Finding Hope

Dear Saints,

The theme for our Advent worship this month is HOPE. This seems like a logical theme for Advent but the fact of them matter is, Advent can be a very difficult time of year and for many, HOPE is hard to muster. It may be that we are feeling a little blue because of the waning daylight. It may be because of the recent loss of loved one, an illness that just won’t quit or a painful family relationship, the loss of a job, the constant struggle to make ends meet.

Paul tell us in Romans that “hope that is seen is not hope. But if we hope for what is not seen, we wait for it with patience.” (Rom 8: 24-25). Ah yes, Patience. I believe patience, hope and trust are all cousins. It’s hard to have one without the other two.  Paul goes on to say in chapter 8 that the “Spirit will help us in our weakness”. This is excellent news and rather reassuring. When we are struggling to have HOPE, especially in Advent, while being bombarded with all sorts of media painting the ‘perfect Christmas’, we are often afraid to admit some of our hopelessness. We all need reminders of God’s promise and eventual delivery of HOPE most supremely found in the arrival of Jesus, the Christ.  

God’s promises to reign down mercy and grace can only be seen and enjoyed in the waiting and the hoping and the trusting. A few weeks ago, you probably know that Loaves and Fishes was seeking frozen turkeys so that every family could be given one before Thanksgiving. Since over 50 families seek hope of food each week, getting 50 Turkeys was a tall order. Initially the stream of turkeys was steady but then it slowed significantly. A 2nd appeal came. Commitments were made but still not enough turkey…

And then, 6 more turkeys arrived. Then 6 more turkeys. Then another 6 more! Then it started ‘raining’ turkeys!!! Now the challenge was where to store all the overflow. Not only will all families will have a turkey for Thanksgiving but now there’s a strong start for Christmas! God’s reign came from not only your generosity but from people in town who volunteer at Loaves and Fishes or who know about it!

So, whether you’re already seeing HOPE in this crazy-busy and challenging season, or you need reminding of God’s goodness, keep looking and trusting and waiting because God does not disappoint. God’s grace will reign down upon you for the bible (and turkeys) tell us so.

Waiting, watching and HOPING with you,

Jen

November’s Prayer To Go

Psalm 40

Thanksgiving for Deliverance

and Prayer for Help

from Psalms for Praying, Nan C. Merrill

I waited patiently for the Beloved,

who heard my cry and came to me.

Love raised me from the pits of despair,

out of confusion and fear,

and set my feet upon a rock,

making my steps secure.

There is a new song in my mouth,

a song of praise to the Beloved. 

May many see and rejoice,

may they put their trust in Love.

Blessed are those who make Love their home,

who do not turn to the proud,

to those who follow false idols!

O Beloved, how wondrous are your gifts to us;

Your thoughts are beyond our imagination.

What joy to live in Oneness with You!

Were we to proclaim and tell of Your beauty and blessed grace, who could measure it?

True Gratitude

The monthly theme for worship is November is Gratitude. I’m sure this is unsurprising given that Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Although Merriam-Webster generally sees thankful and gratitude as synonyms, there are some small but significant differences. Thankful, says Merriam-Webster is “conscious of the benefit received” and grateful as “appreciative of benefit received”.

Perhaps I am splitting hairs but I do think there’s a difference between naming the ‘things’ we are thankful for around the dinner table or the ‘suped-up’ version on Thanksgiving Day and the felt and lingering experience of gratitude. Writer Nick Genovese states “True gratitude expresses “thank you” not only from our mouth but also from our hearts.”

Think about a time when you received a compliment, a thoughtful and/or generous gift or an act of care. Likely you responded, “thank you!”. That’s being thankful. But…to sit and ponder the thoughtfulness, the care, the effort and the person or people behind that gesture that’s when the gratitude kicks in.

In that vein, I want to thank you for acknowledging and celebrating pastor’s appreciation month along with gift, card and flowers. They are all still on display in my living room! I am also grateful to be sharing mission and ministry with you; for your humor and your heart, for sharing the worry and the work, for your insight and your imagination and for your faithfulness day in, day out.

As you are probably aware by now, Thanksgiving is very late this year, so we’ll have 28 days to practice not only being thankful for all God has done, is doing and will do. We’ll also have the opportunity each day to sit with, and let the generosity of God’s sustaining love, sink in so that whatever Thanksgiving brings; funky relatives, dry turkey or not-your-moms-apple pie, you can be thankful and deeply grateful that you are loved fully and completely for eternity.

Grateful for God’s love with you,

Jen

Annual Coat Drive

As you begin to clean out your closets in preparation for the fall/winter months, the Board of Deacons is asking you to save your clean, lightly used coats and winter apparel (gloves, scarfs, hats) for our annual coat drive.  These items can be dropped off in the boxes on the bridge, near the library and by Reighart Hall. The items will be distributed to those in need during our annual coat drive on Nov. 23rd. Donation Deadline: Sun. Nov. 17th.

Serving Bread

Dear Saints,

This coming Sunday, October 6th is World Communion Sunday. This special day which is celebrated by many churches and denominations around the world was conceived by the Rev, Dr. Hugh Thomson Kerr, a Presbyterian minister, who was at the time also the Moderator of the General Assembly (our national church conference).  Dr. Kerr had a vision that if every church around the world, regardless of the regular rhythm of their communion schedule, would celebrate it on the same day, that it might further Christian unity and ecumenical cooperation. That vision was in 1930 just a year after the stock market crash of 1929.

Ironically the concept was furthered by the ‘’Division of Stewardship” at Shadyside Presbyterian in an attempt to bring churches together in a service of Christian unity—in which everyone might receive both inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the Church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected one with another. (Incidentally, Rev Sherm Skinner’s father was also a pastor in the 1960s!) 

