Thursday, January 7, 2016

A New Year's Resolution for God

Happy New Year! It’s the beginning of a new season – a time when New Year’s Resolutions are often the order of the day. If you’re like me, those resolutions are     usually about exercising more and eating less, although I do know folks who focus on other issues. This year, though, I’d like you to consider a different emphasis in your area of resolve. Perhaps you might think about how you’d like to grow spiritually in the coming year.
I remember many years ago I went to a Stewardship dinner at the 5th Avenue Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. I was a faithful member, who attended regularly and volunteered my time and talent at a high level, both teaching and administrating the Nursery program in an over 3,000 member congregation. At this dinner, we were at round tables which seated ten; I was seated next to a man about my age (in our  thirties) who worked on Wall Street. The host of the gathering would ask a question and then each table was to discuss it among themselves. The only question I remember went like this: What is easier for you to give: time or money?
I was a young, single mom who had never pledged a dime to the church, even though I regularly put a small amount in the offering plate as it came by. It was very easy for me to confess that time was an easier commodity for me to give than cash. The man next to me, however, felt just the opposite. He worked 90+ hours a week at his job, making a small fortune (to me, anyway), but simply had no time to spare. I found it fascinating that we were both so similar and yet so different.
The host then challenged us to push ourselves to give to God just a little bit from the area that is a struggle. If we didn’t give financially, he asked us to pledge something, even if it was only $1 a week. If we didn’t give of our time, he asked us to participate in just one activity: spending the night at the homeless shelter we housed in our basement, or serving at Fellowship Time, or baking for and attending a potluck once a year. He then promised us that if we did, we would be the ones to benefit far more than the church would. That we would grow spiritually in ways that we could not possibly imagine.
I don’t know what the man sitting next to me did, but I pledged for the very first time ever that year. I resolved at that meeting to pledge $1 a week, but on Pledge Sunday I was so moved by the service, that I increased it to $2 a week. A drop in the bucket for 5th Avenue PC, but undeniably among the first steps that led me on the journey into the ministry. I cannot tell you how meaningful that act was for me spiritually – to give to God in an area that was challenging was in some ways more significant than giving in ways that I felt were more valuable and with which I was more comfortable. I would in fact argue that while 5th Avenue PC benefited more from my leadership in the Nursery, I benefited more from giving a relative pittance to the church itself.
So I challenge you to consider the question of what is easier for you to give to the church as you ponder your New Year’s Resolution(s), and to give just a little from the category that is more of a struggle. I guarantee that if you do, you will grow spiritually – and in fact, it just might change your life. I know this to be true. Personally.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Giving Thanks to the Lord

When I was a little girl, I imagined I would grow up to be a movie star who performed occasionally on Broadway. On the personal front, I envisioned being married with five children, all boys! Needless to say, neither of these dreams became reality, and as my life journey continues to unfold, it is rarely what I would have predicted. I think I am not unusual in this respect. I don’t know anyone who could have totally imagined his or her life the way it turned out. Each of us can get caught up in our disappointments and struggles: the concerns around health or finances or family that leave us weak and wilting, rather than remembering those things for which we are grateful.
Last week, I was blessed to travel back to Long Island for my friend Pam’s 60th Birthday Party. (You may remember her: she danced Psalm 100 with my daughter during my Installation service.) 

My daughter and Pam giving thanks to the Lord in dance. (photo courtesy of me)

It was a small gathering, just a dinner party of maybe 10 or 12 close friends. She and her husband, Eddie, had prepared a Thanksgiving dinner in gratitude for those invited. Pam then asked each of us to think of three things we were grateful for and share them around the table as we ate. It was a lovely affair, and all the more meaningful for the blessings shared.

