As you may have already heard, Session voted on a recommendation from the Renewal Committee at our December meeting to transition into having only one service of worship. Last Summer we had one worship service, and we received a lot of positive feedback from the congregation. At the June meeting of Session, we discussed the possibility of permanently switching to one worship service. We ultimately decided to refer this question to the Renewal Committee. Based upon an overwhelming preference heard in the congregational surveys, the Renewal Committee recommended to Session that we make the change to one service of Worship.
One service of worship will unite our two worshiping communities into one, and this will strengthen our church. Last Summer we found that a larger attendance in the Sanctuary brought more energy and joy into the experience of worship. This is not only a benefit to the worshiping community, it also makes a significant difference to visitors. A full sanctuary will unquestionably make a better impression. Combining our worship services will help us grow.
There are two decisions that need to be made – the time for worship to begin each Sunday and the day when we will switch to one service. Our Worship Committee has been assigned the task of evaluating the pros and cons of various alternatives. Worship will then submit a report and recommendation to Session, and Session will ultimately decide. If you would like to share your thoughts on these questions, please contact one of the members of the Worship Committee. You will find a list of the Worship Committee members, as well as the members of Session, in this Newsletter.
Session firmly believes that transitioning to one service of worship will be in the best interest for our church and church’s future. Your thoughts, your opinions, and your support are greatly appreciated.
The Session of First Presbyterian Church
Roger Goin ‘18(Chair) Peggy Smith ’19
Liz Stothart ‘18 Lynetta Johnson (At large)
Sue Redmon (At large) Carol Francisco (At large)
Jimmy Oliver (At large) Paula Scott (At large)
Jenny Clemmer (At large)
Mark Davis – Staff Liaison
Rev. Sharon Amstutz, Moderator Dorothy Lightfoot, Clerk of Session
Class of 2017 Class of 2018 Class of 2019
Chuck Bachelder Stewart Baggett Rebecca Combs
Jennie Benton Mike Bunch Carol Dixon
Tony Cole Roger Goin John Good
Spencer Correll Mary Glenn Lively Andrew Hagan
Dee Dee Dietrich Chris Raines Wes Mink
Catherine Tucker Liz Stothart Peggy Smith
In the fall of 2008, Russ Pearson began a long journey. For the next five years, Russ took various classes by correspondence through Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond. Working toward his Master’s Degree in Christian Education, Russ had to travel to Richmond a couple of times each year and study on campus for several weeks. For five years, he attended various classes online. He read countless books and wrote various papers. All the while working full time for our church, getting married and becoming a father. Finally, in December of 2013, he graduated. But that was not the end of his journey. In order to become a Certified Christian Educator, Russ still had to write several major papers and complete various projects to be presented to the Educator Certification Committee. As we all remember, this is about the time that Russ had cancer, so obviously his efforts toward certification were put on hold. Thankfully, Russ successfully beat cancer, and he once again focused his efforts on completing his journey, and now his journey is complete.
With great joy and pride, our church needs to celebrate the end of Russ’ journey toward becoming a Certified Christian Educator. On Saturday June 4, Russ will be recognized by the Presbytery and placed on the rolls as a Certified Christian Educator working within Holston Presbytery. Anyone who would like attend that ceremony is invited to come to this meeting of Holston Presbytery to be held at King University in Bristol, Tennessee. (Call our church office for details.)
On Sunday June 12 during our worship (9:45 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.), we will have our own recognition ceremony for Russ’ new title and celebrate his accomplishment. Following worship, we will have a reception for Russ in our Foyer. This will give all of our church an opportunity to personally congratulate Russ and tell him how proud we are. So make every effort to be here on that Sunday. Let’s fill the church and give Russ the appreciation he deserves.
Guatemala Mission Trip
June 30-July 8, 2016
Can you still feel the joy and love that we experienced in December in our brothers and sisters who visited us from Bethel Presbyterian Church in Guatemala City? Can you imagine what it would be like worshipping and serving alongside a whole church-full of people just as joyful and filled with love for God (and us!) as they were?
