Watching for Rainbows

Dear Saints,

In the wake of this week’s media outbreaks of racial and personal attacks I am feeling just plain disgusted. I hope I am not alone. While I believe everyone has a right to their opinion, we seem to have lost not only a sense of human decency, we have also clearly lost our way. Sadly, this is not the only week I am deeply disheartened by the barbs, mudslinging and despicable behavior this week felt like a tipping point.

Words are no longer a vehicle to communicate and build up community but a way to wield power over others that I’m sure breaks God’s heart. If it weren’t for the rainbow covenant established by God after the flood, that wiped all but one family, I fear we’d be done for, again. BUT, since God set up the rainbow as God’s reminder to protect us and continue to be our God, then we have a responsibility not to add to the misery, strife, complaining, or giving any of it, anymore ‘airtime’ than is already present.

Winston Churchill said “when you’re going through hell, keep going”. Famous theologian Karl Barth said, “The only way out, is through”. God is not only waiting on the other side of eternity, God is also with us in this world and the mess we’re in. So…what’s our invitation? being part of the misery or sharing the hope in God’s rainbow that the world so desperately needs?

Watching for rainbows with you,

Rev Jen

Spring Cleaning

Dear Saints,

Spring is squarely upon us and I’m sure we’re all breathing a sigh of relief that we are done with threats of snow piling up, day after day. But along with Spring comes the cultural reminder it’s time for spring cleaning!

Some of you may already be in an annual rhythm of swapping out your closets and weeding out your wardrobe each season for outdated fashion or clothes that just don’t fit like they used to.  Still, we like to hold onto our favorites, even of the sleeves are tattered, or the knees have a few holes because, somehow they make us feel more grounded (or perhaps like we’re not aging).

Yet, when we get a few new things to round out our fashion that’s fun too; newness awakens us like the sweet spring air.

This month we will add some newness to two of our favorite services of the year including adding some eye-popping, jaw-dropping and even mouth- watering additions!  The first will be or our annual and beloved Music Sunday, May 5th. This has been a treasured event each year but this year there will be some new and truly amazing additions. I can’t tell you what they are. You’ll just have to come see and hear it for yourself!

Then! We celebrate Pentecost May 20th! As usual we’ll wear red and other colors of fire but this year we’re adding Holy Hot Salsa! Competition in honor of the Holy Spirit’s arrival to form the early church. I’m sure the early church had something like pita chips and harissa, so please make or bring your favorite salsa to coffee hour. Prizes will be awarded!

I encourage you to plan to attend these special services around your spring cleaning, lawn-care and sunny outings. I guarantee you will be enlivened to do your weeding and closet sapping with joy and maybe even a little ‘Salsa’ in your step.

Enjoying the newness of the Spirit with you,

Jen

Jesus-Journey

Dear My Beloved Saints,

You are AMAZING

You are so LOVING

You are so THOUGHTFUL

You are so KIND

You are so GENEROUS

You are so FORGIVING

YOU were with me when I called you, by name, to an unknown future.

YOU were with me when I taught in the temple and invited the unknown and the unnamed, to be met.

YOU were with me when I wanted the children to be at the center of my love and teachings.

YOU were there with me when I defied the status quo and fought for Love’s gospel.

YOU were there with me to share my Father’s message, the only message that mattered, to be sung and heard.

YOU were there to hear the message of Love and Forgiveness written, prayed and shared.

YOU were there with me in my darkest hours.

YOU were there when I breathed my last and died.

YOU were there when I was Resurrected.

Now…I am there for YOU…

So you can do the same, in my name, for the rest of your lives.

  • Jesus, the Risen One

 

Saints, I cannot thank you for all that you did to make this season the richest, deepest and most meaningful Lent/Easter journey (so far!).

May we continue the sharing and deepening of our faith together as we seek to explore and discern what God has next for us on this Jesus-Journey!

Journeying with you,

Rev. Jen

God’s Love and God’s Forgiveness

Dear Saints,

There’s a place not too far from my house where I go to watch the sunset from time to time. This time of year there few to no other cars that join me to watch the colors come up after the sun sets over the still waters and a large mountain range.

I had had a particularly stressful day recently and I was desperately seeking calm and peace. As I pulled up to the place that faces the view, I breathed a sigh of relief that indeed, I would be alone in the quiet and the solitude. Naturally, that lasted for all of about 7 minutes.  A car, with high beams, and booming music,  parked one space away.  I glanced over, and rolled my eyes (on the inside), and then stared straight ahead praying he wouldn’t stay long.  ”Please God, Please God, Please God…”

But then…he turned off his music…turned off his lights…and turned off his car. “Thank you God, thank you God, thank you God…” He then got out of his car, walked to the water’s edge and just stood.

