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.
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.
After I graduated from seminary, I took part in an international program called the “Global Institute of Theology” at Kirchliche Hochschule Wuppertal/Bethel, Germany.
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?
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.
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.?”
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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! 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.
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).
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.
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, 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.
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.
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 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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
This week I experienced my first Fourth of July in the greater Philadelphia area. I went to a cookout in Glenside. Everybody knows the right foods for the Fourth: hot dogs, potato salad, baked beans, lots of fresh fruit and luscious vine-ripened tomatoes, not to mention chilled beverages. Well-fortified, we made our way down to the parade. Glenside has a hoppin’ parade; the streets and lawns were lined with people, old and young in a dazzling array of reds, whites, and blues. I saw one girl with a star shape braided into the hair on the back of her head. I don’t know how you do that, but I was impressed. For one afternoon, we all seemed proud to wear our country on our sleeves, our backs and even woven into the very fibers on our head.
This week our middle school students took the Urban Plunge into the Youth Initiative program at Broad Street Ministry (BSM) in Philadelphia. There we took part in new and different worship services, discussions about poverty, racism, and the bible, and experienced many different work sites where we served in diverse ways.
“Like trying to take a drink of water from a fire hose.” That’s how I’ve described these first few weeks of my life and work here at BMPC. Maybe it’s because I came from a small congregation in a rural part of the country. Or maybe it’s because in a church this large, there are a lot of systems and programs with which to become acquainted. Or maybe it’s because I’ve gotten lost more than once and somehow ended up in the Sanctuary basement. Regardless of the reason, I’ve felt the strong urge to nap every time I come home for lunch.
As each child runs past me, I read the same question written across the back of their VBC T-shirt: “How do you tell the story of God’s love?” This week as we’ve been learning about Jesus’ parables and the ways he described God’s love to the world, and while we’ve been learning those parables, I’ve also seen the story of God’s love told in the actions and the work of our camp’s participants.
One thing that pastors have to get very good at early on is telling their “call” story. This is an essential element in determining as a larger church whether or not that particular person should become a pastor. And so every time an aspiring pastor meets with their Session, their Presbytery and their potential first congregation, they are asked to tell the story of their “call” to ministry.
We made it! We made it through the May sweeps of Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, graduations and confirmations and all the end of school year events… Weddings. Pentecost. Things are winding down for the summer, and you can almost hear sighs of relief.
Last summer we got so much positive feedback about our sermon series based on the Old Testament stories we teach our youngest children, we are doing a reprise with the New Testament! In the summer, preachers and congregants come and go, but the series provides a continuity of theme. Again, with artwork adorning our bulletin covers from the curriculum of our four and five-year-olds, we hope that worship will be a truly intergenerational experience as we explore the treasured Bible stories from the life of Jesus.
I am continually filled with gratitude during this season of transition. In fact, a spirit of thankfulness has filled each of the past six years in my ministry at BMPC. The first sermon I ever preached in the Sanctuary on Thanksgiving weekend was on the theme of cultivating an attitude of gratitude. Now, as I am preaching my last sermon in Bryn Mawr, I feel the same sense of gratefulness.
This Sunday, May 21, at 3:00 p.m., nearly 200 singers and 38 orchestral musicians will combine forces under the leadership of two of the world’s greatest choral legends, Anton Armstrong and André Thomas. Dr. Armstrong is conductor of the famed St. Olaf Choir, arguably one of the greatest choirs in the world and certainly the finest college choir in America. Dr. Thomas is renowned for his arrangements of African-American spirituals and composer of dozens of works, including a new Mass in gospel and jazz style. You will hear two movements from that Mass this Sunday.
May is always the month of many transitions. Folks begin to go and come for graduations, spring weddings, year-end school activities, concerts, and many other special occasions
This year ushers in both the usual transitions at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, like welcoming members of the Confirmation Class into church membership, the winding down of the program year, and the gearing up for summer’s special activities of Vacation Bible Camp and mission trips, as well as special endings and beginnings.
As I approach the end of my ministry at BMPC, I find myself reflecting on the milestones and memories of the past six years. One of the greatest joys in my ministry is the opportunity to walk alongside our eighth graders each year during Confirmation.
I am a big history buff – especially the history of churches and congregations. When I was finishing my undergraduate degree in history at George Washington University, I wrote my senior thesis on the design and creation of my home church’s current building in East Liberty, Pa., back in the 1930s. I loved reading through historic meeting notes where elders discussed the benefits of large Sunday school classrooms or the ways that the community would feel welcomed into this new massive church building.