This is the new face of missions – working and worshipping alongside our mission partners, understanding that we both have much to give and receive from each other. The relationships that we form with each other are every bit as important as the projects that we do, and the truth is that our lives and faith are usually impacted in even greater ways than the people whose lives we might touch there- just ask any of the people who have participated in this partnership.
If this sounds like something you feel the Spirit nudging you to be a part of, why not consider coming with us this summer?
We will spend half of the week in Guatemala City doing community outreach and home visits with Bethel Presbyterian. You will be stretched by the poverty you encounter, and overwhelmed by the expressions of faith and gratitude you hear from the people you visit.
After worship Sunday we will join a delegation from Bethel and travel north to Coban, where mission co-workers Philip Beisswenger and Debbie and Richard Welch live and work. Joining members of Philip’s congregation we will paint the interior of the Bee Rigby multipurpose building at the Presbyterian Complex (funded in part by a bequest of our own Bee Rigby!), participate in its dedication, and do some form of community outreach. As a special project we hope to paint a mural on a portion of the wall surrounding the complex, under the creative oversight of Judy Grover.
For more information contact Sharon, or ask any of the previous participants about their experiences.
Registration forms can be found in the foyer. Return to Sharon with a $200 deposit.
Deadline: March 31st.
From Missionary Phillip Beisswenger’s sermon on December 6:
It’s an honor and joy to be here with you in Kingsport, and I bring greetings in the name of Jesus from Guatemala, the Land of Eternal Spring. Someone might wonder about the timing of this visit, and with good reason. Why a delegation from Guatemala at this particular time, when the weather’s colder, when so many people are busy with important pre-Christmas activities? On one level, the reason is that the school year runs differently in Guatemala, and now is when more people are available for such a trip. But on a deeper lever, we remember that this is the season of Advent, the coming of Christ. We remember that Christ came under less-than-ideal circumstances—a census, difficult travel, an uncomfortable stable. And we remember that Christ will come again, also under unexpected circumstances, like a thief in the night. As people of faith, we understand that God operates in ways we don’t always expect or understand, especially at this time of year.
By the way, you at Kingsport First Presbyterian Church have been great innkeepers.
To be honest with you, in Guatemala, many Presbyterians feel uneasy about Christmas. They tend not to fully embrace this holiday, for several reasons.
One reason is that Christmas in Guatemala is dominated by extravagant, crowded street processions of the Roman Catholic Church that Presbyterian don’t find meaningful.
Secondly, the Pentecostal churches, the largest segment of Protestantism, are adamant that Christmas is unscriptural, and they denounce it as a pagan holiday.
Third, Guatemalan Presbyterians object to much of the Christmas culture—Santa, reindeer, snowmen—that’s imported from other parts of the world.
Fourth, Guatemalan Presbyterians observe that Christmas is used by many people as an excuse for indulgence, excessive drinking feasting and partying.
On town squares throughout Guatemala, including Cobán’s, instead of a Christmas tree or a holiday tree, you find a Gallo tree. A gallo is a rooster, and it’s also the emblem of the country’s most popular beer. So instead of a star topping these trees, there’s a rooster’s head, announcing that tis the season to buy a six-pack of suds.
Lastly, economic poverty keeps many Presbyterians, especially the indigenous, from partaking in the consumerism of the season. Christmas for them is austere, often without gifts, only tamales, firecrackers & a few familiar carols over the radio.
Yes, Presbyterians in Guatemala tend to downplay Christmas. Which makes me wonder if St. Mark wasn’t actually a Guatemalan Presbyterian. You see, Mark definitely downplays Christmas, even ignoring it altogether.
