Welcome

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.

Our Daily Breath

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.

Summertime Worship Rhythms Begin

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.

Thank You

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.

We Sing as Love

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's Transitions

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.

Disciple Project Expo

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.

Self Development of People

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.

Calling Two New Associate Pastors

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.

“The Way to Easter”

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.

Repairers of the Breach

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.

Thanks to Dick Wohlschlaeger

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.

Making Our Way to Jerusalem

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.

Encounters with Jesus

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.

Ministry Architects

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.

Gathering as One Body at the Table

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.

The Value of Our Interfaith Relationships

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.

I was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me

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.

Helping Children Grow in Their Faith

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.

Youth Sunday

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:

The Election of Officers

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.

Heeding the Call to Follow Jesus

“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. 

Do Small Things with Great Love

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.

Creating Connections in the New Year

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. 

Testifying to the Light

“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.

A Prayer for Christmas

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.

Special Worship

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.

A Happy and Healthy Family

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.

Gifts that Matter

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.

A Prayer for Thanksgiving Day

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.

Thanksgiving Pancakes

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.

Election Prayer of Jill Duffield

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.

For All the Saints

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.

Together, Growing in Generosity

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.

Family Conversations

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.

A Peace Which Transcends Understanding…

I recently clipped a little factoid out of a periodical I subscribe to that I thought was interesting:

“Amazon says that the most highlighted Bible passage on Amazon’s Kindle e-reader is Philippians 4:6-7: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Peru Mission Trip

It was just a few short months ago that PC(USA) Mission Coworker Jed Koball stood on the gym stage at our Sunday morning Youth Gathering and told the story of his ministry in Peru. Jed described how his initial work of meeting basic human needs transformed into systemic work of mission advocacy. Jed and his wife Jenny partner with a mission network called Joining Hands in Peru as they discern how God is leading them to address the root causes of issues such as poverty, mining contamination, and unfair trade agreements.

A Prayer for Independence Day

The Fourth of July is one of our two quintessential American holidays along with Thanksgiving Day of course. Many of us will be at home hosting family gatherings, picnic suppers, and looking for places to watch the fireworks. Others of us will be heading to the shore or some other vacation destination. Small towns and large cities across the country will gather along parade routes to watch and cheer as the bands march, the flags are waved and the joy of living in “the land of the brave and the home of the free” is celebrated.

VBC 2016

What will happen next week during Vacation Bible Camp?

A pile of cardboard boxes will become a village.
Old t-shirts will be woven into new rugs.
Broken pottery will form garden mosaics.
Bible stories will become familiar.
Canned food will be gathered and distributed Philadelphia.
A garden will be harvested and there will be fresh strawberries available at Chester Eastside.
Children will serve sisters and brothers in Philadelphia, Syria, Mexico City, and in our church.
Birdhouses will be built.
Youth will be leaders.
Strangers will become friends.
New songs will be sung.
God will be praised.

General Assembly 2016

As I write today, I am watching as the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) debates, amends and celebrates a new Directory of Worship for the denomination. This means hard conversations about who is welcome to participate in the Sacrament of Communion, what it means to present a child for Baptism in our congregations, and how we shape our life of worship together. It also means conversations about language and practices, hospitality and grace.

74 Minutes of Joy

This Sunday, musicians from BMPC, Singing City Choir, the National Music Festival Orchestra, Frederick Chorale and Chester River Chorale will descend on BMPC to present Ludwig von Beethoven’s epic Symphony No. 9 (“Choral Symphony”). The concert also includes Mozart’s marvelous Concerto for Bassoon. With 65 orchestral musicians and 151 singers in the chancel of our church, this will be the largest assembled musical ensemble in BMPC’s history. This concert, along with the opening of a BMPC Congregational Mixed-media Art Show, will fill our campus with uncontainable, creative joy.

Summertime Worship

The Wisdom of Ecclesiastes reminds us of how God has created life to be lived by a certain rhythm. For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die, a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted…God has made everything suitable for its time… We do not always understand the rhythms of life and unexpected interruptions, but we can trust God to hold every season in holy hands and bestow upon it meaning and purpose.

Remembering

At 6:30 a.m. on a Wednesday morning several weeks ago, 26 senior adults boarded a bus in our parking lot for a trip to Washington, DC, to tour the Washington National Cathedral and visit the National Art Gallery.  A light but persistent rain lengthened the travel time considerably, but the sights of that day linger indelibly, I’m sure, in the travelers’ memories.