Friends gathered for Pam's birthday - see her beautiful smile almost exactly center. (photo courtesy of me)

If I’m honest, I have so much to be grateful for. I have a wonderful job – one that is truly a calling. I get to study the Bible and praise God and build relationships with others as they travel their faith journeys as well. While my family life is not what I originally hoped for, I am blessed with a terrific daughter with whom I enjoy a great relationship. I love my home, especially the geography on which it sits. As I wash dishes, I look out over rolling hills and trees. As I sip coffee and read my morning devotional, I watch the world go by out my living room window as people walk dogs, exercise, and enjoy the beauty of the cemetery in front of the manse.

We’ve been in the midst of our Discipleship season this past month, and the Team’s primary hope has been that you will each look at your own lives and recognize the many gifts you’ve been given. The gifts of those in your life who love you, the hearth and home that warm you, the food on the table, the talents you have and can share with others, and the God who made all of it possible. You’ve been invited to give back in return. To give of your time and talent and treasure so that the important work that we do at Old Greenwich can not only nurture you, but others in our community now and into the future. It is my prayer that you have felt called to respond generously and with joy.

In closing, the choir has been rehearsing a gorgeous anthem that was sung at the Choral Concert and will be again on Sunday, November 22nd, only this time accompanied by liturgical dance. November 22nd is Thanksgiving Sunday and the text the song is based on is Revelation 5; it sings glory to the Lamb of God, announcing His holiness and worthiness to be praised by all creation. I’ve had it running through my head and it feels like a constant reminder of God’s graciousness and generosity. May we all remember how lucky we are, even in the midst of our challenges, and respond with grace and generosity in return as we enter the season of thanksgiving.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Choosing a Tattoo

This past summer, my daughter Grace and I took a Road Trip. We traveled the country in a loop, visiting family in Arkansas and Tennessee as the centerpiece, covering the north and Midwest on the way there, then returning home across Tennessee and heading up the eastern seaboard. We visited historical sites and theme parks, ate in restaurants that ranged from very fancy to incredibly simple, enjoyed museums across a broad spectrum, and just generally had a great time.

Much of my extended Arkansas family. We had lunch after I preached at the church I grew up in.
(photo courtesy of me)

One of the more mundane and yet surprising observations that we made on the journey was how many people in the middle of the country sport scriptural tattoos. We saw full verses and individual citations like Matthew 8:17. The most common one was Philippians 4:13, which we saw sometimes simply cited, but more often it was fully written out in a wide variety of translations that were universally not acknowledged (so the verse would be stated, as in “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me,” sometimes with the citation (Phil. 4:13) but never with the translation (e.g., NRSV or NIV) at the end).

The most common tattoo we saw on our trip. (photo courtesy of Pinterest) 

The Bible tells us in both testaments that God’s covenant will be written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33, Hebrews 8:10, Hebrews 10:16) but never that it will be written externally where all can see it. (As an aside, Leviticus 19:28 and 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 have been interpreted as biblical injunctions against external tattoos.)
After spending an especially hot day at Cedar Point, a theme park that specializes in roller coasters, where we saw a multiplicity of folk with scriptural tattoos, Grace asked me, “If you were going to get a tattoo from the Bible, what scripture would you choose?”
This is really a moot question as it is difficult for me to imagine getting a tattoo of any sort, but it does raise some interesting questions: How openly am I willing to display my Christian identity? Within that sphere, what aspect of Christianity would I want to share with others? Would it be more important to show scripture that has particular meaning to me or to engage the potential reader? (Most tattoos we saw tended toward the former choice.)
As I pondered the last question, I considered my favorite passage in the Bible, Philippians 4:6-7: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving make your requests known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (NKJV) Of course, that is a bit long to tattoo on anything, but Grace suggested just leaving it at the first four words: “Be anxious for nothing.” The NRSV, which is the Presbyterian version of choice, says, “Do not worry about anything,” but in this instance I prefer the New Kings James. Be anxious for nothing. Good advice.
I’ve just taken my daughter to London where she will be studying for the next year. Yes, she will be home for Christmas for almost three weeks, but essentially, we will be thousands of miles away from each other for the next 10 months, after which she’ll be finishing up college and moving into a life of her own. I love and trust Grace with all my heart, and truth be told I will have no less control over her (which is to say, not much) than I did when she was just about 300 miles away in Boston, but separation is hard. And that is just one concern in my very busy and full life.