We know each of the four Gospels approaches Christmas differently. Matthew tells about Christ’s birth from perspective of Joseph and the messianic connections. Luke offers the perspective of Mary and the marginalized. John stresses the cosmic perspective of the incarnation—the Word made flesh. Then there’s Mark, who makes no mention Christ’s birth at all. He makes no mention of Mary, Joseph, the angels, Bethlehem, the manger or shepherds. Instead, Mark starts with the Prophet Isaiah, about 800 years before Christ. So far, so good. But another prophet appears in the limelight, John the Baptist, about 30 years after Jesus’ birth. The birth story gets skipped over altogether. Instead of Bethlehem, we get the wilderness. Rather than a birth in a stable, we get baptisms in the Jordan River. The baby in swaddling clothes is replaced by a strange prophet wearing camel hair and a leather belt. Instead of angels singing, John the Baptist starts railing about repentance and the confession their sins. How did John get into the picture? John comes across like one of those photo bombers who’s always jumping into somebody else’s snapshot, stealing attention for himself.
As it turns out, a key theme in Advent is penitence. That’s what the purple candles stand for. At first I thought the purple candles stood for royalty, the coming of the King of kings. But actually, the purple is for penitence. When we light the three purple candles during Advent, we’re declaring this to be a season of repentance. The pink candle symbolizes joy, so according to the Advent wreath there should be three times as much repentance as joy. Maybe one of our favorite Christmas carols, along with “Joy to the World, The Lord Is come,” ought to be “Just As I Am, Without One Plea.”
Unlike the U.S., where the holiday season officially starts right after Thanksgiving, on Black Friday, in Guatemala, the holidays start with a tradition called“La Quema del Diablo” (the burning of the devil). On Dec. 7, people comb their homes looking for unwanted stuff they can pile into big bonfires. It’s burned along with effigies of Satan as a symbolic ridding of evil powers. The smoke and soot in the air, along with noise from firecrackers, is supposed to scare off wicked spirits. As a finale, men dress up in devil costumes and children gleefully chase them around.
In years past our family has done our own version. We buy a red devil piñata in the market, and I pontificate to our kids about all the ungodly stuff that can interfere with our appreciation for Jesus’ birth. We stuff the piñata with firecrackers and light a match to it, to our kids’ delight, blowing up Satan as a vivid and loud start to the Advent traditions that point to the approaching “Light of the world.”
So, during Advent we light the four candles in succession, and eventually the Christ candle in the middle, and we’re finished. There’s a beginning and an ending, just the way we like it. Unless we notice that another important part of the wreath’s symbolism is its round shape. It’s a circle that keeps going around and around forever, without end. No clear staring point, no obvious ending. Kind of like, well, the Gospel of Mark.
Interesting enough, the title of the Gospel of Mark isn’t really “The Gospel of Mark.” That title was added several centuries after the gospel was written. The original title is the very first verse, which reads, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” In other words, with those words as the title, that means the entire book is just the beginning. The gospel keeps unfolding. It keeps going, nonstop, from generation to generation, from place to place, from grace upon grace. We today, in countries like the United States and Guatemala, are the continuation of God’s story of salvation.
As if to accentuate the point, the Gospel of Mark doesn’t even give us a clear-cut ending. Most biblical scholars agree that the gospel’s final passage, verses 16:9-20, aren’t an original part of the book. The book end abruptly, with confusion amongst the disciples, as if to say that more chapters need to be written, that we’re called to write them with our lives until Christ’s return brings all things to their conclusion.
None of us should let our lives be seen by God as a place where the gospel didn’t continue, where the gospel came to a screeching halt, where it stopped. I hope that in the book of life, next to each of names, the words “the end” won’t be stamped. In the same way that Mark’s Gospel was titled “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” may each of our lives be titled “The continuation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Years ago, the Mayans in the region around Cobán had special traditions that reinforced their community bonds. One Q’eqchi’ ritual involved the relighting of fires. In the middle of the village sat the temple, where a perpetual fire burned inside. Fires also burned in the hearths of each homes. If someone’s hearth went cold, people could borrow a flame from a neighbor, or go to the temple itself, to relight it. However, on an appointed day every seven years, everybody’s fires were extinguished. After enduring a set time of darkness, families would emerge from their homes and process toward the temple. They’d approach the temple altar, take fire from it, and carefully carry it back home to relight their hearth. The ritual reminded the Q’eqchi’ people of the source of their fire and heat, and that it shouldn’t be taken for granted.
