August 2018  

Rev. Ginny Curinga


Rev. Ginny Curinga has been the pastor of Sierra Arden UCC for 14 years.

She is a graduate of Pacific School of Religion. She has served many churches for the last 35 years. She has also served Disciples of Christ, and Unitarian churches in addition to United Church of Christ.

She has worked for justice for those marginal groups since she was a teenager. Before going into the ministry she was a recreational therapist. She is an advocate for equality for the marginized groups. She has been an active advocate for  gays and lesbians and transgenders.  She performs weddings for all loving couples regardless of their sexual orientation.  Ginny has led Sierra Arden UCC into being a more welcoming place for those with disabilities. 

She will perform marriages for those who are not members and has several meetings with the couple before the event. She will perform gay marriages.

She is also available to do memorial services that are non-denominational, secular  or spiritual services.


The following is a sermon that she recently preached.

Sept.4, 2016        A New Identity   Philemon 1: 8-21

by Rev. Ginny


We know that the gospel has the power to cause all sorts of problems, if we really take it to heart because it radically challenges the norms of the day…  THEN and NOW.

From our 21st-century vantage point, we might be tempted to think that these first-century Christians were simply less enlightened about slavery than we are.   Slavery was common in those days, an ordinary and accepted part of life. 30-40% of the people living in the Roman Empire were slaves.

Paul wanted Philemon’s slave, Odesimus ,to be free and to be treated as a Christian Brother. One can easily imagine Paul's Jewish roots--his DNA—impelled him to resist slavery as evil. His own people had been slaves once.  It was not permitted in his faith to have Jewish slaves for life, and there were legal provisions for their release.  

I had the opportunity and privilege too take a seminar from Elie Wiesel a holocaust survivor and Humanitarian.  He died at age 87 in July. He was such an inspiration. To sit in his presence was to have your very soul opened up to how evil humans can be and how our silence makes us complicit.  He also was a living witness to how strong the human spirit is and what hell one can live through. His vivid stories of surviving despite the torturous conditions will not be forgotten.

It was like having your eyes opened in a way that you cannot ever again be blind to injustice and suffering.  Nobody MISSED his lectures in fact, they had monitors to keep out unregistered students.  

While in Germany last year I felt that I had to return to Daccau, to the concentration camp that I had seen at age 20. Now to again see it 40 years later was so different.  I could hear Elie’s voice as I walked through the halls and saw the photos of this horrific place. 

His witness made such a difference to me and many others. 

My prayer as I think about the witness of Elie Wiesel and This scripture is: God help us all to see every human being through the lens of the gospel message of freedom and dignity for all.  Let the spot light of the gospel enable us to listen for how God is still speaking to us in this time and place.

Scholar John Dominic Crossan points out, that Paul in Philemon was not just a cultural-political-legal question about slavery in Rome, but a spiritual teaching for followers of Jesus. Paul stated in Galatians 3:28, "There is no longer Jew or Greek slave or free male or female all are one in Christ.” All those old distinctions are abolished. 

What a challenge for us today to think about the dividing factors that we consider as appropriate or normal. What practices, customs, and traditions do we need to look at more closely? No matter how comfortable we have become with them because they are part of the culture in which we live.

Many years ago I took a group of teenager from rural Sonoma County on a Mission Trip to Fresno. The big UCC church there had a powerful ministry to Hmong refugees; that was the point of the trip.  They also had a Farm Worker Ministry there too, so I invited them to speak to our group.  Well, that made more of an impact on these kids because they could relate to the farm issues. Their families owned orchards and vineyards.. They suddenly were filled with questions of how the seasonal workers were treated. They had their eyes opened to the poor conditions and the suffering and desperation of many farmer workers. 

Needless to say, when we returned there were many a heated discussion in their homes and some tense phone calls from parents to me. One boy informed his father that they were slave owners!  It became known as the farmer worker mission trip, not Hmong refugee trip.  When the dust settled, the parents all wanted their children to go on the next trip to SF and Berkeley to learn about ministry to the homeless that churches were doing there.  We all went with our eyes wider opened to the impact it would have on our young people, which for me made it worth all the ruckus and smoldering glares that I  had to endure.

Kate Matthews writes that during her time as a member of the national staff of the United Church of Christ, she led many tours of the Church House, with the highlight being time spent in the Amistad Chapel.  That beautiful worship space is named after the chapter in the life of our church when our Congregationalist forebears stood with the captives of the slave ship, The Amistad. Helping the slave captives find justice and freedom, after a long legal battle.

