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Pastors’ Column

Each week one of our pastors or staff members writes a column observing what is going on in our congregation, the Church and the world, and offering reflections on the Christian life and faith. Through this series of columns, we hope to connect your and our story to the enduring story of Christ; to offer pastoral reflections on our ongoing congregational life and mission; to report on news of the Presbyterian Church and Church universal; and to invite further reflection and deeper discipleship. We welcome your comments and suggestions. In other words, our words here are an invitation to continue the conversation.

Learning to Tell Your Story

Inside each of us is a story. It’s the story of our lives, the tale of how we became who we are today, in all its splendor and gravity. By nature it’s a personal story, which is why passing it on to others can be one of the most intimate, meaningful gifts.

The Gift of Partnership

Within just a few weeks of starting here as your Associate Pastor for Mission in 2015, I was told that we would be visiting a mission partner in Mexico City that fall. In 2014, Urban Mosaic was awarded the Richard Shaull Grant for Mission in the amount of $30,000 to help them build up their innovative model of engaging in and empowering residents of the slum communities that have continued to grow outside of Mexico City.

World Communion Music Highlights

This Sunday is our annual day of World Communion. Begun in 1933 by Hugh Thomson Kerr, pastor of Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, his idea was to bring churches together in a service of Christian unity—in which everyone might receive both inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the Church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected, one with another. By 1940, the idea spread to churches throughout the world.

Peace and Global Witness Offering

Over the summer, you may have heard the news that the Presbyterian Church USA (our denomination) is the first in the nation to ordain a Minister of Word and Sacrament whose entire focus is gun violence prevention.

Celebrating Brian K. Ballard’s Ordination

Whenever we celebrate the Ordination and Installation of elders, deacons or pastors, we are called to give answers to the constitutional questions of the Presbyterian Church (USA). These questions begin by asking affirmations of faith about trusting Jesus Christ and believing in God as revealed in the three persons of the Trinity. They cover accepting the Scriptures as authoritative, the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as our guide, and if we will abide by the governance of our denomination.

Making Promises

Do we as members of the Church of Jesus Christ promise to guide and nurture them by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging them to know and to follow Christ and to be a faithful member of Christ’s church?

All Families Blessed

All the families of the earth shall be blessed…

During this summer, our extended family celebrated the birth of my three great-nephews. Adding up to 12 little cousins in that generation, our son James quipped, “The Norfleet clan is growing exponentially!” What brings me great joy is this new generation also adds beautiful diversity to the Norfleet family tree.

The Slow Work of God

There are some days I wake up, drink my morning coffee, and I am rip-raring-ready for the day — ready to take on the world!

Renovations Underway

About three years into serving at my previous congregation in Indiana, the church started a major renovation. Its goals were similar to the goals we have for our renovations at BMPC:

  • Better accessibility for all members of the church.
  • Better gathering and fellowship spaces so the WHOLE church could be together.
  • Improved classrooms and meeting rooms for children and adults.
  • New entrances that truly communicated a warm welcome to the larger community.

The Rev. Crawford Brubaker

The Rev. Crawford Brubaker has long been a “PK,” a pastor’s kid. The son of former BMPC associate pastor, the Rev. Pattie Kitchen, he first came to our church as a 10 year old in 1993. Along with his younger siblings, Ben and Elizabeth, he spent the next 12 years immersed in the busy life of our congregation.

M. Courtenay Willcox

M. Courtenay Willcox lives out her life's priorities of family, faith and environmental concerns in her activities and involvements. A recent graduate of United Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia, she received a Master of Divinity degree in May. As a cradle Presbyterian, Courtenay is a former Moderator of the Presbytery of Philadelphia and served on the Presbytery’s Commission on Ministry. She has preached in more than 30 local congregations as a Commisioned Ruling Elder in this Presbytery.

The Rev. Dr. Graham Robinson

Even though the Rev. Dr. Graham Robinson lived in Philadelphia for just over a decade, the grace of God embodied by BMPC has reverberated through his life. When studying at Bucknell University, a BMPC pastor came to campus and told him what his father said before he left for college. They both stated, “You would be a great minister.”

Let Us Love

I doubt there is any way for me to adequately express my delight at becoming the new Associate Pastor for Youth and Their Families here at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church! Since my first day in July, I have felt welcomed and affirmed in my call to serve Jesus here, and I am so thankful to become a part of the BMPC family. Walking alongside young people as they grow is a profound privilege, one that I do not take for granted.

