#SnowChurch

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This past weekend, much of the east coast was left staring out the windows at the result of Winter Storm Jonas. As the snow and freezing rain began to fall on Thursday evening in the mountains of North Carolina, church leaders all over the east coast began wondering if it was even worth the time to finish their sermon on 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31 (I personally rarely trust snow predictions in NC, so my sermon was printed and in the folder before I finally gave in to the fact that I couldn’t even move my car).

Finally, early Saturday morning emails, Facebook posts, and notifications on news
channels came through as “All Activities Cancelled on Sunday” followed the name of each church. What happened next is what really grabbed my attention though. With each email and 12540811_948198521902228_5674434581482386478_nFacebook post came a link to the church’s website where one could find archived worship videos and sermon manuscripts. Union alum, Rev. Aaron Houghton (M. Div/ MACE, 2014), realized he wouldn’t make it to Ampthill Presbyterian Church for worship so he worked with one of the students from Virginia Commonwealth University’s UKirk ministry (behind the camera) where Aaron serves as Campus Minister, and Aaron’s brother (a fantastic musician) in New York to create a series of worship videos. Together, they took to social media and led #SnowChurch complete with gathering music, hymns, prayers, and the sermon… he even included instructions for cutting out snowflakes for offering!

As I looked at these and several other opportunities for worshiping from home when it wasn’t safe to be on the road, I was amazed at the creativity and passion that I found not just in the posts from the congregational leaders like Rev. Houghton, but also from those who took the time to watch the videos and respond. One family from Ampthill Presbyterian Church even posted a picture of the family gathered in the living room in their pajamas, following along with #SnowChurch.

If I am honest with you, I personally struggle worshiping through a video while sitting at home. It lacks the personal connection that feeds me each Sunday morning. That being said, I understand the need for it and have, at times, wished that my home congregation had a live stream each week (this would have helped greatly when I was in college and homesick!) For those who cannot leave their homes or beds, or those who cannot attend their home church because they are away for school or travel, these opportunities to be a part of worship at a distance are irreplaceable. This past Sunday when it seemed that no one could leave their homes, #SnowChurch fed not just the members of Ampthill Presbyterian, but also those who saw the videos being shared on Facebook.

aaronAfter watching a few of the #SnowChurch videos, I began to think about the ways in which one might connect with a church community in a non-traditional sense. I had never heard of Ampthill Presbyterian until I began to see Aaron’s #SnowChurch videos on my newsfeed and decided to Google the congregation to learn a bit more about who was gathered together via social media that morning.

The 21st century has given us several options for ways to get word of our congregations and our ministries in front of the masses. These are just a few examples of how congregations gathered through the use of technology when they couldn’t gather with one another in person. Other congregations shared sermon manuscripts for members to read and others shared the bulletins so that members could “pray through” the bulletin. The Revised Common Lectionary  selection on Sunday spoke of the Body of Christ– what better way to live that out than finding ways to gather with one another when the snow and ice kept us apart than taking advantage of our many technological resources?

How did you, or would, your congregation gather if they couldn’t gather in person,
continuing to worship as The Body of Christ?

Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer


To view the #SnowChurch worship videos, visit Ampthill Presbyterian Church’s Facebook page. Each video is numbered, 1-7, so you can follow the worship service in order.

Trent@Montreat: A Week of Renewal

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Union Presbyterian Seminary 2014 graduates– Jay Atkinson, Mandy Hill Newman, and Allysen Schaaf

One of the greatest gifts that an individual can take away when they leave seminary is a cohort of great friends and colleagues. Searching for a call and then figuring out how to make everything you learned (and didn’t!) over the last several years make sense can be stressful, scary, and disheartening when approached alone. I am grateful for my friends and colleagues, and am continually inspired by the stories that my mentors share about their own cohorts that have lasted ten, twenty, thirty and even sixty years post-seminary.

The draw-back of these groups is that as young and inexperienced pastors, we rarely have the answer and look to more experienced, and more likely to have an answer, pastors. This spring, Union Presbyterian Seminary and Second Presbyterian Church (Roanoke, VA) in conjunction with NEXT Church and Macedonian Ministries, hosted the first ever “Trent@Montreat” event to help foster these relationships between younger and the more experienced pastors.