That’s what the season of Advent provide for us, a reconnecting with the source of our light. That’s what symbols like the Advent wreath offer, a rekindling of the true light. That’s what happens when we’re drawn together in Christ’s name to celebrate his coming, we experience how the true light, which enlightens everyone, has come into the world. May his light burn brightly in us, as the gospel about Jesus Christ continues.
Our Advent calendar is full of lots of events and activities, and now we have one more exciting thing to add to it. From December 5-8 we will have a delegation of our brothers and sisters from Bethel Presbyterian Church visiting us and getting a sense of our ministries and life together. This is a CHURCH-WIDE event and we hope that everyone will find some way to participate with us! If you wish to attend dinner on Sunday December 6 at 5:30 p.m. click HERE to make a dinner reservation so we know how many to cook for. Your reservation is needed by noon on Wednesday, December 2.
Q: Who will be coming?
A: Our mission co-worker, Philip Beisswenger, will be accompanying Pastor Luis, his wife, Delia, and four other church leaders.
Q: Why on earth are they coming in December? Won’t they freeze??
A: The dates in December were proposed by the Bethel congregation because their “summer” vacation is from October – January and this would allow one of their young people to join them. Even though it will be chilly we are excited about the possibilities that this time frame opens up – we host Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Kingsport (IHNGK) that week, and plan to take a spin through Speedway in Lights.
Q: What is the purpose of this trip? Is it a good use of money?
A: We have been told that our relationship with the Bethel church is extraordinary, and exactly what the World Missions office had in mind when they drafted the guidelines for forming partnerships between congregations or presbyteries:
“our mission relationships within this country and around the world are most faithful when they proclaim and incarnate:
• Our shared grace in Christ and thanksgiving to God
• Our mutuality and interdependence
• Recognition and respect of our identities
• Open dialogue and transparency of action and
• Two-way sharing of resources, human and financial.”
The goal of our relationship isn’t simply to do projects in Guatemala with or for the church or their community. It is to be the Church of Jesus Christ together, and to encourage and challenge each others faith. Looking at the relationship this way, we recognize that they have as much to give and teach us as we have to give and teach them, and we demonstrate a willingness to open our doors and hearts to them as they have to us.
Q: What kinds of things will they do while they are here?
A: First, this is a congregation-wide event! You all are invited to join us in everything we do as it is logistically feasible. We will begin each morning in a brief time of worship, introduce them to many of our mission and outreach programs, share a meal with the congregation Sunday night, see a bit of downtown Kingsport and the area, and hopefully do a few home visits. Saturday night will include a little cultural immersion with a trip to the Carter Fold! See below for a more detailed itinerary.
Q: What kinds of cultural differences should we be aware of?
A: Guatemalans tend to be more formal than we are here. We address the pastor as Pastor Luis, and they frequently call us and refer to each other as Hermano or Hermana – brother or sister (hint: the h is silent). Also, very few Presbyterians in Guatemala smoke or drink alcohol. If you find yourself at a meal with the group we will ask you to be sensitive to this and refrain from partaking yourself.
Q: How can I be involved?
A: Join us! Here is just a short list of ways you can participate:
• Ride along with me to Knoxville to pick them up from the airport.
• Come with us on one or more of our outings.
• Come for morning worship and devotions.
• Come to worship Sunday morning for what we know will be a powerful and Spirit-filled worship service.
• Come for dinner and a program by Philip Beisswenger Sunday evening.
• Help cook our Southern-Guatemalan fusion dinner Sunday evening! Teach them how to cook Southern-style, or learn how to cook a typical Guatemalan dish.
• Help in the planning of the trip by making phone calls to arrange activities.
• Drive on our outings.
• Translate, if you are proficient in Spanish.
• Pray for them as they travel and experience the Church in North America.
• Pray for us.
Q: Who do I contact if I have more questions or want to help or come along?