Grace and me in front of Buckingham Palace on her High School Graduation Trip to England. 
(photo courtesy of me)

I know that you too have your own worries. In these troubled times, and within the stresses of our individual lives, there seems to be a lot about which to be anxious. Whether it’s family or jobs or health or money or home or country, we can all tick off several areas that we worry about. Yet the Bible tells us there’s nothing to worry about. That God is in control and when we center our lives, our hearts, our prayers gratefully in God, we will know peace. That seems worthy of being tattooed somewhere. I think I’ll stick with biblical precedent and have it tattooed it on my heart. Metaphorically speaking anyway.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

We Are Family!

I’ve been thinking a lot about family lately. Partly because much of mine will be visiting this weekend – they’ll have come and gone by the time you read this, but my mother, my brother and sister-in-law and their son will be here over Father’s Day – but also because of OGPC’s 275th Anniversary Celebration we held at the beginning of June.

My daughter Grace, me, my mother Gail, my brother Bo, his wife Debbie, and their son Bode in front of the Old Greenwich sanctuary. (Photo courtesy of Grace Segers.)

It was magnificent! We worshiped the Lord together in joy with our 11th and 16th Pastor and members of their families, one former Parish Associate and his wife, the wife and son of another, as well as family members of the 12th Pastor, the husband of a former Associate Pastor, and our current Presbytery Leader. Along with all of those visiting who had held pastoral leadership positions (or been connected to someone who filled that role), we also had former members who traveled to be with us. After worship, we enjoyed a special lunch where folks were able to share about their time at OGPC, the things they miss and the memories they treasure.

Some of the special guests at the lunch after worship (left to right, back row): Rev. Herb Huffmon, me, Tim Dransfield, Rev. David Jones; (left to right, front row): Marie Chesnutt, Rev. Jeanne Radak, and Rev. Richard Gibbins. (Photo courtesy of Walt Campbell.)

One of the things that I have heard over and over again in my five months with you is how Old Greenwich feels like a family. That when you walk into the sanctuary for the first time on a Sunday morning, it immediately feels like home. That the warmth and friendliness of the congregation was the thing that made you keep coming back: more than pastoral leadership, it is the congregation’s welcoming spirit that really touched your hearts.

It reminds me of Psalm 133:1, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity.” It is good and pleasant, but unity is more than simply showing up in the same place at the same time. Unity requires that we listen to one another, that we care for one another even when we disagree with one another, that our love for Christ and for each other is more important than who is right and who is wrong.

So far I have seen nothing to suggest that there is anything other than love and respect for each other at OGPC, but we are embarking on a new journey of faith. A journey in which our objective is to discover what it is we are passionate about, who it is we are individually and communally, and how it is God is calling us to use those passions, gifts, and talents in Christ’s service in our community, our area, and maybe even beyond.

As we walk this path, we will undoubtedly begin to discover we have lots of ideas, many of which are viable and could make a difference. But our first aspiration is to strengthen those family ties with which I started this article. To learn more about one another, to come to know one another more deeply, and to recognize each other’s strengths and challenges. As we grow closer to one another, we will also grow closer to God – and to discerning how are we are called to serve God in the days and months and years ahead. It is my joy and privilege to travel with you as your pastor, but especially as part of the Old Greenwich family as we move forward in faith together. I am excited to share the journey and especially to be a part of whatever ministry we will initiate as the OGPC family in the future!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Spring Is Sprung

After the long, cold winter that we all just endured, I think this is the most beautiful spring I’ve ever seen. Not just because it is juxtaposed against the past several months, but because I have moved to what it truly one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever lived. New Jersey really is the Garden State. Who knew?
I was so excited when my daughter, Grace, came home from college since she had not seen anything like this before either. “Look!” I told her as we traveled down Greenwich Church Road, “This is our yard!” The magnificent whites and pinks and magentas of all the flowering trees, the bright yellow of the forsythia, multicolored tulips and the green grass all combine to show off God’s glory in brilliant array. Every morning as I pour my coffee and look out my kitchen window, I am delighted anew by the glorious dogwood flowering in front of me. I cannot help but feel incredible joy as I look out on God’s creation.