“The Kittye Susan Trent Symposium assists newly ordained pastors who show promise for one day leading larger congregations. The symposium assists the pastors in continuing to bridge the gap between seminary and congregation, exploring ways to put important theory into effective practice.”
-Second Presbyterian Church-

When registering for the event, participants were given the opportunity to chose one of several “tracks” which they would participate in for the duration of the gathering. Options included discussions surrounding pastoral care, preaching, mission, church conflict, staffing, and Christian Education among others. Each group was led by an experienced congregational leader who has experience and a passion for the topic. While groups met twice daily for roughly two hours each time, leaders also took time during “mini-notes” or preaching during worship to expound on their topic for all participants who may or may not be part of the smaller group. Time was also set aside purely for fellowship and even sharing funny, sometimes unbelievable stories of what participants have encountered in their first few years of ministry.

I have participated in a few gatherings over the last few years, designed to reach out to new ministers in hopes of addressing the retention rate that shows only 1 of 5 pastors staying in ministry beyond five years. Discussions and readings have been assigned, papers have been written, and I have watched young pastors tire out. I myself have left confused and anxious, wondering where I belonged in this mess– especially as a “validated” minister who does not serve any single congregation. I have been looked at as if I did not know “what it is really like” and left behind when day long discussions focused on the struggles of session meetings, something that I have not yet encountered and really do have nothing to add. This is not to say that these programs are bad, but they have not yet met my own needs as a young pastor.

I registered for Trent in hopes that I might find even just a portion of the week useful, figuring that would match everything else I have experienced. I signed up for “Leadership in Times of Conflict” led by Rev. Ernie Thompson, a pastor who has weathered the storm and is excited to help young pastors explore conflict before they find themselves caught in the thunder and rain. My hope was that this discussion would by guided by things I have seen in churches where I have visited, and be better prepared when I am called to a church at a later point. Our small group of four was made up of myself, a church administrator (with a seminary degree), a not-yet ordained youth pastor, and a solo pastor. After our introductions, I already knew that this was going to be a different experience and one where I felt like I belonged. Our open discussion about what we have seen, and what Ernie has seen, left me feeling more prepared and confident when it comes to addressing any future conflict in churches, but also conflict in my own personal life. What I had to say was welcomed and my experience (or lack-thereof) added to the discussion rather than taking away or blocking me out.

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Union Presbyterian Seminary alumni gather on Lookout Mountain following an afternoon hike during Trent@Montreat– (L to R) Jordan Davis (M. Div. 2014), Christopher Tweel (M. Div. 2014), Dan Commerford (M. Div. 2011), Jim Lunde (M. Div. 2011)

The opportunities provided for fellowship, and those that we created on our own, gave me an opportunity to sit back and relax with other young adults with a similar background but very different experience. We laughed until we cried, climbed mountains and relaxed, and even had the opportunity to spend informal time with conference leaders and hear more about their own ministry and the good, bad, and crazy things they have encountered.

Statistics say that new pastors rarely become one of these experienced pastors. Statistics show that the decline of membership in all denominations is not only stressing congregational leaders out, but it also leaves most seminary graduates in a position where they (we) have to find and/or create a ministry opportunity that is rarely addressed in conferences for “young pastors”. These conferences can regularly leave non-traditional leaders in a lonely and confusing place and feeling as if they (we) don’t “fit in” with ordained pastors serving congregations. “Trent@Montreat” offers a place for all congregational leaders who are seeking to both hear and share stories of ministry in different contexts while addressing a topic that each individual chooses to discuss, based on their own needs in ministry. Space is created so that every participant might feel like they belong and their call matters and makes a difference in the Church.

This was only the first time that this form of “The Trent Symposium” has taken place, but I heard comments throughout the week that we all hope this happens again… and soon. The friends we have made and the groups we have formed may or may not last for the decades modeled by our leaders, but they nourished and renewed us in that time and space in a way that will hopefully last for several weeks and months to come.

20160420_200936Union Presbyterian Seminary alumni gathered from all over the country
to both lead and attend Trent@Montreat!