He Ascended Into Heaven

The season of Easter lasts for 50 days – 7 Sundays in total! A seminary professor of mine, from whom I came to appreciate and love the rhythms and themes of the liturgical year, taught me that while Lent is a season set aside to reflect on who we are as disciples of Christ, the season of Easter is a season set aside to reflect on who we understand Jesus Christ to be – the Good Shepherd, the Vine, the one who prepares the way for us.

Confirmation Disciple Project

When Confirmation began earlier this year, we asked the question: “What can we do to encourage the participation of our youth in the church after they are confirmed?” We decided to do a “Confirmation Reformation” and revamp the project and process that our 8th graders undertake during the year of Confirmation. The result of revamping the program was a new name: The Confirmation Disciple Project.

Teacher Appreciation

Each Sunday more than 50 volunteers take on the enormous task of teaching our children in Sunday School and leading our youth in the Youth Gathering. That’s over 1,400 volunteer hours between September and May. Some of our teachers are dedicated veterans with years of service under their belts. Others came into the classroom for the first time this year. Every week we have gracious substitutes and the occasional special guest to help lead an important project or conversation. As pastors, we are blessed by the time, energy, imagination and love they share with the children and youth of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church. We could not do our work without them.

Being the Branches of Christ

The scripture reading for this coming Sunday is one of my favorite passages of scripture. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is giving final instructions to his disciples, and he uses a beautiful image for them to hold onto even though their Lord is about to take his earthly leave of them. He says, “I am the Vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.” It is a lovely and powerful reminder that God is the source of life itself and all that we do as followers of Christ grows out of his life and love for us.

Celebrating Lay Leaders of the Church

This Sunday, during the 10:00 a.m. worship service we will celebrate the Ordination and Installation of elders and deacons. The ordination of lay leaders for the church goes back 500 years, to the Protestant Reformation, when our tradition parted company with an ecclesiastical hierarchy of church governance and ceased to have bishops entrusted with the power and authority to appoint church leaders. Presbyterians believe we make more faithful decisions together than any one person could alone, and affirm the “priesthood of all believers” by electing lay leaders to govern the church.

Doing Mission in Partnership

This Saturday we will gather as a congregation committed to a deep and wide experience of mission in our community and around the world. This will be the third year that BMPC has held an annual Mission Summit, and each year the event has looked a little different. This year is no exception.

Walking the Walk: Youth Interfaith Dialogue

This Sunday, April 10, high school youth from BMPC will take part in an interfaith program called “Walking the Walk,” coordinated by the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia. The event will include youth from other local congregations including Mainline Reform Temple, New Horizons Islamic School, and Mainline Unitarian Church.

Partnering in Syria and Lebanon

During our second year working at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, a new student entered the Master of Divinity program from Syria. In many ways Mathai (not his real name) slipped into the comfortable camaraderie that all of these young men shared. But in other ways Mathai was different. Because of the struggle to get a visa into Egypt for school, he would not be able to travel back to his home until four years later when he will have finished his degree, while all his classmates travel home each weekend to be with their children and families. Though many of our Egyptian students lived and even worked in congregations through the various revolutions and violence that Egypt has experienced over the past several years, Mathai had experienced much worse. His jokes were a little edgier. His patience for dealing with difficult situations was shorter. His grief at the violence and destruction happening back home didn’t make him miss it and his family any less.

Beginning the Journey

Whether you prefer the big leafy green palms, the ones perfect for waving and spreading underfoot, or the long thin sage green palms that mark a joyful exclamation point before being woven into a cross; do not worry, the palms are on their way. They will be waiting just inside the Sanctuary narthex, ready for the Sunday ahead. At 10:02 a.m., there will be a raucous crowd making their way to the Sanctuary doors, and before you can sing “All glory laude and honor” you will see our youngest members charging down the center aisle reenacting that first Palm Sunday. Much like that first Palm Sunday, I imagine there will be children with faces beaming, a few bewildered expressions, and possibly even a handful of scowls.

Holy Week Worship

Today’s Maundy Thursday communion services and tomorrow’s Good Friday services enable us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus to the end as the gospel enacts God’s raw, brutal entry into human suffering. Then, come Easter morning, the Alleluias will peal from heaven and from within our hearts at the incomprehensible wonder of resurrection. Worshipping together, in word and deed, in song and silence, in ways beyond mere thought, we embrace the most confounding mystery to which we Christians cling – that in the midst of death God bestows life.