"For the beauty of the earth," my heart sings and my nose protests. (Photo courtesy of Princeton Lawn.)

This season, I have also experienced the worst allergies I have ever known. The post-nasal drip caused a sinus infection caused a scratchy throat and vocal loss. Even after a round of antibiotics, I’m still plagued by a stuffy head and a lingering cough. I’ve tried every over the counter medication that exists and some of them work some of the time – or maybe that’s just hope on my part – but none of them work always. I’m told that this is one of the worst allergy seasons ever: a perfect storm of the coldest winter causing the blooming spring.
Yet while I am physically challenged much of the time, I am trying hard to appreciate the glorious beauty of the earth around me. I think this is actually a wonderful metaphor for life. The fact is, it’s not always all good or all bad; it’s usually both at the same time. Our lives are filled with constant joys and constant challenges. Simultaneously.
It reminds me of an old Cherokee legend in which a grandson comes to his grandfather filled with anger over an injustice done him by a friend. The grandfather tells him, “I too have struggled with feelings of anger and hatred for those who have hurt me. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is as if there are two wolves inside me. One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him, and does not take offense at others. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way. The other wolf is full of anger. The smallest things will set him off. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He can’t think because his anger and hate are so strong. It is helpless anger, for it changes nothing. Sometimes it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both try to dominate my spirit.”
“Which one will win, grandfather?” the boy asks.
The grandfather smiled and replies, “The one I feed.”
Paul is telling us something similar in Romans 12:14, 17, 21: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Now I’m not suggesting that allergies are evil, but rather we choose how we respond to those things that are difficult in our lives. We choose to focus on the struggle or to lift up the joys.

How can we do that? I turn again to Paul in his letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” May it be so.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

"What Next?"

I have now been blessed to be your pastor for a little over three months. It has been a wild ride through an Annual Meeting, the election of church officers, my Installation service, Lent and Easter, a wedding and two funerals, with nine new members joining, four baptisms, Confirmation, Children’s Day, and a 275th Anniversary Celebration all coming at us in the near future. I’ve enjoyed learning more about you individually and as a church family: I have discovered that you are a very easy people to love.
One of the hallmarks of the Old Greenwich Presbyterian Church is its welcoming warmth. Not just to me, but to all who come through its doors. I believe that this is simply part of OGPC’s cultural identity. A belief that all who show up are part of God’s family and should be made to feel at home. 275 years of welcoming all who enter; not a bad reputation to have!
Now as I have come to shepherd this beloved flock, I have been asking myself: who is God calling us to be at this time? What is God calling us to do now? We are at an historic crossroads. We have 275 years of worship, and service, and presence in this community, and I am excited to see what God will do with us next. Maybe not for the next 275 years, but certainly into the more immediate future.
1 John 3:2 tells us “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” The “what we will be” has not yet been revealed, but the “who” has been. The “who” is YOU, the people of Old Greenwich along with those who will come to join us in the days, weeks, months, and even years ahead. The “how” has been partially determined at our most recent session meeting. They voted to begin a process that will help us to discern what God is calling us to do next.
We want you, the people of OGPC, to engage in this decision-making process. A process through which we will explore the needs in our community and perhaps beyond, as well as the skills and gifts and talents that we bring to bear in responding to it. Like the good Presbyterians we are, we want to know your opinion! What are you passionate about? What do you see as an important missional need in our area? Is it hunger? Is it homelessness? Is it poverty? Is it education? Is it elder care or childcare or youth in transition? What are our strengths, our weaknesses, or a little bit of both? What critical resources do we have that we can use to bring Christ’s light into our community and our world?

