Pastor’s Letter, June 12, 2024

Dear Salem FCC Friends in Christ,

WARNING: don’t look below until you have answered the question that follows this sentence!

The question?    What is the mission of this church of which you are a part?   

Got it?  OR give up?  

If so, look below, now…

The mission of the First Congregational Church of Salem, NH is to unite together all who seek a relationship with God through the Christian faith, promoting individual spiritual growth and personal peace in a safe, nonjudgmental and nurturing atmosphere. We will strive to provide a strong Christian fellowship community celebrating God’s grace through prayer, worship, music, education, service and fellowship and to provide Christian leadership in the community through action and example.

Did you get it?   Or did you not have a clue?   Why or why not?

Either way, let me – or a search committee – member know.

I ask because, as your interim pastor at the beginning of Pentecost Season- the season of the church,  I’m curious …  

Why am I wondering?  Ask yourself, or… ask me.  

Blessings of All Good Gifts of God’s Spirit,  

Pastor Ed

Pastor’s Letter, June 5, 2024

Dear Salem FCC Friends in Christ,
This upcoming Sunday we’ll gather for what we call All Church Family Sunday Worship. But, I wonder: what do we mean when we call ourselves a family?

After all there are many kinds of families. Just consider the adjectives we use to describe families. Like blended families, single-parent families, all-American families, queer families, and more…

There are also many different qualities to families. Families range from close and loving to distant and abusive. (which is why I’ve always found the term, family values used by some Christians, especially fundamentalist Christians and certain politicians, to be confusing, misleading, and even manipulative).

So… what kind of family are we?

My response is that we are a communion family, one filled with inclusive love and extraordinary hospitality for all persons. Everyone is welcome at our “tables” of worship, learning, serving, and Communion. But, what’s your response?

More importantly, whatever kind of family we call ourselves as we gather on this particular Sunday, what kind of family will we be going forward, day-in and day-out?

Blessings of Late Spring and Early Pentecost,
Pastor Ed

Pastor’s Letter, May 22, 2024

Dear Salem FCC Friends in Christ,

Thanks to the faithful work of your Settled Pastor’s Search Committee, we have now experienced 3 Focus Groups. Their initial process of information gathering was completed during last Sunday’s sermon time after we read the Pentecost story and noted how the Holy Spirit brought a diverse group of people the capacity to understand one another and speak to each other. I likened their experience to a challenge we face today as a church: translating the language of Christianity and our beloved ways of being church for unchurched people whose experience is very foreign to our own.

Now, the Search Committee will go to work compiling the information, reflecting on what it means, and translating it into responses to be inserted into your church’s profile that eventually will be circulated to prospective candidates for the position of settled pastor here. It is challenging work, so please keep the committee in your thoughts and prayers.

Blessings of All Good Gifts as we Enter the Pentecost Season,
Pastor Ed

Pastor’s Letter, May 15, 2024

Dear Salem FCC Friends in Christ, 

On this upcoming Sunday, May 19th we’ll remember and celebrate Pentecost during worship.   We’ll do so by listening to Luke’s story of Pentecost in his second book, The Acts of the Apostles.

His story recounts the day when Jesus’ followers and others experienced the coming of what Luke called the Holy Spirit.  As time went on, this day would come to represent the birth of Christ’s church.   So it is, we celebrate the church’s birthday each year on Pentecost Sunday!   

Now, what better day is there, then, to give Christ’s church a gift?   

And, what might the church need for a gift?…   How about ourselves?     

This is exactly what you’ll have a chance to do on this year’s Pentecost Sunday because the Settled Pastor’s Search Committee will be hosting its third focus group meeting during worship.  The focus question will be: How will we get where we’re going?  It’s a question for you as well as the Search Committee. 

I encourage you to attend worship this Sunday.  For you’ll be bringing the church a precious gift: yourself!   And, the Search Committee will benefit from your presence as they prepare a Church Profile for circulation to pastors seeking new call-settings in which they may share their own God-given gifts.   

May Christ’s church here be blessed by your presence this Sunday! 

Pastor Ed

Pastor’s Letter, May 1, 2024

Dear Friends in Christ,
Your Search Committee has offered two great opportunities for you to share your thoughts regarding who you are and where you want to go as a church body! I’ve found these sessions extremely interesting and very helpful. Attendees have offered many thoughtful contributions, and Search Committee members have listened carefully. They’ve also been reflecting faithfully at their meetings on what they’ve heard in these Focus Groups! They’re an extraordinary bunch!

So, I look forward to the upcoming third focus group on how you see yourselves getting to where you want to be. It will be integrated into our Pentecost Sunday worship on May 19th (along with the Annual Meeting). It promises to be an important, rich moment along your interim-time journey! So, I hope you’ll be able to be present because your contributions may be quite valuable.

Blessings of Easter Season,
Pastor Ed

Pastor’s Letter, April 24, 2024

Dear Friends in Christ,

Another Earth Day has come and gone. Did you celebrate – or otherwise do something to mark it?