The Rev. Dr. Paul G. Watermulder

The Rev. Dr. Paul G. Watermulder is a child of this church, having joined in 1962 when the family, including his mother, Ruth, brother, Peter, and sister, Martha, moved from Illinois into the manse and his father, David, became senior pastor at BMPC. This congregation is at the heart of his spiritual formation. So many church leaders were great examples; the stained glass brought awe and wonder before God; youth groups brought camaraderie and leadership; church life taught a zeal for mission especially among the poor; through it all came an abiding affection for Jesus Christ and high respect for His Church. This is “home” in many ways.

Neighbors – it’s about Humanity, Respect, and Love

Twenty-one years ago, I joined Singing City Choir, first as associate conductor and one year later, as Music and Artistic Director. From the very beginning of my tenure with this august group – founded in 1948 as one of the first integrated choirs in America – I have felt the resonance between its passion for social justice and BMPC’s wonderful focus on outreach and mission. As with BMPC, every decision Singing City makes is driven by those passions.

What is Your Mountain Top Experience?

What is it about mountains that invoke a spiritual or religious response from us as human beings? Maybe the thinness of the air, the lack of oxygen, or the exhaustion when we finally reach the top?

A City on a Hill

“A holy experiment.” That’s how the English Puritans understood what they were attempting to do, by crossing the Atlantic in the first part of the 17th century and planting a colony far from the reach of bishops or kings. Seeing themselves as the wandering Israelites, seeking the Promised Land after escaping Egypt, the pious faithful huddled on the top deck of the Arbella as their leader, John Winthrop, delivered his now famous sermon.

Grateful to be Here

If there is one aspect of the Christian faith that has embedded itself into my being, one truth that I return to again and again, it is this: Nothing we have is our own. Everything is a gift from God.

A Week in the Wilderness

To the outside world, I was a 14-year-old dressed in a Bible costume welcoming kindergartners into a highly-decorated preschool classroom. My co-leader and I greeted them asking if they had heard the news about Paul arriving in Rome. They giggled. They knew we were pretending, and we were indeed in the preschool classroom, not Bethany outside Jerusalem. We washed their feet and welcomed them to share a meal at our table. They helped us make bread and soup, grinding grain and kneading dough.

Summer Break/Breaking Ground

Another program year has ended! And all God’s people (or at least the BMPC pastors) said, Amen!

Need a Lifeguard? Ours Walks on Water.

We’ve all seen those messages on church signs and billboards. “Where will you spend eternity? Smoking or non?” “Try our Sundays. They are better than Baskin-Robbins.” “Welcome to CH CH. What’s missing? UR.” “You have one new friend request, from Jesus. Confirm? Ignore?” “Walmart isn’t the only saving place.” “God answers knee-mail.” “Santa Clause never died for anyone.” “What happens in Vegas is forgiven here.” Or my personal favorite, “Don’t let worries kill you, let the church help.”

The Next Chapter - Celebrating David’s Ministry

If you know anything about David Smith, you will know that he loves books: old books, new books, audio books. He has a constant list of things he is reading or planning to read. He loves nothing more than diving into new ideas and dissecting a good argument. In fact, it is not unusual to end a conversation with David either handing over a book or with him receiving one. It has been a joy to watch as that list of books read, and books to read, has grown over the past four years. They have testified to his strong sense of ministry and call.

Confirmation for Adults

Over the past year, just as our Confirmation students have been learning what it means to be not just a follower of Jesus Christ, but a member of a Christian community, another group of BMPC members have been walking a parallel journey in our Thursday evening adult education class, Confirmation for Adults.

Confirmation Confessions

I have a confession to make: I never went through a Confirmation class.

Congregational Meeting May 5

Dear BMPC Friends,

With great joy I am happy to announce that the Session has called a Congregational Meeting for Sunday, May 5, following the 10:00 a.m. worship service for the purpose of acting upon the recommendations of our two Associate Pastor Nominating Committees: Leigh DeVries as Associate Pastor for Youth and their Families and Brian K. Ballard as Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care and Senior Adults.

Gratitude for Sabbath Renewal

What a privilege to serve a congregation that recognizes the heavy demands of pastoral ministry by offering a Sabbatical for extended time away every seventh year! As I prepare to leave for the Discovering our Presbyterian Heritage tour of Scotland with 41 church members on Friday, April 26, followed by my Sabbatical leave through August, I want to share the plans for coverage of my primary areas of responsibility.