Huh.

He was still in sight but… but not blocking my view. Huh. In fact…he was actually sharing it.

He’d come to the same place, to watch the same sunset and presumably seek some of the same quiet, beauty and peace that I was. In this 5-minute span, he had shifted in my mind from “Disturber of the peace” to “Sharer/Keeper of the peace”.

Then the still, small voice inside me said: “Maybe he’s had a much worse day than you. Maybe he’s unemployed. Maybe he’s just broken off a relationship. Maybe he’s just quit smoking. Maybe he’s taking care of a sick parent or a sick child. Maybe he’s even seeking God”.

At that point, I almost wanted to get out of the car and ask his forgiveness for my shrewdness. I didn’t, but I did ask God to once again, to forgive me for my smallness. God’s Love AND God’s forgiveness are endless, but we have to be present in order to seek it.

Seeking those gifts with you,
Jen

Loving And Forgiving

Dear Saints,

Call me crazy but I can’t wait for Lent this year. I’ve been pondering why. There are a few reasons.

First, we have so many new, interesting and creative ways to experience Lent together. The Lenten devotional is back for a 2nd year with so many beautiful daily offerings from so many of you. We also have a new year of “Lenten Wednesdays” with 5 new and creative evening sessions including some outside pro’s who are sharing their gifts with us. And then there’s the theme: Love AND Forgiveness; The beauty of Ash Wednesday being on Valentine’s Day lent itself to a “no-brainer” theme. We’ll also have Lenten witnesses each week in worship as well as continuing our plans to parallel of weekly scriptures and sermon themes with the Sunday School Curriculum.

But on a personal note I think there’s something even deeper for me. The re-frame of Lent from a time to potentially dark, dry and penitential experience to a journey of seeking opportunities to deepen our Love AND forgiveness of self and other is something we can all sink our teeth into. There is a wide opening at the shallow end of the pool for those who have never had an intentional Lenten journey. Or switching metaphors, we are all able to come to the edges of the shore-line together and venture in as slowly or as deeply as we want. We can more readily share and even laugh at our failed attempts to be patient or kind to ourselves and one another. We can listen to others who may inspire us to confess the less-than-perfect parts of ourselves. We can read other’s personal devotions and feel relief in the shared struggle of shame, regret and fear.

Yes, that’s it…it’s the shared experience of Lent this year that’s got me excited. As the old hymn says ”Jesus walked this lonesome valley” Thank God WE don’t have to walk it by ourselves.

Loving AND forgiving with you,
Jen

Our Mission Dollars at Work!

Thank you to the congregation for raising $1,490 for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) to support their work after Hurricanes, Harvey, Irma, and Maria, as well as the California fires. The Mission Co-Op designated an additional $1,000 for PDA, making a total of $2,490 that we are sending for this relief effort. On November 5th we will be doing some hands-on help to provide PDA with HYGIENE KITS and SCHOOL kits. The list of needed supplies is below and also on page 4 of this issue.

With joy, our church also contributed a total of $1,750 to the following local organizations: Johnsonburg Presbyterian Camp, Boonton Rescue Squad, which Kiwanis no longer funds, Cedar Hill Community After-School program at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Spark Hope Campaign of the First Presbyterian Church of Englewood NJ (whose building was destroyed by fire), and to RISE – the mission program in NY State that our adults and youths have participated in many times.

We are building Mission into the 2018 budget with the hope that we will once again be known as a church that puts Mission front and center.

Plans for developing the Mission outreach area in the lower level of Reighart are underway. Please contact the church office if you would like to be involved in any of our mission endeavors.

You Can Make a Difference!

Make a kit. Make two. If you and/or someone you know is asking how they can help those affected by the hurricanes, earthquakes and fires, please join FPC Boonton and put together kits from the list below:

Please bring full kits or items for kits to the library on Sunday, November 5 (All Soul’s Service).

School Kit
1 pair of blunt scissors
3 70-count spiral notebooks
1 30 centimeter ruler (12”)
1 handheld pencil sharpener
6 new pencils with erasers
1 large eraser
1 box of 24 crayons

Hygiene Kit
1 Hand Towel (approximately 16” x 28”, no fingertip or bath towels)
1 Washcloth
1 Wide-tooth comb (remove from package)
1 Nail clipper (UPDATE: nail clippers with metal files or emery boards attached are now accepted; remove from package)
1 Bar of soap (bath size in wrapper)
1 Toothbrush (in original packaging)
10 Band-Aids® or other adhesive bandage strips
Please do not add toothpaste to the Hygiene Kit. Toothpaste which has an extended expiration date will be added to international Hygiene Kit shipments just prior to shipment. Seal all items in a one-gallon plastic bag with a zipper closure.