The Green Bible

I think that many of us remember Red Letter Bibles from the past. These were the Bibles that put in red font all of the spoken words of Jesus. One could flip through the New Testament and see in full color the teachings and the prayers, the sermons and the conversations of Jesus Christ. It has been a long time since I have seen a Red Letter Bible, and I suspect that they don’t sell too many of those anymore.

Words to Live By

While on sabbatical this past spring, I learned that Agnes Norfleet planned to preach a series on the Psalms during the following Lenten season. How marvelous! Of all the passages in the Bible set to music, nothing has inspired composers more than the Psalms.

Reflecting on Life Itself

In a sermon several weeks ago I remarked that most pastors I know prefer conducting memorial services or funerals to officiating at weddings. I noted that I had said that a number of years ago in another sermon in my former pastorate, and that it had been something most people who heard it had remembered. Something similar occurred here as well.

The Psalms as One Lenten Companion

Yesterday we began our journey into Lent with the Ash Wednesday reminder that, by the gracious mercy and steadfast love of God, the death of Christ redeems our own. As we prepare for the joyful proclamation of Easter’s dawn that Christ is raised from the dead, we are called to observe this Lenten season with a special kind of devotion and reflection. Because Lent is a journey, we should expect to find ourselves somewhat different at the end. Closer to God, deeply grateful, aware of how love suffers for another, renewed for discipleship, more open to how God acts in our lives and in the world. The journey offers many possibilities of where we might end up and how we might be changed.

A Lenten Sojourn

In the last congregation I served, we sent out a post card to everyone who lived in our local neighborhood inviting them to join us for worship. The front of the card showed a roadside billboard with the phrase – “Faith is a journey, not a guilt trip.” It was a way to encourage people to join us even if they were struggling with their faith, and especially if they had experienced church and faith in a negative way in the past. I am not sure how many people decided to join us for worship or even membership because of that card, but I kept it on the bulletin board in my office for years to remind myself of it for my own journey.

Youth Sunday

O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. -Psalm 71:17

What memories do you have as a teenager in the church? These days, the teen years have become even more critical in determining whether our youth will continue to explore their faith as young adults.

Enacting Christ’s Ministry

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 Pastors’ 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, Members of the Nominating Committee and the Associate Pastor Nominating Committee. On the one hand, this kind of meeting of the congregation can seem wholly routine. On the other hand, when viewed through the lens of Reformed theology and Presbyterian governance, this work of this meeting represents the movement of the Holy Spirit among our congregation calling individuals to deepened levels of service through the commitment of their time and talent. It is evidence that we are the Body of Christ working together to usher in the realm of God.

A Holy Pause?

This is a different pastor’s column. Originally, I was going to write about our Congregation Wide Day of Service. I was excited to tell you about the opportunities that awaited on Saturday morning—opportunities to create welcoming and nurturing spaces in the Education Building, to help resource partner churches, to work in community to feed and shelter neighbors in need, and more. I was excited to write about the opportunity and the gift we find in service; however, the Day of Service has been postponed. Instead of serving, we’re looking ahead to a day of snow. I wonder; however, if this isn’t a different opportunity… and a gift.

New Year Beginnings

I always enjoy greeting the New Year with a cordial welcome and a commitment to clean up a bit in order to prepare for what is to come. At home I am glad to sweep up the remnant Christmas tree needles, clear out the rest of the clutter, and get that last thank you note written. In the church I am happy to turn the calendar to a fairly clean page and begin looking forward to worship and seasonal traditions, to anticipated events and new, even unexpected things that will arise over the horizon. January ushers in a new year for all of us and an anniversary for me because exactly three years ago I moved to Bryn Mawr and began my work among this congregation as your pastor.

A Visit with Cathy Chang

This week the Presbyterian Church (USA) is engaging in seven days of prayer and action to fight against the problem of Human Trafficking around the globe. Working against this devastating issue has become a priority for Presbyterian Women both on the national and local level as well as for the work of Presbyterian World Mission in their fight against the root causes of poverty and confronting cultures of violence.

The Longest Night

The observance of the longest night of the year, when we acknowledge the darkest of days and anticipate the light to come, makes space in worship for people for whom the Advent season surfaces grief as well as hopeful anticipation. Some of us approach Christmas with sadness because we miss a loved one who has died, or we are part of a family experiencing the trauma of illness or divorce. Statistics show that a rise in depression is common during the winter, and it is particularly prevalent during the holidays. And this year all of us have been exposed to the chaos of mass shootings, civil unrest at home and abroad, and new kinds of warfare that make us especially aware of the world’s darkness into which Christ is born.