Learn more about “The Trent Symposium” and “Trent@Montreat” as well as the sponsors of this inaugural event:
Montreat Conference Center
Union Presbyterian Seminary’s Leadership Institute
Second Presbyterian Church, Roanoke
NEXT Church
Macedonian Ministries

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

Running the Race

…let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us… -Hebrews 12:1b

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Eastern Virginia is not naïve to the race scene in the state. With flat, winding roads around historic architecture and beautiful, water views, adrenaline-junkies flock to the shore to find some of the best races with pristine conditions. This March, the city of Newport News, Virginia will host one of its largest gatherings of racers and health-enthusiasts alike as they put on a three-day festival surrounding the One City Marathon.

The inaugural event was held last year and drew nearly 6,000 spectators, 800 volunteers and 2,600 runners over the 4 races offered: a traditional marathon (26.2), a relay marathon with 2-4 partners to conquer 26.2, an 8k race and a one-miler for kids of all ages.

 
With a flood of people coming from all over to enjoy the races and events, Rev. Clark Desarro-Raynal and Hilton Presbyterian Church came up with a plan to participate in the event. The two main race paths come straight down Main Street where the church is located. Hilton Presbyterian will meet during their regular worship hour with banners, noise makers, and signs to cheer on the runners of the race. They have planned to move their worship service to 3pm in the afternoon. “This is a great way to share our joy in Christ with our neighbors and the whole city”, Clark remarked.

 

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Hilton Presbyterian Church

The proceeds benefit three local charities whose collective mission is to serve and protect victims and families affected by sexual abuse and domestic violence, an incredibly important justice issue for this community and for the faith leaders in the area. Hilton Pres. members decided this was an important mission to support as a congregation whose building stands on one corner with three other denominations of the Protestant church within a stone’s throw.

Last year, the congregation gathered to support the first annual races and it turned out to be a huge success. Parishioners showed up in great numbers to cheer on the racers with signs of encouragement. As the success of the race continues to grow, there is no doubt that Hilton Presbyterian will continue to cheer on those running the races, year after year, while sharing joy and love to the community.

Are there opportunities for your congregation to support local events or festivals in an effort to share the love of Christ with others? 

Nicole C. Ball, Church Relations Officer

Building A Bridge

Last Wednesday, Union Presbyterian Seminary hosted author Diana Butler Bass for a discussion about her latest book “Grounded.” In this book, Bass discusses the transition from a top-down theology (as she describes it, a three-level universe made up of heaven, earth,  and hell) to a more horizontal theology where we are searching for and asking how God is actually WITH us. To be honest, I had not yet read her book but enjoyed sitting back in our backyard on Thursday to begin.

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I don’t know if it is my love of quotes or the fact that I am spending a great deal of time contemplating how to minister to individuals on both ends of this transition that Bass writes about, but when I began perusing the bulletin at Pittsboro Presbyterian Church (led by Rev. Troy Lesher-Thomas, M. Div. ’99) this past Sunday, I couldn’t help but take notice of the quotes in the left hand column.

These three inspirational quotes got my mind going in those moments before the celebratory introit.  The quotes are not based in scripture, but they can (and did in this case) urge the reader to consider not just what it means in their own life, but how God can be and is experienced in life.

10341496_10101171675465021_4108394520385354890_nQuotes are only found on the first page of the bulletin which contains the Welcome, Call to Worship, and Prayer of Confession.  With this opportune placement, the quotes serve to create a bridge between life outside of the sanctuary and this Holy space and hour of worship. These quotes in the margin can welcome individuals who might feel as if they too are in the margin, offering a new window into how worship can look.

In the moments before worship on Sunday, when I could have easily been freaking out about my first ever Palm Sunday sermon, I was able to relax and begin to let my worries go as I read the quote

“You are the creature of circumstance or the creator.” (Cavett Robert)

 “That’s right!” I thought, and with that I realized that I could create a meaningful worship circumstance by handing everything over to God. I can only imagine how that quote sat with others in the sanctuary as we prepared for worship, or even as they looked over the bulletin on Monday morning before it found its way to the recycling bin.

