Paul’s Message: A New Year

MLK QuoteFriends,

As I sat down to write this piece, the headlines from Newtown, CT exploded on the news. You know what they are. We are left in shock and grief…

There are no words. There can be no explanation. There is no equation that is able to compute the evil that flooded Sandy Hook Elementary School.

But that’s not the end of the story. That can’t be the end of the story.

There are grieving families who must somehow pick up the pieces while wrestling with their grief. There is a school full of survivors that must somehow figure out how to work their way through their trauma. There is a community that must recover.

And then there’s us. We too must continue.

We are not hit as hard as the families of Newtown, and indeed we can’t know their suffering. But scripture encourages us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep”(Rom 12:15) and “bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal.6:2). I think that this means more than shaking our heads in sadness, saying a prayer, and moving on living in exactly the same way. I think it means more than supporting survivors and loved ones as they rebuild their lives. I believe the divine nudge to “bear one another’s burdens” means doing everything we can to bring harmony, wholeness, safety, and peace. I believe it means changing the way we live.

What will we change to turn our glorification of violence into revulsion of it? What will we do about our attitude that, when push comes to shove, violence is the final and most effective answer and arbiter in the world? What will we change so that weapons are not so easily within reach for those who are in pain? What will we change to open doors to mental health resources for those who are struggling? What will we change to welcome those who don’t fit society’s molds? This is about more than Newtown. It’s about a society where 2012 brought us too long a list of mass shootings, too many victims, too many perpetrators who saw violence as the only answer open to them.

What will 2013 bring us? Will we dare to engage in the tough but necessary conversations? Will we examine ourselves and our own complicity in cycles of violence? Will we move beyond blaming our politicians and talk to them, call them, write/bug/nag them until they respond? Will we pray, love, and make peace even if it costs us something?
We are not powerless. We are not voiceless. We are not at the mercy of forces beyond our control. We are people of faith. We are followers of the Prince of Peace. We are lovers of God and neighbor. May we live like it in 2013.

May Christ be with you and with us all. –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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