“You are dust…”

ashcross2On Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent, we gathered at St John’s Episcopal. These services are always a blessing for me. I enjoy the opportunity to minister with my colleagues (Derek, Steve Sturgeon, the Vicar of St. John’s, and Scott Thalacker, pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran). We are unique in style, perspective, and tradition, but we also share the common bond of our calling. There’s always something that I learn from them.

I love the whole ashes on the forehead thing. I love smudging your foreheads, one by one, as you come forward. There is nothing that I am doing that anyone of you couldn’t do. But personally, it’s a profound moment for me because, standing there in front of you, I feel not only like a pastor, but your pastor. Can’t really explain it beyond that, but it’s special for me.

I also love the ashes on my forehead. It reminds me that we are all mortal, finite, flawed, and in need of God. That’s not a bad I dark thought. It’s a freeing one. It’s reassuring for me to know that I am not, nor do I have to be, the perfect anything. I am dust brought to life by and dependent upon divine breath – a creature of God’s creation. You are too.

Lent is a time to discover that again. When the weight of responsibilities and expectations (other’s and our own) become too heavy, when our hurts go too deep for us to heal on our own, when our energy and attention wane I when our wants take precedence over other’s needs, we could use a reminder: we are dust. Lent starts here, and then patiently and persistently prepares us for divine breath.

The world distracts us with tons of messages that tell us that we have to be self-reliant and super. In ways both overt and subtle, we often get the message that when we are not, we are bad. When we mess up, we are bad people, bad parents, bad children, bad workers, bad citizens, bad Christians. Lent reminds us that we are not bad, we are dust … in need of some divine breath.

You are invited to get ready with us. Join us in study, worship, fellowship, and mission. When all is said and done, you will discover God’s enlivening breath. That’s what this dusty old pastor believes anyway (I cling to this because I need that divine breath as much as you do).

On Ash Wednesday, Derek offered the Word. He told a story about a nun who was trying to focus on God by learning the discipline of contemplative prayer. In great frustration, she approached a teacher, telling him “I’m such a failure at this prayer! In twenty minutes of sitting I’ve had ten thousand thoughts.” “How lovely,” responded the teacher, “ten thousand opportunities to return to God!”

Derek was my pastor in that moment. He reminded me that though I may be in the middle of my ten thousand nine hundred ninety ninth distracted, dusty moment, it is but another opportunity to return to God. Dusty as we are, we are all invited to place our lives in the Divine’s hands so that God can breathe that life-giving breath on us once more. In your dustiness, may you find life, and that abundantly.

Peace,

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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