I do agree with Diana Butler Bass– we are in a period of transition in the way that we approach theology. There is a great desire to know that God is WITH us and not just somewhere looking down on us. There is a great desire to connect the worship hour with real life; to be challenged by worship, but also feel that it is relevant to our lives. Simple things like including a few quotes that might help someone take a moment to reflect on their week and move into the worship mindset can (and I would argue DOES) help us minister to individuals in all phases of this transition.

How do you see this transition in theology playing out in your worship setting?
How do you minister to individuals in the different phases of this transition?

Share your thoughts here!

 


Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

Renewing and Reshaping Through Evangelism

Roughly 125 years ago, 42 individuals in Eastern North Carolina had a vision for the rural town of Rocky Mount, that this town and its people were “specially constituted for missionary purposes.” Over the course of the following years, eight Presbyterian Congregations came into existence. Today, the five remaining congregations are located in the heart of downtown (First Presbyterian) and nestled in the neighborhoods throughout the city (West Haven, Bethlehem, Mt. Pisgah, and Morton Memorial Presbyterian Churches).

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Rev. Dr. John Vest encourages members of New Hope Presbytery and Rocky Mount, NC area congregations to think more critically about God and their personal beliefs.

At their origination , each of these congregation was strategically placed so that people throughout the town would be able to travel to and find community with one of the eight congregations. In a world where commuting is now less of a concern, the five congregations in Rocky Mount are seeking to both renew and reclaim their role in the community in new and relevant ways. Rev. Dan Davis regularly encourages the congregation at Bethlehem Presbyterian Church to think critically about the way in which they welcome visitors into the fold. Rev. Mary Harris Todd (M.Div., 1988), pastor at Morton Memorial Presbyterian Church, has developed and leads a weekly music class for young children in the community. Members of West Haven Presbyterian Church regularly combine worship and other activities with the Disciples of Christ Church just down the road. Rev. Raymond Privott of Mt. Pisgah Presbyterian Church is active in the local community and government, keeping the needs of the community well within his focus.

Over the last several months I have had the privilege of worshiping and fellowshipping with these congregations. Their stories are both heartbreaking and uplifting, each one inspiring when so many say that there is no hope. Our discussions have been the start of what we all pray will be a great movement of God’s love throughout the community. Each congregation, at the urging of Rev. Mary Harris Todd, has begun to explore their story in the light of Evangelism– what have they done and where they feel called to go. A few weeks ago, four of the pastors sat down to discuss this–

Union recently gathered with individuals from all over the Rocky Mount, NC and New Hope Presbytery area to share part of our story and hear their own stories. This video was shared and those gathered were invited to discuss their thoughts on evangelism with those at their table before Dr. John Vest shared some of his own thoughts. These moments of laughter and storytelling among friends and colleagues offered a new way for many to see “the E word” (as Dr. Vest jokingly refers to evangelism) as well as see how easy sharing our own thoughts and beliefs can be.

Union Presbyterian Seminary is striving to be “For The Church in The World” and our relationship with these congregations, as well as each of yours, is one way we are doing this. The addition of Evangelism in our curriculum for students, in our continuing education opportunities for congregational leaders and lay people alike, and in our culture is empowering each individual to seek to live out our call to ministry in a new way.

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We do not yet know where we will go or what will occur as we explore Evangelism throughout the community of Rocky Mount and these congregations, but we do know that God will be working through each person involved and God’s love will be shared and felt. We pray that this relationship will empower and inspire each congregation as well as those of us at Union Presbyterian Seminary so that we can continue to build other similar relationships in the future.


Union Presbyterian Seminary would like to thank those who served on the planning committee for our dinner at Rose Hill in Nashville, NC– Mayo Boddie, Wicky Thorpe, Ed Roberson, Richard Anderson, and Rev. Peter Bynum.

If you are interested in learning more about what we are doing with evangelism at Union Presbyterian Seminary, please visit http://www.upsem.edu/evangelism and register for our upcoming continuing education opportunity, “Start with Good News”.

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If you feel called to support the Evangelism program at Union Presbyterian Seminary, please visit http://www.upsem.edu/giving/ and note in your “Donor Designated” gift  that your gift is for “Evangelism”. We thank you in advance for your support!

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

“Who am I that I could hinder God?”

Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer

This week’s lectionary reading invites us to consider how our stories of God’s work in our lives have an incredible impact on another. In Acts 11:1-18 we read about God’s Spirit moving through the lives of Cornelius, Simon called Peter, and Gentiles in the land of Caesarea. When Peter is asked about his involvement with the “uncircumcised” in Caesarea, he answers with a profound question back to those apostles and believers from the in-crowd:

“And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit’. If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” –Acts 11:16-17 (NRSV).

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Campbell Memorial Presbtyerian Church, Vinton Va.

                I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Campbell Memorial Presbyterian Church in Vinton, Virginia this past Sunday. We fellowshipped together, worshiped together and ate together. It was a beautiful day of mutual sharing of the good works of our respective institutions.

I was particularly moved by the witness of this congregation in the life of the small town of Vinton. Having discerned a call to serve those often neglected in our modern society, they have begun a feeding program for local Veterans with distribution help from a local community center. John’s Pantry offers non-perishable staples in paper grocery bags to Veterans who present to the community center in need, regardless of their branch of military or years in service. Financial contributions are given from the very pockets and check-books of the members of Campbell Memorial and volunteers divide duties between clipping coupons, shopping, organizing and packing paper bags full of goods. Here is a short excerpt from their organizer, member Lynne Kilburn, on the church’s social media page:

“My church, Campbell Memorial Presbyterian, located on Hardy Road in Vinton, is starting our first ever Food Pantry. Our Food Pantry is for Veterans only. Such a great way for us to give back to so many that have given so much to each of us and for this country. Starting out, we will be providing food items only, but hope to expand to other items, such as toothpaste, tooth brushes, deodorant, etc. If you know of a Veteran in need, or would like to donate to our Pantry, please message me. These days with so much controversy regarding different organizations and what they receive versus what they spend on their cause, why not donate to a cause that I can promise you goes 100% to our Veterans! Campbell’s is so much more than soup – in this case it’s Campbell Memorial sharing the love! Thank you to all of our Veterans and God bless each of you!

Who was I that I would hinder God? Peter proclaims. Who are we to hinder the power of our stories of God’s love in the lives of others? I believe we are called to share our stories, our experiences, our truth, about God’s amazing love and mercies. This is the Good News! That God is alive and working even where we might least expect it.

I am grateful for the stories shared during worship at Campbell Memorial Presbyterian Church. Stories of God’s goodness and blessing on this small gathering of believers in the town of Vinton. Stories of transformation because several gathered together around a dream to change the community around them. Stories of care towards the hungry and outcast. Stories which inspire me to share God’s love through my own stories.

What stories do you have to share?

 

 

Worship Without Walls

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I am a strong believer that worship can and does happen outside of the sanctuary walls– that is why I was overly excited when my husband handed me a business card for one of the founders of “Farm Church.”  He explained that he met Rev. Allen Brimer earlier that morning and that “they are doing this cool thing… church on a farm or something like that.” Full disclosure, my husband is one of the many young adults who do not go to church regularly for a variety of reasons, so when he told me that this was “really cool” I was all over it.

Farm Church started showing up in my Facebook news feed within days of my initial introduction and research. I read article after article about these three friends who attended seminary together and were now starting a new worshiping community with one another. Two of three recently moved to Durham, NC where they intend to plant this new, non-traditional, 1,001 worshiping community.

Finally, I sat down with Allen and Ben to hear their story first hand and begin brainstorming how Farm Church and Union Presbyterian Seminary can work together (I have not yet met Rev. Brandon Wert, the third friend who currently lives out of the country). As I listened to the two friends take turns recounting the many steps from the hypothetical discussions around the dinner table while still in seminary, all the way to their recent move to Durham, I was filled with a range of emotions. Neither Ben nor Allen holds back and it is all too easy to both hear and even feel the struggles and fear that came with this new faith adventure, and my already present excitement grew even more.

(Learn more about how Ben, Allen, and Brandon moved from hypothetical discussions to dropping everything and moving to Durham, NC here.)

Allen, Ben, and Brandon are currently working with a core team through the discernment and development process at as they look for land for the farm and envision what worship will look like. As a team, they are asking questions like “what do the sacraments (baptism and communion) look like in this non-traditional setting?” and “what will the welcome look like at each worship service?” while also working through more in-depth and foundational things like a statement of faith.