Soli Deo Gloria

Perhaps over the years you have noticed that a frequent title in Advent preludes and postludes is Savior of the Nations, Come (Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland). Johann Sebastian Bach arranged it for organ several times and composed two cantatas based on the hymn, for it was the hymn most closely associated with Advent in the 18th century German church. Martin Luther actually derived this hymn from a beloved Latin hymn, Veni redemptor gentium.

Advent Begins

How do you know that Advent has begun? Is it the joy of eating that first piece of chocolate in the advent calendar? Is it when that first candle is lit in worship? Is it a particular hymn or a family tradition that makes it clear that Christmas is coming and we are faithfully waiting?

A Prayer for Thanksgiving

O God to whom we belong, we celebrate this Thanksgiving Day by rejoicing in the abundance of your many blessings. We are thankful for all your gifts that make life meaningful and pleasurable: for love which binds us to one another in community, for passion that keeps us alive to the goodness of life, for compassion that opens our hearts to others.

The Gifts We Need

The other day as I was walking my son to the bus stop, we had a brief conversation about our expectations for Christmas this year. Living in Egypt for the past two holiday seasons meant very modest Christmas celebrations. Western toys that we could get our hands on in Cairo were far more expensive than they were worth, and in the back of our minds anything bought in Egypt would need to fit in suitcases when we moved home.

A Time of Gathering In

All signs point to it. This is a time for gathering in. Nature’s harvest where we live is nearly complete for the year. We’ve had our spring berries, the abundance of summer fruits and vegetables, and now the apples and pumpkins and squash. Our harvest is nearly complete.

Never the Same

He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ. –Ephesians 1:4-5

At 8:18am on Easter morning this year, Sarah and I received the most incredible gift. At Bryn Mawr Hospital, as the church began its first Easter service, our daughter Hadley Claire was born and changed our lives forever. As we have discovered, life would never be the same.

A Family of Support in a Time of Grief

Regardless of one’s stage in life, certain dates are remembered. A child’s birthday, a couple’s first date, the birthday of a beloved pet, perhaps the date you were offered your dream job and, of course, wedding anniversaries! For most of us those landmark dates also include the date a loved one passed from this life to the next. While birthdays are typically observed in a group with much festivity, dates such as the passing of a spouse or parent or child are more typically observed with some solitary reflection. I have lived long enough to now observe a couple of those dates – in honor of my brother and mother – and I can tell you that, even with the passage of time, those observances are difficult.

Spiritual, Practical and Impractical Goals for Our Stewardship Journey

What are the goals of this year’s Stewardship Campaign to support BMPC’s ministry?

The first is a spiritual goal – to grow in appreciation for the abundant life we have been given by God and to respond with the generous offering of our lives as we seek to follow Jesus Christ. Making a financial commitment to the church is a tangible response to the intangible reality of God’s love and grace and goodness. Faithful people embark on a spiritual journey with God that leads us to grow in generosity.

Serious Faith

For our Sunday morning Youth Gathering, I’m always looking to connect our teens with theological depth and biblical insight in a relevant way. So far this fall, we’ve completed a sermon series on Sabbath called “Refresh.” During the series we talked about finding rest in a restless world, something especially challenging for our youth who face many demands on their time and energy. We just began a new series called “Emoji Christian.” If you’ve sent a text message, you’ve probably used an emoji character, which symbolizes an idea or emotion. During this series, we’re asking the question: Is your faith just a symbol or something you take seriously?

Theologian in Residence: The Rev. Dr. Brian Blount

I am very excited about the Reverend Dr. Brian Blount coming next weekend as our Theologian in Residence and hope that you will take advantage of this extraordinary opportunity. Brian is not only a fine biblical scholar, but he also presents his keen insights about the intersection of the biblical tradition and contemporary faith in easily accessible and understandable ways. He was a pastor before he pursued his doctoral studies and loves the church with a pastor’s heart.

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Every year on the first Sunday of October we mark two significant moments in our life as Presbyterians.

3rd Grade Bible Sunday

We are people of the Word. Scripture shapes everything we do: from the prayers we pray, to the service we engage in, to the format of our worship. Scripture is “a witness without parallel” to the unfolding story of God. It is “sharper than any two edged sword” and “a light to our path.” Scripture is important. At times it is also confusing, filled with difficult passages, archaic practices, violence and more. The Bible has been used to justify evil acts as well as to call nations to repentance and new life. It’s amazing what approximately 800,000 words can do.