Borrowing by Bach

We invite you to observe Good Friday with us as we present J.S. Bach's St. Mark Passion on Friday, April 19 at 7:30 p.m. in the Sanctuary. The performance will feature the BMPC Sanctuary Choir, Bryn Mawr Chamber Singers, and The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, with soloists Elizabeth Weigle, Misoon Ghim and Andrew Burgmayer. A free-will offering will be received.

A Building, but More

“It’s just a building, but it is more than a building.” These are the first words that ran through my mind when my colleagues,  Frank and Drew, and I gathered around a computer screen to watch and lament as flames engulfed Notre-Dame de Paris on Monday. 

What Are We Supposed to Do?

On the bulletin board in my office I have a short poem by Wendell Berry, a farmer, environmental advocate and writer, entitled “Real Work.”

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Celebrating Our Annual Meeting

The Annual Meeting of the congregation will be celebrated this Sunday after the 10:00 a.m. worship service. Why do I use the word celebrated to describe what takes place at a congregational meeting? It’s because this meeting and the distribution of the written Annual Report invite us to look back and look forward and take stock of the ministry of this vibrant congregation and the deep investment of its members.

Be Inspired by Bonhoeffer

Through my more than 36 years as Director of Music and Fine Arts at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, there have been a handful of musical experiences among hundreds of concerts that stand out for their timeliness and spiritual power. Our 1985 B-Minor Mass (J.S. Bach), the 1987 anti-war concert (Vaughan Williams, Ives and Copland), a concert exploring tensions between Jews and Muslims (2000), concerts with jazz great Dave Brubeck (1989 and 2003), Missa Gaia (2010, 2012, and 2018), and now, Thomas Lloyd’s Bonhoeffer, to be presented this Sunday, March 17, at 4:00 p.m.

Lent in Pieces

You may have heard a click or a clack during the Sunday morning Children’s Moment. It always amazes me how the sound of wood on stone echoes in the Sanctuary and can grab the attention of almost any child. 

This Time, This Place Capital Campaign Exceeds Goal!

During worship on February 24, we officially celebrated the culmination of This Time, This Place: The Campaign for Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church. The feasibility study leading up to the campaign suggested we could raise $15 million. Early leadership gifts inspired the Session to adopt a stretch goal of $17.5 million. To date, we have received gifts and pledges from 437 households, representing over 700 members, totaling $19.5 million!

Legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Season of Lent

In 1998, Westminster Abbey in London unveiled a new set of sculptures over its western door - 10 modern martyrs who reflect a level of discipleship and devotion to the Christian faith that put them in harm’s way and eventually led to their death. Included are Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King Jr. as well as lesser known Christian martyrs from Russia, China, Africa, Pakistan, New Guinea and Europe. 

Included in this group is pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. 

Our Next Symposium: Getting Unstuck

“I’m stuck in a rut.” “I know the steps I need to take, but I just can’t move forward.” “My partner and I are on different pages about what to do next.” 

Generous Discipleship

Did you hear about the time a member of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, and St. Luke United Methodist Church all ended up stranded on a deserted island? The Episcopalian and the Methodist lit fires, waved flags, and began to draw large signs in the sand, hoping desperately to be rescued. The BMPC member meanwhile does nothing.

Learning, Reaching Out and Making Connections through Music

This Saturday, February 9, at 7 p.m., the Music and Fine Arts program will offer a benefit concert to raise funds in support of the Sanctuary Choir’s 2020 tour to the Middle East – Israel and Jordan. Presented by the talented staff singers of the Sanctuary Choir, audience members will hear a feast of music by Debussy, Rorem, Rachmaninoff, Mozart, Strauss, Gershwin and more. Accompanying that feast of music is a feast of desserts from some of Philadelphia’s finest bakeries.

Voice

When our senior preachers sat down a few months ago to develop a theme that would unite the various elements of this year’s Youth Sunday Service, they settled on one word: “voice.”

The Church as the Body of Christ

This Sunday, our scripture lessons include the familiar reading from 1 Corinthians 12 where Paul talks about the church being the Body of Christ, a fitting consideration on the day in which we elect church officers at the Congregational Meeting following worship.

On the Holy Mountain

After I graduated from seminary, I took part in an international program called the “Global Institute of Theology” at Kirchliche Hochschule Wuppertal/Bethel, Germany. 

Celebrating Epiphany 

This coming Sunday, January 6, is the Feast of the Epiphany when the church celebrates the arrival of the Magi from the east. The word epiphany means manifestation, appearing or showing.

How Do You Teach Baptism?

How do you teach baptism?