I hear more and more of people who want to be part of a worshiping community but do not attend Sunday morning worship for a variety of reasons. Many individuals have been hurt by a congregation or might not feel any connection when sitting in a seemingly sterile environment with a very formulaic worship service or cliques of friends that might make the environment seem unwelcoming. Even more common, I hear of people complaining because the congregations they have been a part of seem to be “all talk and no action.” Once Farm Church has land, members of the worshiping community will gather together for worship in addition to and while growing and harvesting crops for local organizations that reach out to those in need. This hands on, community focused worship is a breath of fresh air in a town that is commonly known for its low-income community.

People of all ages, not just young adults, are looking for something new and different- something that will put Christ’s teachings into action. My excitement is only a glimpse of the attitude here in Durham, NC as people wait to hear the next step for Farm Church, the worshiping community that is already planting seeds that just might open a few doors that have swollen shut over the years.

Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer


Farm Church is preparing for their first public worship service which will ideally take place before Easter 2016. If you are interested in following this journey and/ or worshiping with Farm Church, “Like” them on Facebook and visit their website, www.farmchurch.org.

“That progressive, little church on the hill?”

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Original artwork by Cove Presbyterian Church member Karen Levering.

 

On my way to Covesville, Virginia this past Sunday to guest preach at Cove Presbyterian Church, I was side-tracked and missed my turn. Thankfully, a small shop nearby was open so I proceeded to ask for directions. The attendant remarked, “oh…that progressive, little church on the hill?”

Cove Presbyterian Church seemed just that. Nestled in a hillside off route 29 in Southern Albemarle County, the 1800’s sanctuary building sits as a beacon of history to the church and surrounding community. The intimate space is serene with vaulted ceilings, creaking wood floors and an eggshell-colored interior. Natural sunlight pours into the space thanks to beautiful, Gothic-style windows. I had several minutes in the space to myself before the service started and it was simply breathtaking.

In conversation with Covenant Pastor and alum, Rev. Joshua Andrzejewski, I began to learn about the congregation’s progressive nature. But it was during the announcement and prayers of the people portion of the worship service that I heard personal testimony, prayer requests, and member involvement which impacted my understanding the most.

Cove Presbyterian is passionate about serving others and is involved in hands-on ministry at many local mission initiatives in the surrounding community, including Covesville Child Development Center, Habitat for Humanity, and the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. Several members of the congregation are also involved in various international mission agencies, including Ixtatan Foundation, Building Goodness Foundation and mission work in Mexico.

Moreover, it was the warmth and community experienced in worship that helped me better understand this progressive, little church on the hill. The worship experience was book-ended by communal participation, through collective sharing of praise, burdens, needs, and opportunities to be with one another along the journey of faith. While they are few in number, this congregation abounds with willing hearts and eager hands to reach out in the name of Jesus Christ.

With this spirit in mind, Cove Presbyterian Church has discerned a new path to extend a call to a full-time pastor for a designated term. This is a bold step in an exciting direction for Cove Presbyterian. They covet your prayers for their Session and PNC during this time!

To learn more about Cove Presbyterian Church, including a link to their MIF on the CLC, click here.

Nicole C. Ball, Church Relations Officer

 

Anointing Christ

**On occasion, we like to share the sermons that our Church Relations Officers share with congregations they visit. We hope that you will enjoy this reflection from this past Sunday as we prepare for Palm Sunday and Holy Week.**

16Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, 17who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: 18Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. 19I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. 20The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, 21the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.

Isaiah 43:16-21

12Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5“Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” 9When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

John 12: 1-11


We are quickly approaching the end of Lent– a season during which we take time to refocus our lives and seek ways to live out God’s call for us as individuals and as the Church. Some of us might still be struggling as we discern where God’s call will take us while others are pulling the final pieces together, preparing for the Easter journey. This morning though, three-quarters of the way through our Lenten journey, God reminds us that it isn’t our job to make the way — God has already created it for us.

