Pastor Paul’s Thanksgiving Message

One of my favorite things that we do when it’s our turn to bring worship to Williamsburg and Sunshine Terrace is sing. Cathy Bullock will often come with the blessing of her fine piano playing. Sometimes Bess Dennison will add the beauty of her flute. As a last resort, I have banged on my guitar when needed. No matter what the instrumentation, we enjoy singing a lot of the old time tunes. What a friend we have in Jesus, How Great Thou Art, and In the Garden are among the favorites.

As I thought about this month’s message, another one of the favorites came to mind, Count Your Blessings. Can you hear the tune? Do you know the words?

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

Nice…but what do you do when you just don’t feel like counting? What do you do when you look around you and lift up your fingers to number off the blessings, and all you can count are challenges? You know, the song just loses something when you sing Count your troubles, name them one by one…

Sometimes it’s tough to feel very thankful. Sometimes the darkness in our lives just creeps up on us and hides our blessings from our eyes. It happens. We are human. The simple realities of current events and circumstances, of sickness, of relationships that are less than perfect, of our mortality are powerful, and often overpowering.
Fortunately, for those of us in faith, feeling the weight of the world and being stuck in darkness is not the end of the story. If we delve further into the hymn, we can gather in a little more of its wisdom.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
when you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
count your many blessings, name them one by one
and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

The hymn clues us into a little bit of faith wisdom: thanksgiving isn’t based on how we feel. It isn’t something we do just when things are going well (or once a year to go along with our pumpkin pie). Thanksgiving, the kind we celebrate in faith, is a way of life. We practice it when things are easier, and cling to it when things are rough. Thanksgiving isn’t for the good times; it brings us through challenging times. It places our feet on the solid ground of God’s love, God’s providence, and upon the certain hope that even as we speak God is working to free us, to lift us up, and lead us forward.
Try it. Give thanks. Make it a habit whatever the circumstance. If you find yourself in darkness, let God know it all. Let God really know (God can take it), and then give thanks.

If you are not able to give thanks, grab a brother or sister in faith, and have them give thanks for you (and with you). Let them point out a blessing or two you couldn’t see before. Let their faith carry yours for a bit. It works. Give thanks, and you will be lifted up. As the hymn proclaims:

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Happy Thanksgiving. Paul

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  • After all this time…

    Well, this is it my fellow followers of Jesus, we are returning to in-person worship at First Presbyterian Church. It has been fourteen long months of us learning to be a worshiping community in the best ways we could figure out (thank you Jesus, even for things like YouTube and Zoom). It’s been challenging for me as your pastor (I imagine Pastor Meg would say the same). It’s been challenging for all of you in faith and life and with family and friends. 

    But we’re going back to church, praise the Lord.

    Many things seem to be happening in our world at this moment. How are you handling it all? We’re opening the church doors again. There was a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial in Minneapolis. Many of you have your Covid-19 vaccinations. It’s Springtime and the tulips are starting to bloom. The Sandhill Cranes and other migratory birds are back in the valley. So how are we doing as we process all of this? How are you doing?

    Relief? Sorrow? Joy? Sadness? 

    All of the above?

    I’ve heard several phrases of late, including ‘pandemic pain.’ I’ve felt fatigued myself. But having received the vaccination shots, I am ready to be back in our church building with you praising the Lord together. With high vaccination rates among our church members and several safety precautions, Session has voted for our return to in-person worship. Details are listed in another article inside this edition, but our first Sunday back will be Sunday, May 9th, with our regular service times of 9 & 11 a.m.

    This worldwide pandemic is not over. Not by a long shot as I watch the news from places like India and Brazil, or even Michigan. But many of us have received our vaccinations and we are implementing some practices that should allow us to worship the Lord together, safely. And to be clear (I cannot say this enough), if you do not feel safe coming to church in the near future, please continue to worship from home. I will do my absolute best to make sure our worship live-stream allows you to connect with God and connect with the rest of us from the safety of your own home. We have purchased a small and simple (yet high quality) camera that will live-stream Sunday morning worship directly to YouTube. You have the option to watch it ‘live’ as we are worshiping or watch it at a later time that is more convenient for you.

    So, what might we expect on Sunday mornings in May when we go back? First and foremost, we will be together singing, praying, and praising the Lord. Hallelujah! There will be a few changes, of course. We ask that everyone wear a mask while in the building. We will not have indoor fellowship to prevent ‘grouping’ around the food. Both services will be in Bruner Hall (this is to allow for social distancing). We will initially space chairs out in groups of one, two, three, four, etc. (please find a group of chairs that matches your household). Our air handling system will be on during the service. We won’t use hymnals so that multiple people aren’t touching them each morning (lyrics will be in the bulletin and projected onto the wall). And finally, if you are feeling under the weather, we ask that you please be extra-considerate of your fellow worshipers and remain home.

    Every day of life is a new endeavor. The same is true for us in this process of returning to worship. May we prayerfully and carefully take actions that promote good community health, along with our spiritual health. Thank you for your patience with us, and I look forward to seeing every one of you, whenever that might be.

    —Pastor Derek

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