When teaching children about baptism, we often review the symbols and the stories of baptism. We talk about John the Baptist in his camel skin clothes and the dove descending from on high. We talk about water, and how the water in our font is ordinary water that we set aside for a holy purpose.

The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I was recently in a conversation with local clergy in Lower Merion as we continue to share our stories and the work of our communities with one another. Our conversation prompt this particular afternoon as we circled up in small groups was this: “What are your personal memories surrounding the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?”

Bah Humbug, Amen!

If you ask me what Hell might be like, I’ll take you to the King of Prussia Mall in the days leading up to Christmas. The people. The sales. The gimmicks. The merchandise. The long lines. The traffic. The false sense that “stuff” wrapped up with a bow will somehow bring happiness. That’s hell on earth, as far as I’m concerned. 

The Service of the Longest Night

On Thursday, December 20 at 7:00 p.m., we will be offering our annual Service of the Longest Night in the Sanctuary.

Sometimes called “Blue Christmas,” the Service of the Longest Night is so named because of its proximity to the Winter Solstice - the longest night of the year. But the name is also fitting because - despite the trappings of gifts, holiday meals and celebrations, bright lights, and Christmas carols - the season can be darker than other times of the year for those who have experienced the trauma of loss. The stresses and strains of trying to offer a time of celebration take their toll.

This Time, This Place Campaign Commitment Sunday

This coming Sunday, December 9, is the joyful culmination of a long and exciting visioning process. During worship we will dedicate our pledges to This Time, This Place: The Campaign for Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church. Each family unit or individual will be invited to complete a commitment card and place it in the offering plates as they are passed. Even if you have already made your campaign pledge, we ask that you complete the card so that together all of our gifts can be lifted in prayer and dedicated to the glory of God.

Advent Workshop

My brother was home from college and I was a busy high school student. Neither of us felt any guilt when we refused to help our parents decorate for Christmas. We didn’t have the time or the patience to haul boxes from the basement, test bundles of tree lights, unwrap ornaments, or help move furniture. Maneuvering around the boxes stacked in the living room, we escaped for the afternoon. I remember coming home, happy to see the lights flickering in the windows, the large evergreen wreath on the door, and a sense that the season had truly arrived. Entering the house, I realized my parents had made a unique choice in decorating that year. In years past, my brother and I had intentionally ignored the childhood art projects and old family ornaments that had been carefully preserved in pieces of old newspaper.

Help Students Prepare for New School Year

Presbyterians love education. From the very beginning in Geneva and in Scotland, Presbyterians were working to assure that every member of their community could read and understand the word of God.

That early interest in education has only grown in our 500-year history. Presbyterians were quick to establish universities, seminaries, and schools around the world. They started Sunday Schools to help educate children and adults working in mills. Our love of education was never limited to scripture and the church, but toward the formation of the whole child: body, mind and spirit.

Summer Travels

July seems to be a good time to get away. I say that because it feels like half of our congregation is “down the shore,” and I’m currently wandering the halls of our office suite in the Ministries Center wondering where everyone is who is supposed to work here. 

The Miraculous in the Everyday

In this Sunday’s 10:00 a.m. worship service we will commission our Middle School Mission Team to New York City (July 8-12) and our High School Mission Team to Mexico City (July 22-28). I am reminded of a brief prayer by John Phillip Newell as our teams prepare to disembark:

A Reflection of the Kingdom of God

Every two years Presbyterian Elders and Pastors, youth, young adults, volunteers, activists and lay people gather for our denomination’s General Assembly. This year’s assembly took place last week in St. Louis, Missouri, as the church gathered to discuss issues related to fossil fuels, immigration, mission partners living and working all over the world, ongoing issues in Israel and Palestine, issues of inclusion and justice across our nation, Christian education and evangelism, and even restructuring our national church and local churches to put their best foot forward for the future.

Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis

On Palm Sunday of this year, some of the wisest, most esteemed elders in the Christian Church, including such leaders as Walter Bruggeman, Tony Campolo, Bishop Curry, and Jim Wallis, released a statement reclaiming the centrality of Jesus and restating the church’s charge to change the world through the life and love of Jesus Christ.

In the Beginning...

Next week BMPC will welcome over 120 children to our church. They will be supported by more than 70 volunteers as well as many members of our staff. We will be learning about God’s good creation, about our mission partners who are working so that people have good water to drink and those who help teach people new ways of farming. We’ll be making habitats for local wildlife and even “upcycling” some worn-out shoes.