20160311_100307I love the language of the text from Isaiah, especially during this time of year. I have enjoyed checking on the progress of my vegetable seedlings that I planted during the first week of Lent, some are even ready to be transplanted into their larger pots where they will begin to flourish, I hope, and produce food that will feed us through the summer. The bulbs that I planted several months ago, on All Saints Day, have begun blooming one by one and offer their own burst of color along our front steps. As I wrote this, I sat on our back patio enjoying the first truly warm day of the season with the smell of our citronella candle pushing away the memories of ice we broke off of the same table only weeks ago. This is the season for new things to “spring forth”, a season that reminds us that we are to live in the present and no longer dwell on the past.

These two texts, though, offer us an interesting dichotomy. The Old Testament offers us hope and excitement, urging us to jump from our beds when the sunlight begins pouring through our windows at an earlier hour and to stop and admire, and of course Instagram, pictures of the flowers that are pushing through the once hard and cold ground. The New Testament text turns our attention to the impending death of Christ.

In the midst of celebration that Lazarus has been raised from the dead, Mary drops to her knees at the feet of Christ. Mary, one of the first to really grasp what is coming down the road, takes the richest of perfumes and after pouring some on his feet she begins to wipe and massage Christ’s feet with her own hair. This act, anointing Christ’s body with these oils, is one that is typically reserved for after someone dies so that the aromas might cover the smell of the body. This personal and physical act clears the way for the final steps of Christ’s journey.

When Mary begins to anoint Christ’s feet, Judas is appalled. I, however, am left in awe.

DSCN4232Think about it— feet are probably the dirtiest part of our body. Most of our sweat exits our body through our feet.  Day after day, our feet sit enclosed in old and dirty shoes or, now that the weather is warming up, they are exposed to all kinds of dirt and germs as we walk barefoot or in sandals.

Mary, however, recognizes the incredible things that feet allow us to do— the incredible things that the feet of Christ have allowed him to do.

Christ’s feet have wandered through the desert, climbed mountains, crossed (and walked on) the waters, woven through towns, entered the homes of those who are ignored and forgotten and soon they will carry Christ up the mountain to his death. When the others still aren’t getting it, Mary does and so she kneels at those feet which have walked the pathways cleared by God, and anoints them not just with oil but with her own body.

As I picture Mary wrapping her hair around Christ’s feet, I remember the many old movies and books that I have seen in which the young girl or woman sits at the vanity and brushes her hair 100 times before she goes to bed. Or the TV commercials that play up the nourishing qualities of a shampoo or conditioner, as well as the reaction that individuals have to the healthy look of hair. Emphasis is put on length, thickness, and color of hair as actors and actresses walk the red carpet, as bachelorettes line up and wait to receive a rose, and even as exhausted mothers weave their way through the grocery store aisles. A person’s hair is what makes them beautiful. A person’s hair makes a statement about who they are. Mary made the statement that she puts Christ before everyone and anything else. Mary let go of the former things and began down the path that God cleared for her, helping to clear the way for Christ.

I wonder, if this story were written today, what would it look like?
If we were playing the role of Mary, what would we do?

That is the challenge; that is the road that has been cleared for us today.

More than bulbs and vegetables, more than bees and longer days– this final portion of the Lenten season ushers in opportunities for us to kneel with Mary at Christ’s feet, anointing Christ with our life.

Last week I had the opportunity to discuss the changing landscape of ministry with two different churches, one large and one small. In both instances the churches were seeking answers, seeking a new path of ministry that appropriately responds to the world today while staying true to their faith. It is in these Holy conversations that we find the opportunity to kneel at Christ’s feet and look with Christ down the path that God has cleared for us.

pathwayAs we begin to move from Lent into Easter, celebrating the resurrected Christ, our path might look similar to what it was before– maybe with an extra stop or two or maybe we have wandered through the overgrowth and found another path to take as we answer God’s call. This morning, no matter where we are in our journey, let us remember that God has already cleared a way for us.

As we make our way down God’s path, how will we anoint Christ’s life in such a way that it is as if we were wiping his feet with our own hair and the most precious of perfumes?

Smiling at our neighbor.

Praying with the brokenhearted.

Offering a bottle of water to the homeless person on the corner.

Working side by side with congregations in our community.

Welcoming the stranger at our table.

Walking with another, gaining new perspective through their feet and eyes.

Throwing a ball with the child who sits on the step alone.