A: Contact Sharon Amstutz at email@example.com
Saturday, December 5
9:00 a.m. Worship, meet with the Session, tour of church, Farmer’s Market and Carousel
Labyrinth and Community Garden
Dinner and Carter Fold
Sunday, December 6
NOTE: There will be one (1) Worship service today
10:00 a.m. Sunday School
11:00 a.m. Worship – Philip Beisswenger preaching
3:00 p.m. Southern-Guatemalan cooking
5:30 p.m. Dinner and program on Guatemala and the Presbyterian Church’s work there
Monday, December 7
8:30 a.m. Devotional in chapel
Visit KCMC, Family Promise of Greater Kingsport (FPGK), Hay House
Speedway in Lights
Tuesday, December 8
8:30 a.m. Devotional in chapel
Visit Oasis, Salvation Army, DB Excel
Dinner with IHNGK
Wednesday, December 9
Travel to Knoxville for the flight home
Stewardship Season is a wonderful season – it is a gift. It is a time in which we are given the opportunity to recommit ourselves to God and to our church.
Next Sunday is our Stewardship Dedication Sunday. So, if you haven’t already done so, spend some time this week in discernment, reflecting upon our call to glorify God through worship and work. I encourage you then to use the pledge card in your stewardship package to capture part of what you plan to do next year for and through this church, viewing stewardship as a gift and an opportunity to recommit to God’s work.
You know, Stewardship Season is commonly associated with money. It is true that joyful, generous financial giving is an important, long-established, scripture-based spiritual discipline. And using the pledge card to communicate our financial commitment to the church does enable our church leadership to make informed and wise decisions going into the new year. Nevertheless, the truth is that money is not what’s really on my mind this morning when I think about commitment to our church.
Again, it’s an important piece of the puzzle, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle.
When I mentioned recommitting to our church, I was primarily thinking about the commitments that we made when we joined this church. Paraphrasing just a bit:
• We acknowledged that we are w/o hope w/o God’s mercy.
• We vowed that we believe in Jesus as the Son of God and our savior.
• We vowed that we, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, would endeavor to live in a way becoming followers of Jesus.
And we promised to support the Church – this church – in its worship and work to the best or our ability.
The wonderful thing about stewardship season is that it’s a chance to celebrate that we’re “all in” – not just our money. We are fully “in” with all of the faith, effort, work, challenges, and joy that our commitment as members of this church entails.
Margaret and I spent roughly the first halves of our lives as United Methodists. Much like the promise we Presbyterians make to support the church to the best of our abilities, Methodists vow to support the church with their “prayer, presence, gifts, and service.”
I frankly think we are at a critical juncture in this church. We could be scared by that, or we could decide that we are in the midst of an exciting time. I believe it’s an exciting time for us at First Presbyterian. And I believe we will succeed in glorifying God if we commit to supporting this church with our prayers, presence, gifts, and service.
As you reflect this week upon your stewardship commitment, I encourage you to commit:
• To pray for this church every day.
• To be present. If you are in town and your ox is not in a ditch, come to worship; and look for other opportunities, like Sunday School, to make meaningful connections with others – people with whom you’ve lost a connection, people you don’t know well, people of a different generation.
• To be thoughtful and imaginative about the gifts and talents that God has given you and how you can use those gifts to enhance the worship and work of this church.
• To continue the proud heritage of service to and through 1st Pres.
First Presbyterian Church
100 West Church Circle – Kingsport, TN 37660 – 423-245-0104
“Everything we have comes from you; all we’re doing is giving back what we’ve been given from your generous hand.” (1st Chronicles 29:11-24)
October 1, 2015
Dear Members and Friends of First Presbyterian Church:
Our Stewardship Scripture Verse comes from the last chapter in 1st Chronicles. King David is handing over his throne to his son, Solomon. In his last act of office, David is leading a stewardship campaign for the building of God’s temple, the construction of which Solomon will oversee. But dad helps raise the funds for what will be his son’s greatest legacy. David knows that many Israelites may balk at the cost of the temple’s construction, but David reminds them, “This is not just a place for people to meet each other, but a house for God to meet us.” David attests to his own commitment to the project, and then asks, “And now, how about you? Who among you is ready and willing to join in the giving?” The inspiring story proclaims, “Ready and willing [everyone] stepped forward and gave willingly.” And the story goes on to say, “And the people were full of a sense of celebration – all that giving! And all giving willingly, freely!”