I spent time reading reflections by Christians on the earth because more and more Christians are encouraging Christians and churches to study and practice being “green.” Why? Because if we’re about choosing the ways of life over the ways of death what’s more fundamental – and inclusive – than preserving the life of our planetary home for everyone?
With this in mind, UCC church pastor and denominational leader, Jim Antal, has redefined love of neighbor in his book Climate Church, Climate World. He writes:

We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves … and we must recognize that future generations are no less our neighbors than those who live next door today. We can think of this as Golden Rule 2.0….No longer is it morally adequate to expand our understanding of justice to include in the circle of neighborly treatment more distant neighbors. We must recognize that all people, indeed all creatures alive and all those yet to be born, are our neighbors.”

Toward this aim, our wider UCC church leaders have developed a pathway for congregations to adopt an identity and focus for their ministries: becoming a Green Church. It makes sense, and I’d hope it’d be less difficult for Christians across the spectrum of belief to take on than Open and Affirming has been. After all, even the ancient prophet Hosea made a connection between faithfulness and the environment when he wrote:

Israel, listen as the LORD accuses everyone in the land!
No one is faithful or loyal or truly cares about God…
Violence is everywhere. And so your land is a desert.
Every living creature is dying: people and wild animals, birds and fish.

Blessing of Eastertide!
Ed Koonz

Pastor’s Letter, April 17, 2024

Dear Church Friends,

According to a 2022 Lifeway Research poll(, 66% of U.S. adults and 90% of those who attend church regularly believe the Biblical accounts of Jesus’ physical resurrection are accurate.

Of this longstanding statistic, theologian Marcus Borg called this way of understanding Easter “a distraction.” (
He explains, “To think that Easter intrinsically involves the transformation of Jesus’ corpse turns it into an utterly spectacular event that happened once upon a time long ago. This emphasis most often goes with the message that death is not the end for us, at least for those of us who believe in Jesus. As commonly understood, Easter it is about the promise of an afterlife.”

And he adds, “But, Easter is not primarily about Jesus’ triumph over death and a future for us beyond death. Rather, the meanings of the Easter stories in the gospels and the affirmation of Jesus’ resurrection in the rest of the New Testament are much more significant,… (and) twofold. First, Jesus lives; and second, Jesus is Lord.“

This means, he writes, that “Jesus is still loose in the world. He’s still out there, still here, still recruiting people to share his passion for the Kingdom of God – a transformed world here and now.”

And, he concludes, “To reduce it to a spectacular miracle a long time ago and a hope for an afterlife is to diminish it and domesticate it. It is not about heaven. It is about the transformation of this world. Jesus was killed because of his passion for a different kind of world. Easter is about God’s “Yes” to what we see in Jesus. Easter is not about
believing in a spectacular long ago event, but about participating in what we see in Jesus. Crucifixion and the tomb didn’t stop him. Easter is about saying “Yes” to the passion of Jesus. He’s still here, still recruiting…”

This is Marcus Borg whose book, Speaking Christian, some of us will be reading and discussing starting next Wednesday. But, what’s your understanding of – and your relationship to – Jesus’ resurrection? Is your Easter faith mainly about believing in what happened to Jesus and could happen to you when you die, or is it substantially about participating in Jesus’ vision, hope, and Way today?

Eastertide Blessings,

Pastor’s Letter, April 3, 2024

Dear Salem FCC Friends in Christ, 

Holy Week and Easter are behind us!  Does this mean these days and what they represent are behind us, too?  No!

Holy Week began with our remembering and celebrating first century Jews who dared to harbor the highest of human hopes: the arrival of a Godly human who would lead people into an age of shalom or the well-being of all God’s people on earth.  It ended with their dreams being shattered on a torturous instrument of Roman execution, the cross.  

Evil, seemed to have triumphed.   But, no!  

In the experience of a few, and in the belief of some others, a God of amazing love had the last word in the resurrection of Christ Jesus from the grave.  Their story is wondrous, but hard to embrace.  Not only because of Jesus’ resurrection, but also because evil and death remain rampant in our lives and world.  

So, yes the days of Holy Week and Easter are behind us in a secular, literal sense, but the times they represent are still ahead of us in a spiritual sense.  It’s all quite a paradox and conundrum that requires time – maybe even a lifetime – to integrate into our lives.

Fortunately, for us, this is exactly what the church has given us.  For the church has not given us only an annual day, but an annual season in which to reflect upon Easter’s meaning and integrate its perspective into our lives.  It’s called Eastertide, and it lasts seven weeks! 

As the continuing drama of life – with all its human hopes and tragic sorrows continues, we shall be faithful to Easter’s call that we reflect  it unto transformation.   And, in the end, we shall not leave Easter’s life  in the ash heap of human history, but shall make it vitally real. 

This is my hope for us as those who comprise Christ’s church.  What’s yours – after Easter? 

