on declining church attendance, citing reasons such as people’s busy schedules, changing societal values, and lack of interest among Millennials. Sadly, many small churches in Seattle now face difficult questions about their financial viability and their relevance in the community.

There is great potential for us to be the church together. The Greek word for church is ecclesia, which refers not to buildings, but to the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 5:25, 32). Visiting other congregations has given me the opportunity to share what we do at Union, and learn about how others are living out their faith. I can’t help but wonder what we could do if we all came together as the church. Perhaps meeting our church neighbors is the first step.