Photo by Andrea Booher/FEMA

Give. Act. Pray.

Dear Friends,

As most of us are aware, Hurricane Irma – a record-setting storm – has caused tremendous damage. Starting on Sunday, September 17, 2017, and for the next four weeks, we will be collecting donations to support PDA’s Disaster Recovery fund. Please READ BELOW and either donate online at the link in the “GIVE:” section below or envelopes will be available in the pews entitled ‘Mission Envelope’, Faith Hope, and Love in Action or you can use the White general envelope but CHECK OFF THE MISSIONS or SPECIAL OFFERING SECTION and specify that it is for PDA. One of our members has already generously offered a $1,000 matching gift! Let’s see how much we can raise for these people in need!

Members of PDA’s National Response Team arrived in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina to provide aid, assess damage, and offer spiritual and emotional care for those impacted by the winds and flooding. While PDA has already been in contact with presbyteries throughout Florida and Puerto Rico, the Church remains mindful of the areas where contact has, so far, been difficult to make. Once the information arrives from the Florida Keys, as well as the Caribbean islands nearly wiped from the map, the destruction of this storm will begin to be fully known.

There are years of recovery ahead. Will you help extend the hands of Christ by standing in the GAP? —

ACT: Put together Gift of the Heart kits for survivors in the affected areas — hygiene kits and cleanup buckets are especially needed. For more information, go to pda.pcusa.org/page/kits/. Contact the PDA Call Center to be notified of volunteer opportunities. Call 866-732-6121 or email pda.callcenter@pcusa.org. Learn how your congregation can help families that have lost everything. Stay informed and like us on Facebook or visit pda.pcusa.org. Share updates with your congregation.PRAY: God of help and hope, in the challenging days, months and years to come, work through us to bring relief and respite from urgent need,comfort and the hope of peace for those who grieve the loss of family, home and safety, and faith to walk on through weary days of rebuilding. May we be steadfast in love, stronger than death,and thus, with those whose lives we seek to sustain, together bear witness to your redeeming love. Amen.

GIVE:
PDA’s emergency response and specialization in long-term recovery is fueled by your generous gifts. Designate gifts to: Atlantic Regional Hurricanes DR000194. You can also give with a credit card by visiting presbyterianmission.org/GIVEIrma or by calling 800-872-3283.PDA is still in need of support for mucking out and rebuilding efforts in the Gulf region after Harvey. Thank you to those of you who have already directed gifts to (DR000169-Harvey).
ACT:
Put together Gift of the Heart kits for survivors in the affected areas — hygiene kits and cleanup buckets are especially needed. For more information, go to pda.pcusa.org/page/kits/.
Contact the PDA Call Center to be notified of volunteer opportunities. Call 866-732-6121 or
email pda.callcenter@pcusa.org.
Learn how your congregation can help families that have lost everything. Stay informed and like us on Facebook or visit pda.pcusa.org. Share updates with your congregation.
PRAY:
God of help and hope, in the challenging days, months and years to come, work through us to bring relief and respite from urgent need,comfort and the hope of peace for those who grieve the loss of family, home and safety, and faith to walk on through weary days of rebuilding. May we be steadfast in love, stronger than death,and thus, with those whose lives we seek to sustain, together bear witness to your redeeming love.
Amen.

Welcome Back To School

It’s hard to believe that we’re only days away from “Back to School”! As we all know either from our own experiences or our children, grandchildren, etc., back to school can be a time of mixed-emotions. It can be a time of excitement, new possibilities, new challenges, and opportunities to grow and learn. But it can also be stressful, for students and parents, as transitions and new challenges arise.

The rhythm of the church year is very much like the school year. We do as little ‘work’ in the summer as possible, so that the leaders can rest and return re-charged for a new year. However, just like teachers and administration, by the time church is ‘back in session’ and everyone returns, albeit more slowly than school, a lot of preparation has gone on for our new ‘program year.’ Sarah and I had a retreat in early August and dreamed up some new ways to do some of our special services, as well as to make some changes in worship including introducing some new hymns! The Worship and Christian Ed committees also had a terrific meeting (poolside) to share fellowship, as well as craft new ways to make worship and Sunday School more inviting and engaging, using the same stories/texts
in worship as in Sunday School.