Blessings of Eastertide, 

Ed Koonz

Pastor’s Letter, April 10, 2024

Dear Friends in Christ,
Robert Cottrel, a writer and inspirational speaker with 35 years’ experience in nonprofit management, is a former evangelical Christian church member who’s spent decades helping bring hope into the lives of children with life-threatening illnesses. He’s just written an article posted on Patheos, a non-denominational, non-partisan online media company providing information and commentary from various religious and nonreligious perspectives ( It has this provocative title: Has the Church Resealed the Tomb? In this season of Eastertide, a time for embracing the fullness of Easter, I think it’s an article worth giving a thoughtful hearing.

Cottrell writes,

I often ponder the path the church has taken. How its steps, meant to follow the footprints of Jesus, have veered so far away from the open tomb and Jesus’ message of lavish, unconditional love and inclusion. It’s a path that places us back under the shadows of law and stones of conditional love and exclusion, and puts Jesus back in the tomb and reseals it with power and fear!

Jesus was all about the outlier. He shared a message of an all-encompassing love—a love that knew no boundaries, that extended beyond the margins of society, that embraced the outcast, the marginalized, the misunderstood. Jesus’ ministry was one of radical inclusion, where the least likely were the most welcome. This was a love that broke the chains of legalism, that challenged the rules, religious leaders and institutions. He put the entirety of the law into two commands: Love God and love others…

Yet, as I look around today, I see so many churches that are the exact opposite. They have nothing to do with the teachings and message of Jesus. He is just a mascot. They prioritize rules over relationships, dogma over empathy, and orthodoxy over understanding. They have rolled those stones back across the entrance of the tomb, trapping, with fear and false teachings, themselves and their followers inside.

The exclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals is a prime example of this regression…

Cottrell is obviously speaking to a particular group of churches with which he has experience, but we all practice a degree of intolerance and indifference that can result in exclusion of others. So, it is we ought consider what kind of welcome we offer newcomers to church as well as to strangers in the community outside our walls and in our lives. For, as Cottrel concludes: If you want to be a people of the resurrection, and not a people of a re-sealed tomb; the best way to celebrate Easter and move forward is by loving yourself and loving others the same way the one you claim to follow did.

Blessings of Eastertide, Pastor Ed

Pastor’s Letter Dec. 7, 2022

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

-Philippians 4:6-7

Image of an open Bible with light coming down on it.

Good afternoon, Beloved,

I pray that each of you are well and guarded by God’s eternal peace. I was considering this amazing gift recently and roughly remembered what a professor once said. He explained that the absence of war is in itself not peace, and peace can exist while we are at war. In fact, he was explaining that these two states of being / society are not really in opposition. They can both, philosophically speaking, exist in the human psyche at the same time. 

Personally, I love this idea. This concept that even though we are dealing with great conflicts or even full out war, we can be at peace in our souls: faithfully trusting in God and whatever God has planned for us in the future. I love the idea; however, real world living has revealed that this state of being is not always that easy to achieve, especially for us broken humans. We have anxiety, worry, OCD or just simple conflicts which turn our world upside down. And in these moments, it is hard to find God’s peace. The very idea, like the apostle’s words above, seem to be just empty aphorisms or phrases when we are struggling in conflict or war.

So, what do we do? How do we go from this real-world conflict to the peace of God? Well beloved, I believe the answer is right there in Paul’s words. Right there when he says,” prayer and supplication with thanksgiving.” Now, I do believe any prayer in the midst of your conflict will help. Yet, there is one practice which I find helps me. It is a cross between a breathing prayer and the Lectio Divina. If you do not know what these are, please ask and I can show you them as well. 

For today though, let us focus on a prayer for your peace. Start by just choosing a piece of scripture (randomly or a particular passage). Then separate the passage into phrases and read them aloud. Finally, in between each phase breathe slowly in and out three times. It looks something like this:

“Do not be anxious” Breathe – Breathe – Breathe “about anything,” Breathe – Breathe – Breathe “but in everything” Breathe – Breathe – Breathe “by prayer and supplication” Breathe – Breathe – Breathe “with thanksgiving” Breathe – Breathe – Breathe “let your requests be made known” Breathe – Breathe – Breathe “to God.” Breathe – Breathe – Breathe “And the peace of God,” Breathe – Breathe – Breathe “which surpasses all understanding,” Breathe – Breathe – Breathe “will guard your hearts” Breathe – Breathe – Breathe “and your minds” Breathe – Breathe – Breathe “in Christ Jesus.”

This beloved is what we do. We set aside five minutes – that’s all – and pray to refocus – recenter – return to the peace of God which surpasses all understanding. It is a basic gift which God gave us when they created all of humankind and it works. It allows us to find that peace and confront the worries of the day with all the peace Christ has to offer through the Holy Spirit. 

I offer this truth as a gift to you amongst our busy season – amongst the conflicts – amongst the wars. For, peace is not just a nice idea or philosophy, it is a gift. An attainable goal we can all achieve if we give “everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving” to God.

I pray you will take this opportunity to find God’s Peace Now and always

Peace be with you all

Your pastor and teacher Brian