And that is when we come to our Stewardship Scripture Verse. David sets a proper theological understanding of Stewardship: “Everything we have comes from you; all we’re doing is giving back what we’ve been given from your generous hand….it all came from you!” And David concludes this passage by exclaiming, “…I have given from the heart, honestly and happily. And now I see all these people doing the same, giving freely, willingly – what a joy!”
October is Stewardship Season, a time to raise the funds to maintain the house where God meets us, provide the salaries of our staff members who support and/or lead the missions and ministries of our church, purchase curriculum and resources for our Christian Education and spiritual formation, provide for Christian fellowship, and fund outreach to “the least of these” and outreach proclaiming the Gospel “to the ends of the earth.” As King David challenged his people to give willingly and freely, so I challenge you. “[H]ow about you? Who among you is ready and willing to join in the giving?”
As the story is told, the people of Israel gave willingly, and they gave generously, and they even gave sacrificially. They put God first in their lives. And then a surprising thing happened. They experienced great joy! And that is my hope and prayer for us this Stewardship Season. Our Stewardship Theme this year is “Joyful Giving; Joyful Living; Joyful Church.” If we give joyfully as a church, we will live joyfully as a church; therefore, we will be a joyful church.
In the Bible story, King David prays, “I know, dear God, that you care nothing for the surface – you want us, our true selves – and so I have given from the heart, honestly and happily.” Please honestly and prayerfully seek God’s will for your giving to the mission and ministry of our church in 2016. Fill out the enclosed pledge card, and readily and willingly step forward and give joyfully on Stewardship Sunday (November 1). Then let us all join together in the Fellowship Hall after worship to celebrate “all that giving! And all giving willingly, freely!” “What a joy!”
In Christ’s Service,
David A. Cagle
Published on Election Day in Guatamala, Tuesday, September 8, 2015
By Richard and Debbie Welch, PCUSA Missionaries to Guatamala
Last Sunday (September 5th), Guatemalans went to polling places all over the country to select their next leaders. Every branch of government from the President/Vice President, to departmental representatives, congressional representatives, mayors and municipal leaders is up for grabs throughout Guatemala. We started our day by attending a prayer vigil for Guatemala that was organized by our little Presbyterian church in Cobán. Walking around town we observed a festive atmosphere around the polling places as people gathered, reconnected, and exercised their right to vote.
Observing this election process as outside observers made us realize that we haven’t been keeping our friends and supporters up to date on the incredible events that have rocked and shaped Guatemalan politics since April. With all the coverage we’ve been exposed to here, it slipped our minds that maybe not everyone has the same access to news surrounding all these happenings.
Many of you might remember our post of June 14 in which we asked for your prayers for Guatemala as outrage over exposed government corruption scandals intensified. (If not, you can read it here). The intensity of the outrage grew into what many are calling a “Guatemala Spring”. Following the resignations and incarcerations of many in the current cabinet that were linked to the scandal that robbed millions of dollars in tax revenue while critical public services struggled from lack of resources, thousands of Guatemalans from many different walks of life, gathered in different locations around the country to peacefully call for the resignation of the president. Just prior to Sunday’s elections, the congress voted unanimously to strip the president of his immunity from prosecution. Shortly thereafter, the president did step down and immediately was charged and incarcerated and is now awaiting trial. These are only the highlights. We’ve seen several good English-language articles related to all these happenings. We’ll refer you to a couple. Here’s a link to an article that does a good job of telling the story from the perspective of the Guatemalans protesting in the streets:
This New Yorker article gives a very good account of the events leading up to the actions against the president, and some background on the president himself:
It is against this political backdrop that Guatemalans went to the polls on Sunday. There was a popular cry to delay the elections, primarily because the populace does not believe the current field of candidates, each with his or her history of corruption, offers any improvement over the past administration; and that is no longer acceptable to a fed-up and empowered populace. Guatemala’s electoral commission decided that it would be too impractical to delay the national elections so close to the planned date. In what will probably ring with familiarity with many of our US readers, the majority of Guatemalans voted for a former business man and TV comedian with no previous experience in public office. As no candidate captured the required 50% majority, there will be a runoff election in October between him and a former first lady. Even though the field of candidates failed to reflect the spirit of intolerance to corruption so manifest among many Guatemalans, many cautiously believe that Guatemala is on a road to change, and that indifference, fear, or apathy are no longer the dominant attitudes towards corruption in this country.