This is no “low Sunday” upcoming at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church!!
We have a Congregational Meeting at 11:00 a.m. after worship to call two new associate pastors. You should have received a mailing at home, but in case you did not, you can view the brochures for The Reverend Frank Pottorff who is being called as Associate Pastor for Congregational Life and Stewardship and The Reverend Mary K. Steege as Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care and Senior Adults.
During this past Palm Sunday’s sermon, Dr. Norfleet said, “You cannot get to Easter - in all its unspeakable hope and joy… without going down into the pit of despair over the brutal reality of death.” As a lifelong church musician, I treasure the journey that takes place between Palm Sunday and Easter. While it is a difficult journey, by annually recounting Christ’s final days, Easter’s abounding hopes and joys are simply more breathtaking.
Two weeks ago, nearly 100 people gathered in Congregational Hall to hear the stories our mission team brought back from our February trip to Lebanon and Syria. In that presentation we talked about the faithfulness of the Presbyterian Church leaders in both countries as they seek to reach out with compassion and courage in response to the Syrian war and refugee crisis. We talked about the schools the churches have started, providing basic education to refugee children who have lived their entire young lives away from home and any educational system. We talked about the relief work that congregations in Syria are doing to support the thousands of internally displaced Syrians living away from not just their homes, but their communities and their family histories.
This coming Sunday, in prayers of thanksgiving during worship and at Cafe in the Court following, we will pause and give thanks for the ministry of Dick Wohlschlaeger as our Interim Associate for Pastoral Care and Senior Adults.
During Lent, our children spend the season following Jesus closer and closer to Jerusalem. Each step helps us know Jesus in a new way. The words he speaks, the actions he takes, the lives that are changed, the crowds who react, the disciples who follow: All these facets work together to give us a better understanding of Jesus’ ministry.
The gospel of John leads us through a series of lengthy encounters with Jesus as we make our way through the season of Lent toward Holy Week and Easter this year. These biblical conversations guide our reflections in this year’s Lenten Devotional written and illustrated by church members and mission partners. They also serve as the texts for our current four-week sermon series on Sunday mornings, as well as the readings for reflection and silent meditation during our Wednesday evening Taizé services.
It is hard to believe that it has been nearly six years since I began my ministry at BMPC. In those years, I have witnessed God do some amazing things through our ministries. It is a joy to serve the youth and families of our congregation, and our goal is to continually strengthen what we do here.
This Sunday we will gather around the communion table and celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Our custom at BMPC is to observe high holy days and mark liturgical seasons by including communion in the 10:00 a.m. worship service. (Communion is served weekly at the 8:00 a.m. service in the Chapel.) This Sunday’s special observance is the Transfiguration of the Lord, that odd and glorious moment on the mountain when Jesus is revealed to his inner circle of disciples as the Son of God while his face shines like the sun.
Last November several church members met two weeks in a row with friends from Main Line Reform Temple, and their rabbi, David Strauss, to study scripture together. While one week we focused on the very difficult story of the sacrifice (or near sacrifice) of Isaac, our other week was spent in study of the Love Commandment that we find in both the Old and New Testaments:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength,
and love your neighbor as yourself.
In a few days, a small group of BMPC members and I will travel to Beirut, Lebanon, to spend 10 days together with our partners at the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL). This trip will include visits with denominational leaders, congregations, schools, education programs for refugee children, and even some para-church organizations who are working to fight one of the greatest humanitarian crises the world has ever known.
Next weekend Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church will be welcoming educator and pastor, Ivy Beckwith. I hope you will be able to join us for this exciting opportunity. As a congregation, we promise to support each child at baptism. Next weekend will provide us with the tools we need to live into those promises.
One of the first times I felt called to the life of pastoral ministry was on Youth Sunday in my grandmother’s church (First Baptist Church of Rhodhiss, NC). My mother, brother and I had been looking for a congregation to call home, but it was difficult for us to find a place where we felt welcomed and supported. We met my grandmother’s pastor at a community gathering, and he invited me to take part in the service. I hadn’t been to his church in years, but that didn’t faze him. He asked me to read Psalm 139:
This coming Sunday’s Congregational Meeting is called after the 10:00 a.m. worship service for the purpose of acting on changes in the Pastor’s Terms of Call and to elect persons to serve in important leadership roles. The Nominating Committee will put before the congregation names of persons who have agreed to serve as Ruling Elders, Deacons, Trustees, and members of the Nominating Committee.
