Stewardship: Lessons learned from rowing

What rowing taught me about high-performance teams

“I started rowing in high school on the Mississippi in my hometown of St. Paul. When I went off to university at McGill, I decided to try out for the freshman crew team. When my turn came up, I pulled harder than I ever pulled for 2,000 meters. Unfortunately, many others pulled harder than I did; I was, at best, in the middle of the pack.

Regardless, they put me in a boat with seven other recruits and we rowed a few kilometers, switching seats and running drills to test our skills and rowing technique. After an hour or two, they selected a group to come back for additional workouts that week in order to select the
final two boats for the season. When they called my name and asked me to come back, I knew my college experience was about to change.

I made the “A” boat and we went on to win the Eastern Canadian Conference Championship that Fall in London, Ontario by beating the next boat by over three boat lengths — a significant margin for a 2,000-meter race. It was an amazing end to a challenging season as we struggled to place better than third up until that moment.

Why did we win so handily after a season of mediocre results? Three things came together for us that day that drove our success. These have become my core team performance principles and have stayed with me over the years. I’ve applied them as an entrepreneur, as a CEO, and now as an executive and team coach.

Understand your role and how what you do affects your team

From the moment you sit in a racing shell, you realize what a precarious situation you are in as a team. The boat is barely wide enough for your hips and, without the oars in the water, the boat is inherently unstable and will flip in the blink of an eye. Getting eight guys to swing four-meter long oars at 36 strokes a minute and stay afloat is not easy. A successful boat needs two things: set and swing. Without these, the boat tips back and forth and jerks front and back, making it impossible to build momentum and speed.

Have a clear direction, but an easy hand on the steering

The coxswain must keep the end goal in sight, without trying to make adjustments after every stroke.

There was a ninth person in our boat, the coxswain. She was 104 pounds and carried 16 pounds of dead weight to get her to the 120-pound minimum. Her primary job was to keep us on course and steer the straightest line possible. Each boat raced in a lane marked by small floats that were 13.5 meters wide — not wide berth for a boat that is almost nine meters wide with oars extended. She was the jockey of an eight-horse team.

A good coxswain keeps the boat in the lane, but does so with an easy hand. Steering too much means zig-zagging over the course and rowing far more than 2,000 meters, which adds to time. The trick is to keep the end in sight and steer to a center point far down course, not trying to keep coming back to the center every stroke. To do this, the coxswain calls out increased pressure for a few strokes on one side of the boat or the other to correct the course rather than use the rudder, which slows down the boat.

High-performance teams always keep the end in sight and know the ultimate objectives of their work. Without a clear picture of the goal, teams thrash with process and fail to achieve proper alignment in their activities. Going in the wrong direction as fast as you can doesn’t get you any closer to the finish.

It’s not how hard you work, it’s how hard you work together.

Warren’s Wonderings: Leadership

At our last Church Council meeting we took our next step toward our annual meeting. Last year, you may remember, that we held the event on Zoom. This year we hope to meet in person and on Zoom. Looking back over the past year is always a time for acknowledgements. While we lost our beloved Kathie… we also gained the full skills of our moderator Paul in his computer/organizing skills and leadership during a confusing time. We also have appreciated some veteran council members and some newbies. And most of all we have seen how you, the people of this community of faith have come together, worshiped, supported those in various needs of our community, and have kept this church alive. What a privilege it is to walk with you in this spiritual journey.

Our annual meeting is also a time to look to the future. We still are exploring possibilities for a new worship center. We still are looking at how we can continue to be good stewards with our blessed resources. We still are looking at ways to be a good and faithful servant to our God’s mission with us. And to do this we need to continue to empower our church leaders.

Our council is always in need of veterans and newbies. The past two years have been stressful but rewarding. We look to adjust our leadership so that we prevent burnout. When I think of leadership, I think of two great models. The one example is Moses. Most of us think of Moses as this great leader who led the people out of slavery and onto the edge of the Promised Land. Well in Exodus 3… we read:

“Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.”

Moses was an escaped slave tending the flock. And thus, when God asked him to lead, this is the conversation that ensued:

God said, “And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

Whoever leads this church… God will be us…

And then there was Stephen…He was one of the seven men chosen to be responsible over the distribution of food to widows in the early church after a dispute arose and the apostles recognized they needed help. He was also “full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8)

Thus, Stephen became a leader because he was faithful. Therefore, my friends if you are faithful and you wish to serve this church re-entering the Council as a veteran renewed in your energy or as a newbie called by our faithful community, I invite you to talk with me about being a member of our leadership team. And as always, I celebrate how we all, as participants in this community of faith, continue to serve our God.

Blessings to you all,
Pastor Warren

Stewardship: Parable of the Talents/Minas

Many non-Christian church goers nor Scripture readers are familiar with this story. As Pastor Warren quoted recently: “Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different.” …Albert Szent Gyorgi

Here is one different interpretation delivered as a sermon, shared by a Minister’s wife, and a professional voice teacher, who heard the sermon.