While it might seem counter-intuitive to see stewardship and communion as partners, indeed, “Bread Holds Everything Together”. This is our theme for this year’s Generosity (stewardship) Campaign.

Bread in all its forms is a gift from God.  Unleavened bread was and still is a sign of God’s protection and deliverance to the Israelites during their escape from Egypt. Manna from heaven was delivered to the Israelites while in the desert. In the New Testament Jesus feeds the 5000 with bread, becomes for us the Bread of Life, and institutes bread as a symbol of his body broken for us.

As the saying goes “Bread makes the world go ‘round”. The giving of bread, which is a form of stewardship help us unite and feed our brothers and sisters. Bread is the gift of recognizing we are fed at the table from and by Christ and that no one should be turned away. Bread is also the slang for money.

Our generosity through stewardship can continue to make the work and the church go ‘round.

So come to the table, bring what you can so that everyone can have a taste of Heaven.

Serving bread with you,

Jen

Presbyterian Peacemaking Program

The Deacons will be collecting monetary donations for the PCUSA Peace and Global Witness program from September 8 through October 6.  The Deacons will contribute 25 % of the total funds collected to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).  You may use the designated envelopes provided in the pews on Sunday, or mail your donation to us:  (FPCB P.O. Box 157, Boonton, NJ 07005)  

Psalm of Contentment

O sacred season of Autumn, be my teacher,
for I wish to learn the virtue of contentment.
As I gaze upon your full-colored beauty,
I sense all about you
An at-homeness with your amber riches.

(Modern Prayer by Edward Hays, USA)

Come, Get Plugged In!

Dear Saints,

We’re (almost) back in the saddle. There are many blessings (hidden and obvious) in returning to routines that, by and large, most people and especially children thrive in. However, getting there is easier said than done especially after a season where there is a much more relaxed pace with less rhythm and schedule. This is true of our church activity and formal faith development as well.

Some of you may remember a time when “back to school” also meant “back to church”; when  “Rally Day” was not a congregation-wide road race (which is what I thought it was when I was a teen) but a concerted effort on the Sunday after labor day to involve as much of the congregation as possible in Sunday school or other Christian formation opportunities.

While some churches still do this warm turnout, we have realized that ‘returning to church and faith formation opportunities’ grow more organically than flipping a switch. But maybe it should be.

A few months ago, the overhead light in my kitchen starting acting up. It would hesitate before it came on completely and it seemed to be ‘growing in weakness’. Eventually, it failed completely. This wouldn’t be so bad except that my kitchen is an ‘interior’ (i.e., no windows, no natural light).

No problem. I’ve replaced the 2 fluorescent circular bulbs before. I can do it again. No such luck. It’s not the bulbs, it’s the ballast that needs replacing. Whilst waiting for the electrician to come, assess, quote and schedule the repair, how many times do you think I walked into the kitchen day and night and flipped the switch even before I remembered the light was out? I have actually lost count.

My muscle memory was so strong, that before I could even remind myself that the light was out, I had already flipped the switch.

“Muscle memory” can be either for good or unhelpful routines and habits.  Neurologist Dr. Daniel Amen talks about the brain and muscle memory frequently including that daily habits build muscle memory. Regardless of whether the habit is ‘life-giving’ or ‘life robbing’ (my terms), he says “The brain is very susceptible to repetition”.

It occurred to me that as fall arrives, we all need to build back up our muscle memory and routines for faith formation. Some of this is committing to daily prayer, regular attendance and mission. Some of this is being open to the new ways in which we as a congregation, are seeking to develop faith formation for kids and adults alike.

If you wanna flip the switch to get the light, you gotta have a fixture that actually works and is plugged into the right power source. Come get plugged into the light that no darkness can ever overcome.

Seeking the light of Christ with you,
Jen

Christ – Strengthen Me

Dear Saints,

By the time you read this and/or return to church for the first time after being away, you’ll see the nearly completed church offices renovation.  I am deeply grateful to the Kelly and (William) Birch families for their generosity to fund this endeavor. We are still completing the finishing touches but already it is a tremendous improvement in cheer and function! We are indebted also to Charlie Maraziti who did the yeoman’s share of project management (without ever being asked), Thanks also to Amanda and Lorrie Skinner who helped break down our offices and throw away a lot of junk along with John Crozier who literally watched paint dry, and the Whipple, Yanez and Ambrosiani men who literally did all the heavy lifting. I can’t wait for you all to see it.

More importantly, though, I am really glad you were not here to witness the upheaval and all of the emotional swings we went through for the last month. For those of you who have moved, especially recently, or are preparing to move or…send a student to or back to college or housing, you KNOW how stressful it is.

While some of us handle change better than others, very few of us function at our best when our living or working space is in turmoil. And there are always surprises. Unplanned changes, blunders, miscommunications and the like also add another layer of spice to the experience. I’d like to say I was well-prepared, patient and flexible throughout the entire process but there’s little truth in that. I wish I had acted more like the scriptures in the artwork on my walls; but alas they were packed away.

So how do you handle the planned and unplanned chaos? What words do you turn to when you’re wide awake at 3 AM worrying about all the things you can’t control? The one verse that I kept saying to myself (and Sandy and I said to each other) was, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

So whatever you are facing or worrying about, choose a scripture that you can repeat and then release all that worries or distracts especially when you are discouraged. I know you do that already but it’s a gentle reminder, Christ is with us especially in our places of our lowliest state.

Finally, as you know, each time we return and read scripture, we learn something new. When I looked up the Philippians text, I laughed out loud. Verse 13 says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. Verse 14? And I quote; “In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress”. God is hilarious.

Sharing chaos and new beginnings with you in Christ,
Jen