This is truly an exciting time to be living and ministering in Guatemala. As a precaution, mission coworkers in Guatemala have been asked to review their contingency and emergency procedure plans should things take an ugly turn. And we remain thankful to be part of an organization that looks out for our safety and well-being. For several reasons, we hope and pray we can stay right here as this new dynamic in Guatemala unfolds before us. In the past we’ve shared the stories of students of different ages and backgrounds with whom we’ve had the privilege of working alongside. We share them because their stories are your stories too. All that we’ve been able to witness and accomplish has happened as a result of your faithful prayer, accompaniment, and financial support. Clearly the sense of hope and optimism among these folks is more prevalent among the younger students, but even older students that we’ve met through the theological training exhibit new energy and enthusiasm as they acquire a growing knowledge of their reformed faith and the roles they can play in praying for, working toward, and participating in positive change in the world around them.
Thank-you and blessings to you all!
Debbie and Richard Welch
PC(USA) Mission Co-workers, Guatemala
I used to have a computer that I hated with a passion, except for one thing- it came loaded with a game called Galapago that I loved. It was a pretty simple game, in concept at least -you match three butterflies, turtles, or other island inhabitants, which turn to gold, and you move up through increasing levels of difficulty. My favorite part was the two shrunken heads in the corner of the screen that cheered me on in gibberish that sounded like fake French.
Eventually the despised computer was replaced with a MacBook, and I was sad to learn that Galapago was not available for Apple devices. And then I discovered Candy Crush. Sadly, no one cheered me on in fake French, but the basic concept was about the same: match three or more of the same colored candies and move up through the candy kingdom and increasingly difficult levels. At the beginning of each level you are told what your goal is: rack up a certain number of points, clear all the jelly, match up three wrapped candies and nonpareils, or some other confectionery goal.
But just when you think you’ve got the hang of the game, ‘problem candy’ begin to appear and threaten to take over the game board. When those turn up you have to work toward the game’s stated objective, while at the same time not letting the chocolate multiply out of control or the candy bombs explode. If you aren’t careful, you can easily find yourself giving all your attention to combating them, and forget about the real objective of the game.
Not long ago it occurred to me that that was a pretty good metaphor for life in the Church. It’s very easy to let ourselves get distracted by the problems and threats that surface and forget that we have a mission we are trying to accomplish.
Before Jesus left his disciples for the last time he told them to go out into the world and do whatever it takes to tell the story of God’s great love that doesn’t just promise an afterlife of bliss, but means to have signs of heaven visible right here on earth as well. So we park our cars and come in intent on feeding the hungry, welcoming the outcast, freeing those who have been unjustly beaten down or imprisoned, and healing all of the wrongs that our world has done to people. And then the roof leaks. A lot. A declining Sunday School class is asked to give up its prime real estate to a class that has outgrown its room, and resentment grows. A new hymnal comes out. Doomsayers (or are they prophets?) warn that without a screen and drums, or some other newfangled thing, we will surely close and lock our doors in 20 years. No one wants to volunteer to head up the prayer group that everyone has been asking for.