Story is an important part of our faith and our life in community. Story is how the Old Testament Scriptures were handed down in what is known as the ‘oral tradition.’ You may remember the story of the burning bush, or when Moses parts the Red Sea… but you may have difficulty remembering the details of the story and/or why it matters to us today. Moses is one of the most well-known characters of the bible and we’ll be looking at his activity, but it is God’s activity that we’ll really be focusing on.

So…we’re all going ‘back to school’ by revisiting the wonderfully rich stories in Exodus to start off our program year, both in worship and Sunday School. You may not have gotten new Sunday School or church shoes for yourself (or even your kids) but I really encourage you to prepare yourself to be engaged, excited, stretched and inspired by our Fall plans.

There’s a very clever and inspiring commercial running on TV currently. As the scene opens there’s a young boy about 9 or 10, who nervously sits down at the lunch table by himself. Almost immediately, he knocks his reusable water bottle on the floor. Because it’s empty it makes a lot of noise and all of the other children take note. Instead of the rest of the children laughing and pointing at him (like they did back in the 70’s commercials), another student picks up on the sound of the water bottle and starts drumming with pencils on their plate. Another student starts a third rhythm by banging plastic cups on the table. Eventually the whole lunch room is engaged in ‘making music’ and dancing together making a joyful noise, that started with a mistake by the newbie. The commercial ends with them all standing together and saying to the newcomer, “welcome to our school”.

As our young families grow and seek to bring and keep their kids in worship and Sunday School, they will invariably drop things and make noise. As our older adults return, they too will drop things or talk louder than they think is audible to the pews in front and behind them. Newcomers will come and ‘kick’ the tires, to see if our church is the place where they can come and get connected and be accepted. When you hear, or see, and even talk to these people, may you not only be gracious, but warm and welcoming and invite their presence and even their noises as they try to fit in.

Remember, even Moses started out as a basket-case!

Welcoming all to come back to ‘school,’ in Christ,
Jen

The Ripple Effect

June was a wonderfully busy month in worship — especially celebrating our new members on Pentecost, honoring our scholarship recipients, and graduates, and lifting up this year’s VBS theme: Living Waters for the world.

Pastor Lorrie preached a super sermon on June 12th to lift up that theme. (see below) As we head into summer which will be filled with clean water of every type: lakes, streams, oceans, water parks, water balloons and easily accessible drinking water. May we all take to heart what Lorrie preached and carry our ‘water-gratitude’ wherever we travel, recreate and rest.  ♥ Rev. Jen

Picture this:

Somewhere in Cuba, it was still dark, the very early hours of the morning, when the young woman arrived at what had become known as The Fountain. She was thin and bedraggled, her eyes swollen from so much crying and lack of sleep. Her little boy, only 2, suffering terrible dysentery had finally been hospitalized and there seemed little possibility that he would survive. A nurse had told her that her only hope was to find clean water for him. A few weeks earlier, a water purification system had been installed in the community and she heard stories about that water being safe, but she had to get there and had to find clean bottles to put the water in.

Every 15 seconds, a child dies from a preventable water-related disease. 780 million people worldwide do not have access to clean water and this scarcity has caused more refugees than all the wars in history. Some predict that in this century, wars will more likely be fought over water than over oil.

In many ways, I don’t think that we can feel the sense of the importance of running water. We don’t know what a luxury it is. We have it when we turn the knob on our faucets. If we’re thirsty, we turn the knob, water comes rushing out, or we can take cold water out of the refrigerator. Many areas of our world today don’t have such luxuries. Finding fresh water can be a matter of life and death — not only for people, but for all living things.

A few weeks ago Sherm and I were hiking with friends at the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge where we traversed a boardwalk over the pond. It was fun to see the shining shells of painted turtles as they swam just beneath the water’s surface. My friend was sketching the wild iris and yellow water lilies while recalling early Biology class, a thimble full of water from such a bog, placing it under the microscope and being absolutely dumb-founded to discover the amount of life it held. It was truly living water.

In scripture, running water is a powerful symbol for life. The Isaiah passage which was written to bring hope to a refugee people who had been forced to leave their homeland, is full of God’s promises to provide rivers and fountains and springs in the midst of wilderness and drought and hopelessness, God’s loving, caring, giving Spirit bringing not abandonment, but new life.

When we look at the world through the sunglasses of our culture we get stuck in the pounding percussion of these 3 words: I Need More!!! But when we let Jesus‘ story become our story we open our minds, our dreams, our hearts until we hear these 3 words: More Than Enough!!! And we become certain that there is no place or people beyond the reach of grace.