Matthews remembered one tour that stood out: standing around the table whose wood resembles a captain's wheel, two pastors shared how deeply moved they were when they visited Ghana and the historic sites there, where captives were shipped off to America in slavery, Now they were standing in a place that remembered not only the ordeal but also the courage and strength of those captives. Their questions were probing, and there was a thoughtful and painful discussion about the history and role of churches in justifying and reinforcing the practice of slavery in the United States two hundred years ago.

Today, our churches are speaking out in condemning the practice of human trafficking. Our voices can be raised, like Paul's, in solidarity with those held in bondage even in this "enlightened" age.

We can't change everything in the world, but what do we do with the power that we do have?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said that the church should be the headlights, not the tail lights, in such matters, but too often this is not the way things happen.

There was a story in the Sacramento Bee this week:  There are two First Baptist Churches in Macon Georgia – one black and one white. They sit almost back-to-back, separated by a small park, overlooking downtown.

About 170 years ago, they were one congregation, a church of masters and slaves. Then the fight over abolition and slavery started tearing badly at religious groups and moving the country toward Civil War. Ever since – through Jim Crow, the civil rights movement, desegregation and beyond – the division endured, becoming so deeply rooted it hardly drew notice.

Then, two years ago, the Rev. Scott Dickison, pastor of the white church, and the Rev. James Goolsby, pastor of the black church, met and an idea took shape: They’d try to find a way the congregations, could become friends and try to bridge the stubborn divide of race. They are taking up this work in the midst of the much-publicized deaths of blacks at the hands of law enforcement and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Next month, they will each lead joint discussions with church members on racism in the history of the U.S., and also in the history of their congregations. “Not as a conversation of blame, but of acceptance and moving forward.

In the early 1800s, in Baptist churches of the South, whites and blacks often worshipped together, but blacks were restricted to galleries or the back of the sanctuary. Eventually, black populations started growing faster in many communities. Whites, made uneasy by the imbalance, responded by splitting up the congregations. First Baptist in Macon, built a separate church for blacks in 1845.

The Pastors both say their respective churches are enthusiastic about plans to work together, under the New Baptist Covenant, an organization formed by former President Jimmy Carter to unite Baptists.

Yet, excitement is mixed with apprehension, since the effort would inevitably require “some challenging conversations,” and re-examining of the official church history, which had been recorded with almost no recognition of racism. They agreed “We need to go through this kind of conversion experience of confession, of repentance and of reconciliation.

A few months later, when the white church invited black church members for a youth trip to Orlando. The Black Pastor’s teenage son wanted to go, but his father, the pastor, considered Florida too dangerous since Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, black 17-year-old, was fatally shot. The pastor felt that he could not let his son go on the trip. “If you put a hoodie on him,” he said, “he looks just like Trayvon.” The concerns of anxious black parents had been much in the news, but the white church members hadn’t had to confront. After reassurances from a white chaperone, the black pastor allowed his son and the other young people of his congregation to participate.

 In preparation for the joint talks on racism the white church studied Strength to Love, a collection of sermons and writings by King. This class was held on the Sunday in July  right after the fatal police shootings in Louisiana and in Minnesota, and the fatal ambush on white Dallas police officers.

In the discussions that followed one man said, “We have our tribes. We see ourselves over and against others.” Another man said when you reach out to someone from another group, “you’re perceived as unpatriotic,” or disloyal. A woman said that she was upset to see disrespect of the police.  The white pastor the next Sunday used King’s sermon on the Good Samaritan, about despised groups and showing mercy.

The next night, the black church hosted the city’s Black Lives Matter vigil,     marking the tragedies of the preceding week. Clergy from across the city stood together. The two Baptist pastor stood together in the pulpit and compared racism to “a cancer that roams inside the body of this nation, and yes, even in the body of Christ.” They urged people to maintain hope “in spite of our circumstances.” “We know there will be change.” Then both men said, “Amen.”

If we remember who we are as followers of Jesus, won't that have an effect on our choices in the way we live? What things do we do today, that keep us from living up to who we are as Christians, even if our cultural mores find them acceptable.

We can only wonder, for example, about our how our grandchildren and great grandchildren will think about the social issues that have been so difficult for us to deal with. They will challenge our judgements and our lack of faithfulness as a church and as followers of Jesus!  It is right and good that they do.  We grow in our understanding.

As we turn 70 years old as a church, I am sure the early church members never thought about being open and affirming or welcoming to all.



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