And all of them need attention, money, sensitivity and compassion, and boldness. None of the problems and conflicts that come our way – the Church has always had them and always will – can be ignored or brushed off. But if they get all of our attention, or even a very large measure of it, then our true mission isn’t.
We have spent a lot of time in the mainline church wondering why our membership is declining. I don’t happen to believe it’s because we still use a hymnbook (although we are missing out on some wonderful new music if we restrict ourselves to that alone), or because we don’t wander around on the ‘stage’ when we preach, or any of the other causes that have been kicked around. I believe it is because we have lost our focus. We have let ourselves be distracted by all of the things we think are a threat to us, and have no energy, imagination, passion, and yes, faith, left over to be bold, risk-taking witnesses to the Kingdom of God here on earth. A reactive, fearful church cannot be a joyful, vital church.
In her sermon at the opening worship service at the Big Tent a few weeks ago, Jana Childers pointed out to us that we are trying so hard not to die that we have forgotten that we have already died. Did you know that? “Anyone (or thing) who is in Christ is a new creation; the old life has gone, and a new life has begun.” (2 Cor. 5:17). We can let that worry go, she told us. Let the Spirit fly freely among us, and do what Jesus left us here to do.
My father spent the last year of his life in a small facility for memory-impaired people. It was a busy place – my father roamed the halls all day, and many nights, with his brief case looking for the meeting he was supposed to be in. Elizabeth watched the door like a hawk, waiting for someone to come and take her home. Phyllis sat in her wheel chair and yelled obscenities at anyone she didn’t like the looks of. Mary played the piano, but was otherwise silent. Tom leered at women visitors and made inappropriate comments as they passed. To the best of my memory, only one or two of the residents there could accurately give you their name and hold any sort of a meaningful conversation.
Because it was a small place that worked hard at being as home-like as possible, we all pitched in. A son visiting at lunch would help set the tables and serve plates to the residents. If my visit coincided with snack time I would help take cookies around to the ‘elders,’ as they were referred to by the staff. And here is what I noticed: almost without fail, the resident would say “thank you.” It was automatic. Even the ones who were usually aggressive, or very confused, or, like my father- had difficulty finding the appropriate words to communicate. But hand them a drink or a Popsicle and their “thank you” was immediate and clear. Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases had taken their ability to dress themselves, to recognize their closest family members, to remember that mashed potatoes should be eaten with a fork, not hands but it hadn’t robbed them of gratitude.
I hope that the ability to express gratitude is not a generational thing, but I worry that it is. These were the people who had lived through the Depression and World War II. They knew what it was like to go without, and to work hard for what they had. They appreciated what was done for them or given to them.
Will our last clear and intelligible words be “thank you?” When everything else is stripped away, will gratitude be what is revealed at the very foundation of our beings? Or are our caregivers more likely to hear, “I don’t like chocolate – don’t you have sugar cookies?” Or, “Is that all?” Or, “You didn’t do that right – you should have brought them on paper plates, not napkins.” Or, “These aren’t as good as the ones used to make.”
Gratitude is tough- it’s easy to say “thank you” when someone holds the door open for you at the store, or when your waiter puts your dinner plate in front of you at the restaurant. But what about the rest? When the dinner at church Wednesday night isn’t to your liking? When your substantial and cool/warm house isn’t up-to-date? When your crunching knees impair your otherwise near-perfect health? When the brand-new day ahead is dark and rainy?
Jesus left us here to practice being the Kingdom of Heaven together. That’s what the Church is all about. The hope is that, like Moses and the burning bush, people will see how amazing it is that we forgive each other 70 x 7, and share what we have so no one is ever in need, and enjoy being in community with each other, despite the fact that we have almost nothing in common besides being transformed by Jesus, and they will be drawn to us to see how such an impossible thing could be. And maybe we could add being grateful – and expressing our gratitude- to that list of things we can practice. Gratitude for the work of all our committees. Gratitude for the efforts of the hard-working staff. Gratitude for the person who steps forward and volunteers to spearhead a project for the church. And above all else, gratitude to God, for, well, everything.