So let’s consider what we have received from God; this gift of the Spirit, it is not meant to stay within us, but is meant to flow out of us. Listen again to Jesus’words: “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” Oh, are we not then to look for opportunities to become Jesus’ hands and feet, understanding a little better the plight of our sisters and brothers everywhere who regularly find themselves at the end of the line and the back of the bus? Aligning ourselves with those who put pipes, pumps, and filters in places near and far, we can become partners who give and receive the blessings of our common humanity, not as possession or commodity, but as gifts freely offered.

Living water is neither stale nor boring but fresh and flowing. It’s an image of power. Isn’t the same true for Spirit-filled believers and congregations? See the signs of the Spirit at work in a congregation, this congregation, dreaming dreams of new ministries, having visions of new life and mission, and now finding the strength and power of the Holy Spirit to attend to the practicalities of making them real. That’s what Pentecost is all about. Does this celebration of Pentecost have a ripple effect? You betcha!! We, the followers of Jesus, can now carry on Jesus’witness and ministry in the world because our lives have been empowered by the Spirit. Believers, remember to let your own living water brim and spill over from your heart, and know that you are a channel of life in this world.

Amen ♥ Rev. Lorrie Skinner

A Time of Change and Growth

Dear Saints,

Happy Easter!

I hope and pray that whether you were with us, or traveling, that you had a joy-filled Easter day and Lent as well. As I look back on this Lent, it has been filled with new leadership, new events, new talents and experiences. I truly hope that you had at least one meaningful experience throughout Lent, Holy Week and Easter. The attendance at our Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services all increased, and that’s due to many people making these services meaningful.

Easter attendance was about 80 less than the largest Easter service we’ve had in the last ten years but it is also in decline, as are weekly attendance numbers. If reading this makes you sad, mad or just uneasy, you’re not alone, but I’m not telling you anything new. Church attendance, in every Protestant denomination as well as the non-denominations, is also shrinking. There was even chatter among the African American churches this year of sitting out Easter service because it’s ‘just a fashion show and hat competition’ and the ‘real worship happens on regular Sunday mornings’.

I personally didn’t get a new Easter outfit (although I always plan to) but many of you looked great in bright ties and spring outfits and high heels (even the communion servers). Well Done!

I know at least in our church, even the most faithful get pulled away on Sunday mornings by major family events, sports, concerts, work, travel, and illness or just sheer exhaustion. The average attendee now comes once a month, not once a week. As a pastor I find this frustrating and distressing and I know many of you share this sentiment.

BUT, there is a major difference between shrinking weekly attendance and shrinking participation. We have the former, like every church on the planet, but we do not have the latter. Many among our members (including our leaders) are doing mission/ministry behind the scenes during the week even though they may be away on Sunday morning. Honestly it took me a while to see this and get used to it. This is the marker of not only a healthy church, but a community that is adapting to change, not shutting down because of it.

Pure ‘adaptive change’, is much harder to see and do, than ‘technical change’. Technical change, as described by change expert Ron Heifetz, is when the problem is clear and the change is affected by experts. Adaptive change requires new learning, where responsibility for the change lies with the followers, not the primary leader. I believe with the changing church environment, what we need to do is both technical and adaptive change. Heifetz describes that space as where the solution requires new learning and both the leader[s] and the followers are responsible for the change.

A great example of how a technical and adaptive change took place throughout Lent was our Lenten devotional. It was launched through members of session with my leadership and written by staff and members — including two of our youth. That’s the technical part.

Here’s the (exciting) adaptive part. At least three couples used the devotional as a way to start their day together before heading off to work. One Deacon gave a devotional to a non-churched family member. One Deacon took a pile of the devotionals to the Firemen’s Home. And one member had the courage to read one of the devotionals over the phone to an employee who was having a meltdown at work.

This is only one recent example of how we can affect change to sustain our mission and ministry. There are other examples as well, but we need to do this in all areas of our mission and ministry, not just a few. That’s why we need you all at the church-wide retreat April 29th. This will be an event of fun, spiritual growth and an opportunity for you to share your ideas, vision and perception of what we need to do to sustain and grow our community of faith.

If you’re not around, please find a Deacon or Elder and share your ideas about how we can do this ‘Jesus thing’ even better.

We’re not all going to be willing and able to spread God’s message at the same time. But if even HALF of us gather and seek the Holy Spirit’s leading then we can go into Pentecost with tongues aflame and hearts on fire!

Seeking the Holy Spirit with you,
Jen