The Language of Service

This past Monday I had the great privilege of participating with my ten year old son, Owen, and about 20 other BMPC children in a day of service organized and led here at the church by my colleague Rachel Pedersen. It was a wonderful day of games, conversation, laughter, and service for these children and the adults who volunteered their day in service to our children.

The Excitement of New Beginnings

Because our sons are out of the nest, I admit I miss that back-to-school ritual of meandering through a crowded office supply store, along with scores of other families, to fill our basket with the shiny new binders and pens and all the rest of the stuff needed for the learning that a new school year promised. That shopping trip made me remember how I always loved the fresh beginning of returning to friends and the rhythms of a new school year. Now all I get is the bill from a college bookstore far away!

Benediction

Over the course of the summer, our Summer Sunday School students learned about the different parts of worship.  We sang the doxology (with bell accompaniment), wrote our own call to worship, collected an offering and more.  During our last class, we learned about “Benediction.” As a class we discussed why we end worship with a blessing. The Benediction is a special blessing that connects us to God while we are apart from one another. Looking around the classroom it was an especially poignant conversation knowing that students were preparing for a new school year. How do we send people to begin something new?

Connecting Face-to-Face

Over the past several weeks I have heard stories of the saints who have come before us in this place who gave generously to fund the mission of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church. I have heard stories of our relationships with mission partners from all over the world. I have heard stories of faithful members of this congregation who have inspired the entire church to take on projects and adopt new perspectives on issues and needs in West Philadelphia shaping BMPC’s outreach priorities.

The “Re-“ Factor

As one of my pastor colleagues responded recently to a question I had asked, “We’re deep into August here.”  That’s one way of saying that we’re experiencing the calm before the storm.  We haven’t begun our full fall program yet, and the vacation Bible camps, youth mission trips, summer camps at Kirkwood – all of those – are now part of the summer’s history.  It’s a time when pastors fill in for one another to allow much-needed vacation and study-leave time away.  August is a good month for those things.

Camp Kirkwood 2015

“The impact of camp is not program or facility but people…long after games and adventure are forgotten, campers will remember their counselors.” –Lloyd Mattson, The Camp Counselor

I believe there was an essential reason that Jesus “would withdraw to deserted places and pray” (Luke 5:16). There is something about getting out of our usual routines and surroundings that helps us to get in sync in our walk with Jesus. Disconnecting from our cell phones and other devices also enables us to connect with God in a fresh way. When we are clear of distractions and renewed in our faith, we can also forge relationships that last a lifetime.

Why I Love Bible Study

I’ve been engaged in some form of Bible study for more than 30 years. Ever since I attended a small study group for young mothers at Selwyn Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC in 1978, I’ve been hooked. I’ve regularly participated in Bible study since then because I often find it difficult to understand scripture on my own. Too often, I’m left wondering, “What’s the point? What does this really mean – especially in the context of today?”

Urban Plunge 2015

What do serving hot meals to seniors, cleaning up Central Park, and sorting clothes at a homeless ministry have in common? The Middle School Urban Plunge in NYC! From our mission base at Brick Presbyterian Church, this year's middle school mission trip has taken place in the city that never sleeps, with our group of youth tirelessly serving a number of organizations.

Settling in at Bryn Mawr

How are you settling in? This is the question that we are hearing again and again these days as we meet so many folks from the congregation. It is hard to really express how much more smoothly this transition to this new call, this new city, and this new life has been for our family compared to what it meant for us to move to Egypt just a little over two years ago in the midst of the 2013 revolution.

Giving Thanks for Church Pillars

It’s a common expression to describe a highly involved, deeply committed church leader as a “pillar of the church.” Derived from an architectural feature, the idiom translates easily. A vertical column upholds the building; people called by God to special roles in the community of faith uphold the congregation’s witness as a supporter and stabilizing influence.

People and Pastor

As we prepare to welcome a new pastor among this Sunday – The Reverend Rebecca Kirkpatrick – we are called to consider again the unique relationship that exists between a congregation and its pastors. There is nothing quite like this relationship in any other organization. Sometimes the calling of a new pastor seems to take excessively long – I’ve heard more than a few complaints about the seeming lugubrious Presbyterian process of replacing a pastor! And, frankly, there is some merit to those complaints.

Meaningful Mission

What makes for a life-changing experience? Perhaps it includes going somewhere you’ve never been or doing something you never dreamed you could do. While I don’t know all the ingredients of life-changing experiences, what I do know is that mission trips often offer this kind of opportunity.