“A talent was worth a great deal (20 years’ daily wages for a laborer), and the boss gave three workers varying numbers of said talents, “according to their ability”, with the expectation that they would make good use of them for the good of the business. Two workers invested the talents and doubled their value; the third buried their single talent in a hole for safekeeping, thus preserving but not increasing its value. When the boss returned, the two who had added value were praised and rewarded, while the third had the one talent taken away,received a harsh scolding, and was “sent into the outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth”.

“I love that the name of this high-value investment vehicle is TALENT. The rest of the sermon was about talent as we usually define it: our gifts and special skills, how to identify them and find where to use them, not only for their value to others but also because of the joy it brings to us when we use what we love and do best. Thinking about what makes you excited to get up in the morning (or whenever), and then take action to make that thing happen, is a good way to figure (that) out your talent” (Mrs. Robin Hansen, Seattle, WA)


Kathie Fosgett

Our dear friend Kathie Fosgett passed away from a stroke on Labor Day weekend, 2021. Kathie served as our full time Executive Director, working primarily in the areas of administration, operations, outreach, and marketing. Kathie found that the most rewarding aspect of this position was the opportunity to foster cross-pollination and resource-sharing with other organizations who share First Church of Redwood City’s values and sense of social justice. She also loved spiritual celebrations, wine tasting, and music. Many of you have asked how you might commemorate her. An online celebration of her life was held on Nov. 7, 2021. For those wishing to celebrate her life with a gift, her family asks that you donate in her memory to Pacific School of Religion. Kathie will be remembered fondly by all of us here at First Church Redwood City, United Church of Christ.

Our History

When First Church was founded in 1862 in a small building in downtown Redwood City no one could have predicted the radical changes that the next 159 years would bring to this town and to our society in general.

In 1862, we were the only Protestant church in San Mateo County. There were no cars and no paved roads. Most goods were moved by teams of oxen, or by train, or by tall ships (yes, tall ships in downtown Redwood City!). Very few women held jobs. There were no phones or televisions, no computers, no Facebook, no Twitter, or Instagram.

Our first church building was known as “the little church on the island” because it was reached by crossing a bridge to a peninsula almost surrounded by Redwood Creek at the corner of what is now Jefferson and Middlefield.

We worshipped in that first church building for nearly 60 years before building a new, and far larger, building on that same downtown site which we occupied for another 30 years.

In 1893 we realized that some of our parishioners had to travel over five miles by horse-drawn wagons on a dirt road down the hill from the town of Woodside. We purchased property there and sponsored Woodside Village Church through the early 1900’s.

The 1906 earthquake knocked our church building off its foundation and broke all the crockery that had been set out for a church dinner…but we still aided people in San Francisco. We met in the Baptist Church for the next six months while repairs were made.

We continued to prosper in the 1920’s under Rev. Dr. Robert J. Currie and became even more closely integrated with the progress of the community. Redwood City largely owes the idea of the Easter Cross to Rev. Currie. And, in 1925, our member Wilbur H. Doxsee coined our current motto, “Climate Best by Government Test” — for which he won $10.

In 1954, we moved to a new site on the rapidly developing west side of Redwood City at the corner of Euclid and McGarvey (fondly called “The Church of the Rock”) where we thrived for another 50 years.

During that first 145 years, we fulfilled a position of dynamicChristian leadership in our community and continued to place strong emphasis on giving and serving in support of social justice issues such as poverty, discrimination, and the environment.

A few major efforts that supported that mission during those first years included co-founding Casa de Redwood in 1971. Casa is a much-needed low-income senior housing facility in downtown Redwood City is still a thriving community with which we maintain a strong connection. And, in 1979, when Temple Beth Jacob was severely damaged by fire as a result of a hate crime, we shared our church building with them through their recovery.

In 2007, our congregation was faced with a difficult decision. Our membership had been small for several years, and it was becoming increasingly challenging to meet the financial obligations of owning and maintaining such a large property. Two realities become clear: first, we could not afford the property we were currently in without major infusions of capital, and second, our call as a community was to share what resources we had with others in God’s name. After much struggle, the congregation voted to sell the property and use the funds to the betterment of Redwood City and our greater community. So, we moved to leased space and began to revitalize worship and community relationships.

One of the blessings that came out of this difficult decision is the understanding that we are still a church with vibrant worship and a commitment to the Redwood City community. Our relationships with one another and with God, our work in ministry, and our hope for the future is not tied to (or tied down by) a physical building.

When COVID-19 appeared so dramatically in March of 2020, we closed down our leased space and moved most everything to storage. We established a work-from-home model for our staff and learned how to Zoom for weekly Worship, study, and meetings.

We continue our commitment to worship, social justice, education, and fellowship as part of our congregational life. We have been truly blessed to learn more about the great work happening around Redwood City and our area, and we are delighted to offer our support to projects that enrich the lives of so many. We hope to continue to embrace our dream of making a difference in Redwood City and the greater community for many more years.