Resting in the Grace

God willing, as you read this, I’ll be on a farm in North Carolina with my friend Ben. I will have worshipped with his congregation, one of our mission partners: Farm Church. I am not a farmer; hot, hard labor has no appeal. But I love the earth and being out in nature grounds me. The ducks and the dog and the children fill me with delight. Good friends and good talk renew my spirit within me.

This Time, This Place

This coming Sunday, June 10, you will have opportunity to learn about a very exciting and important initiative that has been years in the making. This Time, This Place: The Campaign for Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church is being launched after worship during our annual Sundae Sunday celebration at the beginning of summer. In addition to fellowship and ice cream on the lawn after the 10:00 a.m. worship service, everyone will be invited to tour the Education Building and see an amazing video introduction of This Time, This Place.

Windsor Castle Catches Fire Again

Nearly 26 years ago, in November 1992, a fire broke out in Queen Elizabeth’s private chapel at Windsor Castle, eventually sweeping through the state apartments and various other parts of the ancient building. When it was finally contained some 12 hours later, the flames caused extensive damage to the medieval estate. The ancient castle looked pitifully decimated.

Thankful for our Sunday School Teachers

How do we evaluate a year in educational ministry? Is it the 36 lessons covered in the three-year-old classroom? Is it found in the disciple projects presented by this year’s class of Confirmands? Is it in the artwork that hangs on the wall? Is it in the knowledge gained? Friendships formed?

Follow

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s groundbreaking work, “The Cost of Discipleship,” is cherished by people of faith from across the political, ideological and cultural spectrums. Whether you identify with one political party or another, hold tightly to this or that ethical principle, you are bound to find wisdom in Bonhoeffer’s words. 

It’s About More Than Numbers!

This Sunday’s Annual Meeting after the 10:00 a.m. worship service will celebrate the good health and vitality of the congregation, and this year we are adding something new! We have three special highlights planned in order to tell the story of our congregation and how our ministry is making a difference for people who are involved.

Experiencing the Complexities of Israel and Palestine

For the past 10 days, I have been traveling with a group of Christian clergy (from a variety of traditions) as well as Jewish Rabbis (also from a variety of traditions) in Israel and Palestine. During our time together we visited both Jewish and Christian traditional pilgrimage sites and heard from a variety of leaders in both regions who are not just working for peace, but building real relationships. We also worshiped together, experiencing one another’s liturgical traditions, and studied scripture, political statements and even poetry together.

"Missa Gaia" - Mass for the Earth

Over my several decades of service to BMPC, I have rarely programmed a major choral work more than once. My rational is that, with such a vast canon of great choral works, a lifetime alone isn’t enough to even scratch the surface. It is far better to expose the choir and congregation to as many masterworks as possible. Over the span of more than 35 years of concerts, I have made a few exceptions to that approach, programming Handel’s Messiah and the Requiems of Mozart, Fauré, and Duruflé more than once. 

Waking Up White - Join the Conversation

This past week I participated in a gathering of Presbyterians in Louisville, Ky., in preparation for this summer’s General Assembly. In the course of those meetings I chatted with a pastor who had previously preached at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church.

Jesus is on the Loose

Easter is a joy with the flowers, the brass accompanying our amazing choir and congregational singing, and the church celebrating with large crowds at all four services. Easter, however, in the wisdom of the church, is not just one Sunday. Easter is a full season between Holy Week and Pentecost.

Easter’s Hope and Joy

I have always loved Easter Sunday. I have happy childhood memories of my mother making new matching dresses for my older sister and me to wear, of Easter baskets filled with the usual paper grass and chocolate eggs and always an unexpected surprise, of the brass and joyful hymns in worship, and lunch after church with a table full of family and often a guest or two.

Easter Fools

I’ve always found it funny when Easter falls on April Fools’ Day. After all, the Resurrection is the biggest joke God has ever pulled on us. Just when we think Christ is dead, and hope is lost, and life will only get worse, we all just go back to watching the television or eating dinner or scrolling through our social media feeds. Then someone comes and tells us that the tomb is empty. It’s so unbelievable that we almost choke on our lasagna from Carlino’s.

Lost in Translation

I knew my college friend was speaking English, and yet I was struggling to follow each sentence. Even the PowerPoint slides didn’t help because they were covered with formulas and numbers that in theory I should recognize, but as much as I could understand, they might have been written in cuneiform.

YES!

I’ve always struggled with the way Christians talk about “sin.” The faith tradition in which I grew up tended to talk a lot more about sin than we Presbyterians do. Not a Sunday went by without an invitation to acknowledge my depravity, confess my sins and cling to Jesus for refuge.