This is such an important time in the life of the Old Greenwich Presbyterian Church as we celebrate the 275 years that we have been a steadfast and faithful congregation and as we look with joy, thanksgiving, and excitement into the future towards which God calls us. Please join us in worship, in fellowship, and in the coming process of discernment that we may truly become the people God imagines us to be – that “what we will be” may be revealed, and revealed in ways that allow the kingdom of God to break into this community, this area, this world NOW.

Installation Thank Yous

Sunday, March 15, 2015 was glorious! I have to start by saying thank you to all of you for making the day so special. I feel so very blessed to have been called by God to the Old Greenwich Presbyterian Church and for the opportunity to be your 17th Installed Pastor.
I guess that means the first “thank you” needs to go to George Bradlau for not taking “no” for an answer! Indeed, thanks do need to go to the entire Pastor Nominating Committee for their gracious care as I went through my process of discernment with extra credit to Amy Ahart who ensured that I more fully understood the cultural and intellectual opportunities available in the area as well.

With most of the PNC - minus Ed Cichone. (Photo courtesy of Candidly Kate.)

Then there was the moving, and the Building & Grounds crew’s continued care as I set up house and shop in the manse and church office. There have been eight weeks of worship and your generosity of spirit (and Kathleen’s!) as I fiddled and changed and moved things and forgot things and missed things, mostly in the bulletin but sometimes in worship as well. One baby has been born and two beloved parishioners have become part of that Great Cloud of Witnesses that watch over us all. There have been welcome lunches and coffees and potlucks and dinners and eight pounds on and back off as I’ve met many of you on a personal level, with hopefully more to come. (More gatherings that include opportunities to eat, not more pounds on.)

My friend and colleague Karl Mattison preaches the word. (Photo courtesy of Candidly Kate.)

All of that is backstory, though, to the main event: the Sunday morning worship service, followed by that afternoon’s Installation worship service and the celebration afterward. Anyone who was there with me knows exactly how special it was. A gorgeous setting in the historic sanctuary with an exquisite art installation by Katherine Herrman, evoking both the starkness of Lent and resurrection hope with red roses interspersed among the thorns. Beautiful music by the Sonshine Singers in the morning and the Old Greenwich Church Choir at both services. Inspiring preaching by my friend and colleague Karl Mattison, who shared about the doubting Thomases of today, who are more apathetic or disinterested than doubtful, and how we might develop more faithful lives and be harbingers of the good news for those who don’t even know that there is good news out there. There was liturgical dancing of the spoken word Psalm 100 by my daughter Grace and my friend Pam.

Grace Segers and Pam Jusino dance the spoken word. (Photo courtesy of Candidly Kate.)

Then there was the liturgical dance “I Need You to Survive,” ministered by Grace, and Pam, and a group of intrepid girls and women from Old Greenwich, willing to step out in faith and do something entirely new without any real idea of what that was. I give thanks for Deb Calhoun, Roxanne Campello, Grace Hill, Kristin Jiorle, Sharon Jiorle and Lisa Kolterjahn (who faithfully attended rehearsals even though illness kept her from participating on the actual day). I know that the congregation really had no idea what to expect – nor, to be honest, did most of the dancers – yet once invited into the dance, they connected with one another on a deeply moving level. This willingness to engage with each other is the hallmark of what it is to be in community with one another. It is also, I believe, what makes Old Greenwich so special.
Over and over again, people have told me that the reason they chose to stay at OGPC after visiting is because of the warmth of the congregation. Because they felt at home pretty much as soon as they walked in the door. Being “home” means that we belong no matter what. That despite our faults, our brokenness, our bad hair days, our whatever, we are loved and supported and needed. Ultimately, this is the good news of Jesus Christ: that we are forgiven our sins and loved beyond all measure. This is the good news that we live out in community with one another when we are truly being the church. I am honored and blessed to be called to a congregation that is really trying its best to fulfill Jesus’ command to love God and love neighbor. It is my prayer that we will continue to grow together in faith, in love, in community, and in commitment to sharing this good new with all we know and with all we meet.