“Follow me,” Jesus shouts over his shoulder, “and I will make you fishers of people.”
Neither the gospels nor the rhythms of the church year allow us to hold onto baby Jesus for very long. It’s been less than a month since Christmas and already Jesus has grown up and begun his public ministry. He announces that the kingdom of heaven has come near and God is doing a new thing among the people.
Six years ago this week, our son Owen came home from kindergarten and talked to us about the things he had learned that day about Martin Luther King Jr. How he marched for civil rights; how he gave bold and remarkable speeches that we still remember today; how he put himself in harm’s way to change who we are as a country.
Each day as I walk through the church campus, I am struck by the stonework on the buildings. I imagine the skill it takes fits each stone next to another. As I look at the stones, I am reminded of the early church. In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul tells the members of the church that they are being built into a new holy temple – a dwelling place for God. Peter describes the faithful as “living stones” brought together by God to create something new.
“In the beginning was the Word.” These words from the beginning of John’s Gospel will have new meaning as we worship this Sunday on New Year’s Day, January 1, 2017.
This weekend our church family, on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day will come and go through the sanctuary for the glorious singing of carols, to hear of a most remarkable birth with hope in our hearts, and with deep appreciation for the light of God that shines in the world.
What a joy and privilege it is to plan worship services at this lovely time of the year. I love the way the sanctuary is decorated over a period of time with increasing beauty for the Sundays of Advent, culminating in the coming Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve. First the wreaths on the doors, then the garland and center aisle candles, then the poinsettias in their full glory. The growing array of color matches the increasing intensity of the joyful and hopeful expectation Christmas brings.
Last week, feeling a little antsy on my long train ride from Connecticut to Philadelphia, I typed “Family at Christmas” into Google search. Much to my horror, among the top three hits were “How to survive family Christmas” and “Estrangement from family at Christmas: How we cope.” After a burst of sadness, my next reaction was, “Thank heavens we can look forward to a concert on December 11 that will be presented by the entire family of BMPC choirs.” Best of all, this is a happy and healthy family that ranges in age from 5 to 95. That’s not something to survive, but something to celebrate.
I don’t know about you, but my Christmas shopping list seems to get smaller and smaller every year. I can remember in years past taking day trips to Chicago to shop on the Magnificent Mile, window shopping and looking for the perfect gift that would catch my eye and make me think of a particular loved one or another. It would also often include an afternoon spent inside Marshall Fields looking for the one thing that would express my appreciation to my parents or roommates. I remember as a child heading out in December with my mother to consider how I would spend my hard earned babysitting money on a gift for my brother or my best friend.
O God to whom we belong in body, mind and spirit, we meet this Thanksgiving Day rejoicing in the abundance of your blessings. We are thankful for the gift of love which binds us to one another, for passion that keeps alive the goodness of life, and for compassion that opens our hearts to others.
When I started my ministry at BMPC more than five years ago, I wondered about what motivated church members to gather for pancakes on Thanksgiving morning. I found myself asking, “pancakes on Thanksgiving?” However, it didn’t take me long to see what makes this morning so special.
The long-awaited presidential election is over. Many in our nation are celebrating; others are dismayed and grieving. Some think we elected the perfect person in Donald Trump to shake up the establishment in bold new ways; others are fearful for what this “outsider” candidacy might mean as we move into the future as a nation amid an increasingly complex global reality.
Several years ago my wife Kathy and I were traveling in Italy in late October. On November 1 we were nearing the end of our journey, but we had one task still to accomplish. We were looking for a set of pottery pasta dishes that we hoped to take home as lasting and useful remembrances of our trip. Driving through the Tuscany countryside we soon discovered that nearly every shop that would have met our needs was closed. Why? We suddenly realized that we had forgotten so far from home that it was All Saints’ Day. And on All Saints’ Day in Italy nearly all commerce stops. Instead, families gather with flowers and memories at the gravesides of dear ones now departed. It is a lovely sight to see.
Whenever the Session meets to receive new members, I am fond of including in prayer some words to the effect of: “Thank you, God, for making of this old, historic church a new church today!” The church is made up of the people of God, and together we share similar qualities and characteristics to any living thing.
A church member recently shared with me that in parenthood, "the days are long, but the years are fast." As a parent, I'm regularly reminded that our children are growing up in a culture that is changing more quickly than at any other time in history.