How the Light Gets In

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

- John 1:5

This passage from the gospel of John is one of the most beloved and hope-filled passages in all of scripture. God’s love reaches into the darkest places of human experience, into the shadows of our broken lives and into the caverns of a broken heart. Nothing and no one is beyond God’s redemptive power. Yet we, in pain and suffering, in pride or shame – we are the ones who hide. In a culture that celebrates success and shuns vulnerability, we withdraw to protect ourselves, our image, or our closest relationships.

Journey into Lent

With the memory of last night’s smudge of ashes upon our foreheads, we have begun our journey into Lent. As the days lengthen into spring we are invited to reflect upon our humanity: our frailty and fallibility, our need for repentance and forgiveness.

Studying Handel’s Messiah Together

Our first year living as Mission Co-Workers in Egypt, a friend and Lutheran mission-worker talked me into singing with her in the American University of Cairo’s Choral Society. They were planning to sing portions of Handel’s Messiah that December at a few different venues in Cairo.

God Loves a Parade

God loves a parade! The Bible is full of them – throngs of people in procession rejoicing as they journey together.

Today an estimated two million people are flocking to Center City Philadelphia to stand shoulder to shoulder and cheer for the Eagles in the wake of their historic Super Bowl win. In the freezing cold? We pray for warmth. Free beer? We pray for safety. In such great number? We pray for a peaceful, as well as joyful, sense of community.

Beings who Worship

During my freshman year of college, I set out on a spiritual journey that is common to many people of faith. My studies and experiences led me to question some of the most basic assumptions posited by the religious worldview I inherited. By the time my junior year rolled around, I had tested the waters of almost every major faith tradition the world has to offer. It took me a while, but I eventually found a new home in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Congregation Meeting to Elect

Last Sunday we considered Jesus’ call to the first disciples, and this coming Sunday we will look at the very next gospel story about their going forth and joining Jesus in his healing ministry. The call to the disciples is immediately followed by their joining Jesus to spread the good news of God’s Kingdom. Discipleship is about both – responding to the call of Christ and doing the work of God in the world.

The Legacy of Reinhold Niebuhr

January for me, as for many people, is always a time of reflection and reorientation. A moment to consider the past year and goal setting and refocusing for the year ahead. Many Januarys, I have a hard time noticing any progress from where I might have been the previous year: sometimes in my personal reflections, or family reflections, faith reflections or even professional reflections. How could a whole year go by with little progress? Maybe you have experienced this as well. Some years I am just grateful that while there has been no progress, I have been able to stem the tide of regress.

Silent Night? Yeah right.

“Silent night, Holy night, All is calm, All is bright.” In the darkness of our Sanctuary, as we lift our candles at its sweet imagery, we dwell in the heavenly peace that it conjures. Many of the carols we sing this time of year echo similar sentiments.

Epiphany

Perhaps you are preparing to set out shoes for the kings to leave gifts or maybe even some grass or hay for their camels. Maybe the sweet smells of a King’s Cake or Epiphany Tart or Koningenbrood or any of a hundred different special desserts are wafting through your house. You may have memories of the initials “KMB” etched in chalk over a door frame, stars carried in processions, or windows kept open on a chilly morning.

From Highlander to Kirkwood

When our middle schoolers crack open their social studies textbooks to the chapter on the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th century, they get a birds-eye view of the era that has shaped so much of modern life. One might come away from these chapters with the sense that history is lived in a vacuum; great heroes arising out of the blue, just in time to save the day. 

Wonder of Christmas

Wonder is one of the wildest elements and qualities
on the massive scale of human experience.
Just a pinch of it stops time.
The world halts. The eyes fill.
You become for a small time, everything you truly are.

Victoria Erickson, Edge of Wonder

The Shadow Side of Christmas

On Thursday, December 21, a Longest Night worship service will be held at 7:00 p.m. in the Sanctuary. In some churches, this service is known as “Blue Christmas.” For many people, Christmas is a mixed bag. Messages of hope and joy contrast with experiences of sorrow and despair. Idealized images of family rub salt in the wounds of real human relationships. We look around and see how the world still falls short of God’s Kingdom come.

A Man of God

It seems fitting that, as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach be presented as both a rousing tribute and rousing celebration of the Christmas season. On Sunday, December 10 at 4 p.m., the Sanctuary Choir, The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and outstanding soloists from the choir will present “Part One” of The Christmas Oratorio and the celebrated Magnificat in D (last presented at BMPC in 1995).

Advent Workshop

In college, I had the opportunity to spend a summer working and researching in rural Ghana. Based at a vocational school, I worked with a microloan organization, with students preparing for national exams, and with a small sewing cooperative. I arrived ready to interview and gather data — a clear research plan in hand. One of the women I worked with asked how I would learn anything if I didn’t use my hands. I was confused at first, and then she showed me. When you study the cooperative’s business model, you need to actually sew a few buttons. If you want to teach the students, help them gather water when the pump breaks down. If you want to understand social capital in the community, sit in the kitchen before the microloan meeting and join the women grinding tomatoes for the community meal.

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Loving God,

We drink from wells we did not dig, and we eat from a bounty of goodness we did not harvest. You love us beyond measure, shower us with grace and patience, and call us into lives of meaning and purpose in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Our hearts overflow with gratitude for countless blessings.

Twenty-Five Years of Alternative Giving

In December 1992, the following article appeared in the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church Messenger:

Send a Kid (Goat) to Indonesia

Buy an “Alternative Giving Christmas Card” card for $5 to honor a friend, teacher, or relative. For each card purchased, a goat kid will be given by World Relief, an international Christian Agency, to a family in the Purwomartani region of Indonesia. Female goats give one-half a gallon of milk daily, providing children with a rich source of protein and calcium. The villagers will not only benefit from the immediate gift of the small animal, but will also receive training to breed their livestock. This is another opportunity provided by the Hunger Task Force.

What Lives On?

What is a legacy? A legacy is something handed down from one generation to the next — an inheritance or a precious heirloom. It might be an ethnic or cultural history, or beliefs about the world, or expectations of how you should be in the world. We experience some legacies as blessing and others as burden. What has been handed down to you? What have you received from those who went before? Even better, what is the legacy that you will leave behind? What are you passing down through the generations, for good or ill?

For All the Saints

We associate O When the Saints Go Marching In with joyful, jazz funeral processions in places like New Orleans, and I imagine most of us only know the opening verse… O Lord, I want to be in that number when the Saints go marching in. The hymn actually has 12 verses, and it reads like the Book of Revelation, filled with apocalyptic images of the end times when God will be fully revealed and the people of God will stream into worship with endless praise before the throne of heaven.

Reformed and Always Being Reformed

All this month in worship we have been reflecting on what it means to claim the label of Protestant and even Reformed... to follow the watch words of the Reformation as we call them: Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone, and this week, Scripture Alone.

On Wondering and Wandering

These days I do a lot of wondering… and wandering. I suspect that’s what people do who are in new places, and as of this writing, who are also desperately trying to both pass and treasure the time before a new baby’s imminent arrival.

And as I continue to wander through the physical spaces of our incredible campus, a tiny question keeps lingering over me. It normally sneaks up on me when I have walked up to the side balcony of our English-Gothic Sanctuary to listen to a practice run on the organ, or when I’m sitting in the darkness of our Chapel, where the strongest light shines through our stunning Tiffany windows. It comes on slowly, and then sits on my shoulder, where I can’t seem to shake it off: Why don’t we build cathedrals anymore?

Gather Us In

This year Stewardship Season has us looking back and looking forward.

Remembering the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s momentous nailing of his 95 points of debate on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral on October 31, 1517, our worship this month is considering five bold theological affirmations that emerged from the Reformation about grace, faith, Christ, scripture, and the glory of God.

Continuing Conversion

Presbyterians don’t make a habit of talking about our “conversion” experiences. The idea that one’s faithfulness to the Gospel can be measured by a singular choice to follow Jesus often seems alien to our experience. When we manage to talk about conversion at all, we describe it as the beginning of a lifelong journey in which striving is more holy than achieving; asking more sacred than answering, and hearing more laudable than speaking.

Every Sunday is World Communion Sunday

The first fall my husband Josh and I were living and working as Mission Co-Workers for the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Egypt, we were contacted by a congregation in Lafayette, Ind. They asked if we would be able to create a short video they could use in their worship service on World Communion Sunday to help their congregation celebrate the day as well as feel like they were connected to our life in Egypt.

Called to Come Alive!

Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

This week, as we welcomed our new parish nurse and social worker, these words from Howard Thurman rang in my ears. Sang in my ears. In our church and in our world, there are many needs. Sometimes, when I survey the landscape of need, I get overwhelmed or discouraged. Sometimes I feel guilt and shame, inadequate. Why? In part, because there are so many needs. But mostly because I am looking in the wrong direction. I focus on the needs rather than the one who can supply our every need. I focus on my inadequacy rather than God’s sufficiency.

A Day of Gratitude and Welcome

This coming Sunday our church family will host significant celebrations of leadership on our church staff for very important ministry areas.

We will give thanks to God during the 10:00 a.m. worship service for Donna Barrickman’s ministry and have a more informal opportunity to send her into retirement with our love and appreciation during the reception after worship in the Ministries Center Court. In her 27 years on the church staff as Membership and Communications Manager, Donna has welcomed more than 1,200 new members and coordinated 108 New Member Orientation classes! For many of us, Donna has extended the first word of welcome as we came through the doors of BMPC.

Life in Community

This coming Sunday will be a day of great celebration as we kick off a new program year and enjoy our annual Rally Day picnic on the front lawn following the 10 a.m. service. After summertime comings and goings it will be a joy to be together in greater numbers again, to share a meal and fellowship, and to learn about many programmatic offerings and service opportunities planned for fall. Children and youth will have the opportunity to greet one another and meet their church school teachers, and the picnic will include all kinds of fun activities for all ages, as well as good food and fellowship. Rally Day is the celebration of being called into the community of the church together.

Memories and Sacred Spaces

When I was 14 years old, I became a member of the First Baptist Church of Rhodhiss, N.C.

I was baptized by immersion into the chilly waters of the small metal pool that had welcomed thousands of people before me into Christian communion. As the pastor quoted scripture, I caught a glimpse of rust stains around the drain at the bottom of the pool. An oil painting of a river bank covered the wall behind me. It had once been the pride of the Sanctuary. Only a faint glimmer of its former exuberance remained. The artist’s work was faded and cracked. Years of dust had accumulated on the thickest brush strokes, and the canvas was peeling on all four corners. The state of the painting, and the whole baptismal array, dismayed many. For me, it revealed the tattered elegance of a space worn out by faithful service.

Sharing the Story of Mission

Do you remember that camp song, “They Will Know We are Christians by Our Love?” I grew up singing that song every year at camp, on church retreats, in Sunday School. There was something about the images in that song that really struck me as a child – especially the verses.

When Prayers Pierce

Recently in a staff meeting, one of my colleagues opened with a prayer from our Book of Common Worship. Drawing from ‘A Litany of Thanksgiving,’ she prayed, “For the young; for their high hopes; for their irreverence toward worn-out values; for their search for freedom; for their solemn vows; Thank you, God.”

Reconnect: Kirkwood 2017

It takes a while to connect with the traditions and overall “quirkiness” of Camp Kirkwood, but once you do, you’re hooked! Each morning, our middle and high schoolers stumble out of their bunks and charge down to the “Coop” for breakfast. When stomachs are full and tables cleared, our frazzled cohort makes its way to “BOBS,” where we begin our day with worship. Camp songs blare, hand motions fly, and spirits rise as we prepare our hearts to hear God’s word. For the first time, we’ve had the privilege of welcoming a different BMPC associate pastor to preach every morning. Campers have a unique chance to build relationships with pastors they see from a distance on Sunday mornings. 

Connecting in the Wilderness

It was the second day of this year’s high school mission trip to Crownpoint, NM. There was no Wi-Fi, sparse cell reception, and absolutely zero chance that I would be checking my overdue work emails. To my delight, our young folks were content with a weeklong break from their preferred social network. I was not. The busyness so many of us pack into our daily lives followed me all the way to the deserts of the Navajo Nation.  

Support theVillage Backpack Collection

I loved the first day of school. I loved pulling out my new pencil box with perfectly sharpened pencils, admiring the brand new crayons still in perfect order. I remember organizing and reorganizing my backpack so everything would be ready.

It was the first day of first or second grade, when we were given a simple assignment to draw a picture from the summer. My crayons were at the ready! One of the students sitting next to me looked nervous. “I forgot my crayons,” she said as I let her borrow mine.

Join us in Supporting the 300th Anniversary of the Presbytery of Philadelphia

2017 marks the 300th anniversary of the Presbytery of Philadelphia. I am still getting used to the frequent refrain in this part of the world where we are privileged to find the first university, the first library, the first mint, the first zoo, the first hospital, even the first volunteer fire company in the United States.

So it should be no surprise that Philadelphia is home, not just to the oldest Presbytery in the country, but some of the oldest Presbyterian congregations as well.

It is hard to imagine that just a few miles away from Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church there are churches twice as old as we are! For half the life of this Presbytery, our congregation didn’t even exist.

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