Vacation Bible Camp: Hometown Nazareth at BMPC

It’s Vacation Bible Camp week! More than 200 students and volunteer leaders have enlivened our front lawn and Ministries Center with laughter, friendship, stories, and singing from 9 a.m. to noon each day. Good memories are in the making as we learn about Jesus’ childhood and life in Nazareth and grow in God’s love, serve neighbors, and build a community together.

Summer’s Sabbath

Summer offers time for renewal that no other season affords in quite the same way. We slow down and spend more time outside. We break our regular routine with travel and adventure. We play more. While attendance in church wanes a bit as people come and go, these changes in the rhythms of how we spend our days invite a different kind of opportunity for holy reflection.

Summer Choir

Bryn Mawr is so fortunate to not only have such an active and talented Sanctuary Choir, but an equally vibrant Summer Choir! While many churches go without choir anthems and choral support through the summer months, BMPC’s loft is filled with former, current, and potentially new choir members all summer long.

Great Things Happen When We Come Together

"Great things happen when we come together" are the opening words for this year's Vacation Bible Camp theme song.  The words have been a constant companion for the past few months. Although they have become rote, the sentiment has not. From June 22nd- 26th, we will welcome more than 110 children to our campus... and great things are going to happen! Over half of them are under the age of six and more than a third are not church members. What will they experience at VBC?

Calling a Pastor

After the search committee interviewed Dick Wohlschlaeger for his position as Interim Pastor for Senior Adults and Pastoral Care, one member of the committee said, “There was a moment in which it seemed like the Holy Spirit just entered the room.”

All Together In One Place

This Sunday we will hear again the familiar story from the second chapter of The Acts of the Apostles about the Spirit coming upon the twelve disciples and all those others gathered in Jerusalem fifty days after Jesus' Resurrection.  It's the story of Pentecost, the day we celebrate as the birthday of the Christian Church.

Confirmation

Last Saturday, I was distracted from an exciting conversation at our Mission Summit when my eye was caught by the procession of bright purple robes as Harcum Students lined up for graduation. The night before, students from Eastern University were spilling into the Sanctuary for their Baccalaureate address. Over the next few weeks, we’ll celebrate as the four year old pre-Kindergarten class graduates from the Weekday School. I’m sure many of you will be celebrating high school graduations, college graduations and more.

Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye is hard and summing up two years of ministry is harder. Partly I want to brag about all the wonderful things we have managed to do together in this short time. Mostly, I just want to say thank you, in such a way that you will know how deeply grateful I am for this time.

Appreciation for Nicole Duran

Nicole Duran is beginning to wind down her work with us at BMPC as our Temporary Supply Associate for Adult Education and Mission. We will celebrate her ministry among us in worship and at a reception following the 10:00 service on Sunday, May 10, in the gymnasium where the Confirmation Class’s Windows into Faith (WIF) projects will also be on display.

So Much to Share

It’s been a particularly busy time at our church. Over the past week, the whirlwind included a memorial service for the Rev. Dr. David Watermulder, Pastor Emeritus; a Progressive Worship Walk into the city; the ordination of our new church officers; three baptisms; a brunch to honor 50+ year members; a Community Forum about racism; and a presentation by Doug Tallamy about sustaining wildlife with native plants. These were all memorable experiences for those involved, and I was reminded – once again – how fortunate we are to be part of this church. How lucky we are to share the company of such caring, inspiring people. How blessed we are to be part of a church family that offers so many wonderful opportunities to enrich our lives in faith.

Eastertide

I think I awakened the day after Easter with the lyrics of a children’s song bouncing around in my head. The children’s choir in my former church sang it often as an anthem: Every morning is Easter morning from now on. Every day’s Resurrection Day; the past is over and gone.

Holy Week

This past Sunday, I had a privileged perspective. Walking into the sanctuary with the palm fronds waving like a sea of green was powerful! One little girl said, “I felt like a disciple in Jerusalem and we were all celebrating Jesus the king together.” That experience takes on a different light in part because just as we arrived at the front of the Sanctuary there was the humbling task to sit with children, palm fronds underfoot, and remind them that the king we just celebrated is a king who will be crucified and who will be raised.

Preparing for Holy Week

Palm Sunday is the beginning of the end of our Lenten journey to the foot of the cross and onto the glorious dawn of Easter morning. It is a very holy pilgrimage indeed – set apart for the purposes of God and the followers of Christ to step from joy to pathos to joy again. This coming Sunday we begin with that ancient shout Hosanna which is a liturgical word of adoration that means “save us, we pray.”

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