Putting our phones down so that we can really come together around the table.

Welcoming differing opinions rather than taking them as an attack.

Seeking the positive in what is seen as the negative.

LOVING ONE ANOTHER AS CHRIST TAUGHT US, AS GOD LOVES US.

God did make a way for us in the wilderness so that we might move forward, and that way has been shown to us by Christ. As Christ nears the end of this part of his journey, he leaves with us the most important lesson of all and one that is exemplified by Mary in this particular text– love one another.

In all that Christ has done up to this point, he has preached and shown that we are called to love one another. In so many cases these lessons might have seemed unattainable– for the disciples, for the people on the mountainside, and for us. Mary, however, shows us what loving one another means. Mary shows us one of the most physical acts of love, apart from Christ’s death on the cross.

Mary takes her hair and anoints Christ’s feet– she shows ultimate love for Christ in all that he has done, and in all that he is about to do. Mary, having listened and heard what Christ has been saying, shows us what is needed to complete the journey. When so many listened but had yet to hear what Christ was saying, Mary gave her life to Christ who would soon die for her and everyone else. When so many stood around in wonder and confusion, Mary showed that she understood and took the first step with Christ toward his ultimate lesson, his ultimate sacrifice.

Tresemme might add body to our hair but opening and giving our lives to God, anointing Christ with our life, will not only change us, but it will change the world.

In this final portion of Lent, which flowers are springing up in your path so that you might bring them to the cross on Easter? What opportunities will you take advantage of so that you might anoint Christ with your life?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

Communal Prayer

centering prayer group

“Prayer is at the heart of worship. In prayer, through the Holy Spirit, people seek after and are found by the one true God who has been revealed in Jesus Christ. They listen and wait upon God, call God by name, remember God’s gracious acts, and offer themselves to God. Prayer may be spoken, sung, offered in silence, or enacted. Prayer grows out of the center of a person’s life in response to the Spirit. Prayer is shaped by the Word of God in Scripture and by the life of the community of faith. Prayer issues in commitment to join God’s work in the world.”
W-2.1001, PC(USA) Book of Order

“I can pray at home” is one of the most common reasons I hear for why individuals do not attend church; it is also a reason that is fact. We can pray at home. We should pray at home. For many of us, home is where we first learned to pray as we knelt by our bed each evening and folded our hands together, “Now I lay me down to sleep…” When we pray with another, however, we experience the Holy Spirit in a new way.

This past Sunday, I had the privilege to pray with the congregation at First Presbyterian Church in Edenton, NC. This small congregation gathers in the upper room of the church building, already bringing so much meaning into the act of worship (I couldn’t help but think about the disciples climbing the stairs to gather with one another and with Christ in the upper room for their last meal with one another.) Worship begins with the beautiful sounds of the piano, offering a few moments for each person to gather their thoughts and go to God in prayer, preparing themselves to receive, proclaim, and carry God’s Word into the world. Worship feels very familiar to a guest like myself– and then comes the time to share “Pastoral Concerns and Affirmations,” followed by the pastoral prayer.

Just before those who had gathered began sharing both their struggles and celebrations from the past week, Rev. Douglas Eddy invited them to say “Lord, hear our prayer” following each concern and “Thank you, Lord” following each celebration. The next few minutes were filled with communal proclamations of both as the congregation gathered together as one, lifting up each prayer to the Lord.

As Rev. Eddy moved from the communal proclamation of prayer into the more familiar (to me, at least) pastoral prayer, I was moved with emotion as I recognized the way that the Holy Spirit had just moved in that sacred upper room. No person was left alone in their sorrow and no person was hushed in their celebration as every voice in the room lifted each prayer, both vocalized and kept silent, to God.

In the past, I have lifted up the importance of creating a safe and quiet space for individuals to take time with God. Today, I want to add to that the importance to not only open a quiet space for prayer, but to open a communal space for prayer. Hearing the voices of God’s children lifting prayers up to God is more powerful than simply “liking” a prayer request on Facebook or subtly nodding and maybe even groaning a bit as prayer requests are voiced. The communal sound of many voices becoming one brings strength to each prayer, and might even bring strength to each individual.

How does your congregation share in communal prayer?
Share your ideas here!

Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer