Ringing out the Good News
from Hammond Presbyterian Church
215 St. Lawrence Avenue
P. O. Box 193
Hammond, NY 13646
With the continued opening of our hearts and minds and the tender care of our bodies, the parameters for being disciples of Jesus, provided by Jesus, bless us with the means for choosing abundant life, for being compassionate, and extending mercy. In regard to caring for the poor, visiting the sick, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, and loving one another nothing has changed in Jesus’ instruction to do so. What has changed is the increasing awareness by Jesus’ disciples of the overwhelming need for compassion and kindness by frail humanity.
If we are even slightly aware of daily news we cannot ignore the sense of overwhelming need in the world. As our minds are filled with the news of disastrous hurricanes, gang violence and poverty in Central America, continued war in Afghanistan, famine and disease, alongside individual struggles to be heard and treated with respect, it becomes even more important that we seek to be present for one another in community- through our community of faith, in the villages, towns and cities in which we live, the places of work and school where we are faced daily with each others’ needs, and in our own homes.
We may be encouraged by Jesus’ example of meeting each person where he, she, or they are physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. When one of his closest followers asked for something he listened and responded with understanding. When complete strangers asked for something he listened and responded with compassion. With him often conversation happened before any response. Jesus’ heart, mind and physical person were part of every moment, conversation, action, choice. Being who we are in any given moment with our hearts, minds, and bodies in balance is our goal and this kind of living requires constant tending with mercy, kindness and compassion toward ourselves, in order that we may automatically extend the same to one another, all while living with a sense of gratitude.
As Presbyterians in Hammond during the month of November we are faced with numerous opportunities to honestly come to a personal understanding of where and who we are personally and as community, and maybe why we are who we are. In our Jesus-led practice of hospitality resourced with education we are better able to be compassion embodied.
On All Saints Day, please listen to your own hearts and grieve any deaths that remain un-mourned. Honor the dead and comfort one another. Receive the peace you may lack and be thankful.
On Election Day, participate in the most significant process of being community in America by voting while being thankful for the opportunity to participate. You and your vote matter.
On Veterans Day, offer gratitude to those who answered a call to be of service in a particular way that is not answered by all, but affects us all.
On Thanksgiving Day, be filled with gratitude for all you are as you are: Life created and sustained divinely. Express your gratitude in annual ritual and maybe try something new.
On Christ the King Sunday, remember and celebrate the entire universe, embraced, suffused, enthused with Love.
Every day in between, love, love, love.
May we choose to live this Life together in the
God- given and present flow of love and compassion which is always among us/within humanity.
May we choose not to live isolated lives controlled by fear and suspicion.
And if you are feeling fearful, please express your fear to someone you trust and allow yourself to be cared for. And if someone comes to you expressing fear and pain listen and let the hurting person be present with you in their painful experience. Express your willingness to help in a way they choose if you are able. Sometimes such an encounter may only take a minute but will last a lifetime.
Peace and love,Evon
The welcome raindrops on my window remind me of diamonds, some of God’s precious gems hidden deep within. When our sisters and brothers of the Presbytery of Northern New York toured the Iva Smith Memorial Gallery having been sustained by delicious egg salad and ham and cheese sandwiches lovingly provided for them, the awe and appreciation for Evelyn Saphier’s creation in South Hammond was palpable. Paul’s paintings and drawings spoke to them deeply. Evie’s gracious hospitality offered welcome and comfort. The event was appreciated as the discovery of a rare gem would be appreciated and cherished.
When our local Presbyterians gathered with the retreat attendees at dusk around a campfire and shared a deep and abiding history of Presbyterian connectedness at Oak Point, a place many didn’t know existed, joy and warmth bubbled up. Love was witnessed and shared. The bright red orange of the campfire was duplicated by that evening’s sunset over the St. Lawrence River. Another gem unearthed, revealed and deeply appreciated.
When members of our church family and surrounding community attended the workshop on September 23rd led by Nathan Wiles, Master Labyrinth Designer and Builder, the presence of Sacred Geometry which is found throughout the natural order, was in a sense uncovered, revealed, expressed. The labyrinth is a sort of naturally created gem. And the one in the Hammond Presbyterian Church lawn serves as a tool for uncovering, revealing, expressing that which is divine. Each one walks it with one’s own intention and purpose. A labyrinth may be walked independently or with a group. Some folks have wondered about whether or not there is a specific approach as to how to walk the labyrinth. Politeness is helpful when walking in a group.
Nathan’s instruction provided a simple process consisting of Three R’s.
First, set your own intention for the walk. (For example, but not limited to: finding peace, preparing for a time of prayer/praying, solving a problem, coming to a decision, simply listening.
You choose your own!)
While entering: Release
While spending as much time as you need in the center: Reflect
While leaving the center consider what could come from what has been reflected upon: Return
What I’ve shared here is what I learned from the workshop- which means it is my perspective and is shared as best I can. Please know you are invited to use this marvelous tool, our labyrinth, for your purpose.
May you, precious gems that you are, be peaceful.
You are cherished.
One of the benefits of serving others through the church is the challenge of learning and growing in faith. The first three days of August, I participated in a training event at Stony Point Center sponsored by the Synod of the North East, More Light Presbyterians and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. I was invited to attend in my capacity as moderator of the Presbytery of Northern New York. I am thankful that because of the training event I will never look at daily life in the same way again, and I consider significant happenings and relationships in my own history with additional clarity.
The seminar was entitled Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training: Dismantling Racism, Building Racial Justice in Institutions. Being confronted with the evidence of systemic racism, which is our operating system as Americans, was enlightening, challenging, humbling and cause for grief. Definitions were a must for the terms: White Supremacy Culture; Racism; Anti-racism Identity. The pairing of Logic and Strategy terms like: Genocide and Colonialism; Slavery and Capitalism; Orientalism and War with the seminar’s history lesson beginning only as far back as 1492.
The suggested structure for storytelling by participants in the seminar has been helpful and I am putting a brief story into words as I prepare this newsletter. More details I will find and create ways to share in depth. Feel free to ask me for more information. I will also include a book list, because we need to talk. The structure is simple: I felt… I found…I feel.
I felt great curiosity about what the training might reveal while being comfortable with my own inclusive welcoming attitude toward life and ministry.
I found that the racist society within which we all live is not something I could have personally avoided. The historical conditioning is too deep and has gone on far too long. I found that some of the key lessons for cultivating an anti-racism identity can be practiced immediately and locally, at home in our churches, schools, workplaces, and in the neighborhood. You may see a couple of things you would choose to practice from this list of Key Lessons to use in forming an Anti-racism Identity in an institution:
-All voices need to be heard.
-There needs to be willingness to have dialogue over challenging items.
-Develop a strategy
-Develop partners in the process.
-Find victories and celebrate them.
-Unite in support.
-Educate self and others
-Be prepared for reaction without creating enemies- which means spend time thinking about unintended consequences.
-A single voice has power but coalitions are necessary
-Hold a vision which is expansive and challenging.
-Be willing to take risks.
-Evaluate and recalibrate.
-Cultivate and grow leadership.
The goal is that anti-racism is a way of becoming.
I feel overwhelmed and saddened that I am part of a culture which does not value each and every person as someone of worth. I feel hopeful and encouraged that the PCUSA is taking racism and forming an antiracism identity seriously. And yet, the presence of systemic racism is so entrenched I sometimes feel defeated before even taking a small step. However, I invite you to join me in taking small steps.
Since the majority of readers of this newsletter are white it makes sense to begin where we are with the following resources. Maybe you are interested in continuing the conversation and becoming more educated. Here are a few suggested resources.
Waking Up White; Debby Irving
Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack; Peggy MacIntosh
On White Fragility; Robin DiAngelo (also TED Talk)
Ladder of White Supremacy; Tema Okum and Kenneth Jones
Seeing White; Duke University Podcast.
I invite you into further conversation, while I encourage you to continue that which you are already doing: praying, meditating, serving, loving, trusting God, and revering all life.
Peace be with you.
See you in church at 10:30 AM Sunday mornings!
Sometimes in the midst of challenge and being overwhelmed, even by the abundance of the grace of
The Holy One, I have in my person had a sense of deep longing for which I had no object. Recently, I came across a word of Welsh origin and it fit quite well. Hiraeth. You may have had the same sense of longing, of yearning for something, someone, an era or place that may or may not have ever existed, and if so you know exactly of what I write. Upon researching the word a bit further I came across this poem which was written to express Hiraeth.
Hiraeth by Tim Davis
Hiraeth beckons with wordless call,
Hear, my soul, with heart enthrall'd.
Hiraeth whispers while earth I roam;
Here I wait the call "come home."
Like seagull cry, like sea borne wind,
That speak with words beyond my ken,
A heartfelt cry with words unsaid,
Calls a wanderer home instead.
I heed your call, Hiraeth, I come
On westward path to hearth and home.
My path leads on to western shore,
My heart tells me there is yet more.
Within my ears the sea air sighs;
The sunset glow, it fills my eyes.
I stand at edge of sea and earth,
My bare feet washed in gentle surf.
Hiraeth's longing to call me on,
Here, on shore, in setting sun.
Hiraeth calls past sunset fire,
"Look beyond, come far higher!"
In being, in connecting with the very Source of Being, it may be that this sense of longing grows even more intense. For as we grow in faith practice faith, we are guided ever deeper into trust of the One who unites us all, the One who revealed Holy Self in Christ Jesus, the very One who is I Am. The very One in Isaiah 45:7 who says
“I form light and create darkness,
I make weal and I create woe;
I the LORD do all these things.”
God is the God of all and every. It is we human beings who assign in our limited understanding the labels of good and evil, and presume we know more than we truly do. What Jesus teaches us is to love God, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. First and foremost is this love from which flows justice and peace, wellbeing for each and every, the celebration of the richness of diversity in this Unity which One, the I Am, whom Jesus calls Abba, Father.
Maybe it is this Oneness which we desire, maybe it is this unity we long for, maybe this is the object of Hiraeth. Maybe what we seek is truly the God of our wholeness. However, if we are not active in love for one another, if we are not actively making choices for our own wellbeing –loving ourselves; and if we are not actively choosing justice and peace, well-being for one another, we may never be found by the object of our longing. For the object is truly gift, just as God’s grace, God’s unconditional love, God’s peace is gift. God is gift. May we TRUST this Source, the Holy One, the Ancient and the Present and the Future and receive the gift of wholeness.
Praise be in the name of Jesus!
In Love and Unity,
With vitality bubbling up and brimming over from the font of Hammond Presbyterian Church, our commitment to spiritual nurture and outreach in our community abounds. While holding onto and celebrating our core of faith in Jesus Christ lived out in love for God and love for neighbors as we love ourselves, we are being challenged to find our calm center in that same Christ. Because along with newness and growth comes transition and change, anxiety levels may rise. We are called to trust God in the grand scheme of things while we take one faithful step at a time in our daily living, choosing to be even more kind than usual while trusting each other!
We are witnessing and participating in the completion of our Memorial Pavilion. The Annual Church Picnic on June 10 gave us great joy as we were able to be family together in the pavilion, on the playground, and in lawn. Some youngsters even played badminton for the first time- learning from some oldsters. Many thanks to the Deacons, the Pavilion Committee, and the numerous helpers who provided for and partuicipated in such a special event. Soon the kitchen of the pavilion will be finished and the annual Fish Fry will be held here with a Chicken BBQ a few weeks after that.
Our commitment to embrace our community with love includes spiritual nurture in education as well. This summer Nancy Chase’s new meditation class “Just Do It!” meets for an hour in the Chapel on Monday evenings from 6:30-7:30 pm. Nancy is a tremendous teacher who shares her own experience with the practice of meditation and provides a safe space for others to mediatate with her.
Years ago this congregation made a commitment to spiritual nurture for our community by creating and recreating a labyrinth in the church lawn. Over the past several years the stories of what it means to have a labyrinth and walk it, and how it is effective has proven the value of providing such a tool in our village. Labyrinths require regular maintenance and at times refurbishment, which is at what point our labyrinth is now. Since the significance of providing a labyrinth has been determined to be of great value here in Hammond, the Session has entered into an agreement with Labyrinth Designer and Facillitator, Nathan Wiles, of Innate Ctreations, Kent, Ohio to refurbish our labyrinth this summer.
There will be opportunities during the first weeks of July for volunteers from our church family and village to participate in preparing the space for Nathan’s rebuild. The current river stones so lovingly gathered and placed on the current labyrinth will be removed, stacked, and replaced in the refurbished labyrinth as to Nathan’s instruction and management of the project.
Nathan will be with us for the week of July 23 to manage and complete the rebuilding of the labyrinth. Many details and needs were considered in the choice of the final design and materials in order to provide for a low maintenance, easily walkable path with good visibility, and built in water drainage. An annual spring and autumn group time for gentle care of the labyrinth will be needed, but that too is part of what having a community tool for spiritual nurture is all about!
Upon completion in July, we will be able to use the labyrinth for a few months then Nathan will return to provide a workshop to further facilitate our use of it. If you are able to help with volunteer hours during the first weeks of July, please contact me or Tara in the church office to sign up and to learn what tasks need to be completed and when.
Alongside the labyrinth work our church family members are also involved in making preparation for the Hammond Scottish Heritage Festival weekend which includes a church float in the parade on Saturday evening and will culminate with a Scottish Heritage Service on Sunday, July 22 at 9:30 AM in the church sanctuary.
My goodness, while we are happily busy, out and about, carrying out energy sapping activities, laughing and being together, may we indeed be the best we can be. May we choose kindness (toward ourelves and each other) when anxiety swamps us. May we take one step at a time and be gentle with the person in our presence at any given time whomever that person may be.
As a wise North Country man said to me recently, make sure you get out in your kayak soon, because before you know it summer will be over. Remember to play!!
Blessings dear friends. May abundance nourish us as we accompany one another in this life of faith. See you in church….
Peace and love,
“You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27
Having just celebrated the Memorial Day weekend with an abundance of activity, including Sunday Morning Worship, Memorial Day parade and ceremony, lots of conversation, and FOOD, I am reminded of the fullness of the approaching summer season in regard to the church calendar, of which only June is contained in this newsletter.
An abundance of offerings for spiritual, physical, emotional, educational, and psychological nourishment is available. Such offerings are provided and led by various people with diverse gifts, all which bring a sense of wholeness and unity to the Hammond community. You will notice the added opportunities for Meditation on Monday evenings, Chair Yoga three days a week, the return of Al Anon (a 12 Step recovery program for those who have relatives or friends who are alcoholic), and the ongoing Choir rehearsals, participation in the planning and preparation for the Scottish Heritage Festival and that’s only in June. (July will see Music Camp and an intergenerational Mind, Body, Spirit event using some yoga techniques, Bible Study and Art.)
In the same way one might choose particular foods from that huge picnic buffet spread, in order to not only fill the plate, but to do so with some balance in regard to one’s health needs, our individual selves will need to be wise about our choices plucked from the summer calendar. For such offerings are added to the staples of Sunday Morning worship and our daily commitment to love in action. Balancing work, relationships, self-care, and service to others in the midst of a multitude of choices can be challenging.
No one person need attend every single event that is scheduled. Doing so would be like eating everything
on the picnic table. Continuing one’s normal routine after a sleepless night of major indigestion interferes with our fulfillment of the love commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. However, one need not choose only from the desserts or only from the salads either.
As you rejoice in the time to garden, and sit around a campfire, swim, fish, hike and enjoy the marvelous natural world in the North Country; as you plow the fields and place the seeds; as you complete the last weeks of the academic year with mountains of school work; as you work that job that is only available during the fair weather months, please remember healthy choices and balance your necessary nourishment spiritually, physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Even though my vocation centers physically at the church, outside of Sunday and Wednesday mornings you will not find me attending or participating in every single offering. In the midst of such abundance I continue to be available for those in need of everyday pastoral care. Please reach out to me if you have such a need, I remain present for you.
Of course, the Sunday staple of Morning Worship is primary.
I do look forward to meeting you all there! Sunday morning is the one place and time when we may all see one another, nurture one another, be combined in loving service joining our beings in praise of and gratitude for the One who loves us and unites us. During morning worship healing happens not only for those present, but those for whom we intercede. God is trustworthy.
Wednesday morning Bible Study will continue to meet at 11:00 AM. The nourishment which happens within that time of study is certainly Spirit led. Prepare to be challenged, encouraged, supported, and sustained.
One note to be aware of is that our Sunday worship time will continue to be 10:30 AM during June, but will change to 9:30 AM during July and August.
June 3 In the Grain Field With Jesus
1 Samuel 3:1-20 Mark 2:23-3:6
June 10 Out of Our Minds and Into Our Hearts
1 Samuel 8:4-11,16-20 Mark 3:20-35
June 17 Being Authentic May Not Be Pretty
But It Is Desirable
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 Mark 4:26-34
June 24 Draw the Circle Wide
1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 10-16 Mark 4:35-41
Peace be with you, my lovelies!
The pumpkin seeds have sprouted in the front flower bed of the manse! Today was the first day
I have been able to actually work in the flower bed. Bright sunshine poured down as I pulled out the dry twigs, vines, and leaves and by doing so disturbed the decaying pumpkins from the fall. And there they were! Bright Spring Green sprouts, pumpkin plant leaves! They are the same color as Queen Elizabeth’s 92nd Birthday apparel. ( She is celebrating today, April 21.)
Yes, in the autumn I left pumpkins in the bed on purpose, but I was stunned and very pleased to discover that some of the seeds have already sprouted. Just seven days ago everything was covered in inches of solid ice. It was last week I covered and hilled up a few vulnerable spring plants with dirt before the sleet began to fall.
The wonder of new life truly springing forth even when anticipated remains astounding! For it is trust which we hold, faith when we cannot see, that there continues to be sacredness, that we are part of something grand and much bigger than ourselves.
It is from within the abundant grace of this God of mystery that I am pleased to celebrate the ever deepening sense and experience of community within and surrounding the Hammond Presbyterian Church- our own particular community- and the ever broadening sense and experience that we are part of something grand and much bigger than ourselves.
As an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA) I have been given the opportunity to connect our particular community with that broader community in a very special way.
The Presbytery of Northern New York elected me to serve as Moderator of the presbytery for the next twelve months, which will be followed by twelve months of serving as Moderator of the presbytery’s Coordinating Council, then a third twelve months
of serving on the council. (Yes, if you are counting this means you are stuck with me for at least three more years.)
When ministers are ordained and installed within the PCUSA answers are given to a particular set
of questions. One of those questions is this:
Will you be active in government and discipline, serving in the councils of the church; and in your ministry will you try to show the love and justice
of Jesus Christ? (The Elder’s question is very similar: Will you share in government and discipline, serving in councils of the church,
and in your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ?)
Over my three decades of ministry I have served
the larger church by regularly attending presbytery meetings, serving as a member of Presbytery Worship Committees, and the Committees on Ministry, by assisting in creating an International Partnership, by preaching and leading worship at presbytery meetings. I am honored to serve as Moderator for Northern New York which will help us locally to become even more aware of this grand Life we live in the faith of Jesus Christ through our beloved Presbyterian Church (USA.)
In actuality, my time commitment for this
privilege, will be an average of one day per month. Have no fear, I am still on the ground in Hammond, celebrating with you, listening to your stories, encouraging reverence for all life, pondering biblical texts, visiting you, eating with you, baptizing, marrying and walking the dark valleys with you, preaching to you, singing and crying with you, speaking before I think sometimes, and being bold in spring green, yellow and rainbow colored presence.
Peace and love,
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
On April first this year, we are surprised with the emptiness of the tomb, the unexpected openness of a grave hewn out of rock. A grave, created for someone else, and yet in which the crucified body of Jesus was placed. A grave which was filled by the result of violence, a dead body, then closed, sealed, and guarded while the faithful kept sabbath ritual, and the earth kept on spinning.
A grave like our own, in which we find ourselves deep in despair, bound in a shroud of circumstances we have chosen for whatever reason, entombed in death’s grip before our time. And while we are there, suffering with addiction, angry with hurt, afraid of consequences, stuck in our own mess, hemmed in by fear, pummeled by violence in such a way that we have been violent, the earth keeps on spinning.
And the empty tomb on the Day of Resurrection reveals that the grip of death need not have the last word. The rock walls of the grave do not keep the transforming love and power of God out. The tomb is not impenetrable.
When God called Jesus forth from the tomb, God had already been present as Jesus in the tomb. When the women came to tend to what remained of their beloved Lord, the emptiness of that very tomb gave witness to the presence and power of God in the very worst of circumstances. Even while sabbath was kept, even while the earth kept spinning as if nothing had happened, that which transpired in the tomb was love in action.
Even when we find ourselves entombed by despair, oppressed by addiction, enslaved by circumstances beyond our control; buried under our sense of responsibility for the worst of the worst or the best of the best, we are not alone. Even in these seemingly hopeless graves, God is present with each of us loving us, healing us, cherishing us, encouraging and empowering us to make a difference in that world that keeps on spinning.
The grave is not final, from it grows new life. Resurrection life may be ours to receive, grasp and live, over and over, again and again, for God is eternal and steadfast in love for us.
May you be transformed every day,
A delightful discovery in the past several months,
and a sweet provocation, are the words written on the inside of Dove chocolate candy wrappers. Akin to fortune cookies, Dove chocolate wrappers’ quotations are a bit more simple and contemporary. Tonight’s treat yielded “Rock a bad hair day.” Yesterday’s said “Be proud of your age.” For someone who sometimes looks in the mirror and wonders “What happened?”
and at other times is pleased with the results of the morning’s shampoo, both of those quotations are memorable.
For decades, Jesus’ command to love God, and to love your neighbor as you love yourself has been central for me. Preaching it is one thing, living it is another, however. Sometimes, though difficult, loving oneself does indeed mean “Rock a bad hair day.” Loving another means building them up, finding one thing to focus on that brings a sincere smile. Sometimes loving oneself means “Being proud of your age,” staying in the present without playing the mental tapes from the past, the expectations for the future, letting go of all the things authority figures told you about what you should or shouldn’t do or be. Loving another means celebrating the person, child, teen, young adult or elder for who they are right now, without concern for the future, or what they have or have not done in the past.
This is the moment.
The end of winter blues, accompanied by colds, flu, ice storms, transitions and challenges are upon us. My dog and constant companion has died, the home where Tom and I were married and began a new life together has been sold, and the newness is unsettling.
The weightiness of the gray dreariness is oppressive. And yet, embracing the moment, savoring the taste of chocolate, realizing that the person in the mirror is worthy of gentleness, love and respect, and acting accordingly is fulfilling Jesus’ commandment- which is being fully alive. Choosing to look at one’s spouse, partner, child, neighbor, parent, teacher, boss, and seeing a beloved child of God worthy of respect, love and gentleness, and acting accordingly is fulfilling Jesus’ commandment, which is being fully alive.
Noticing the increased birdsong, the flocks of geese flying overhead, the appearance of calves and lambs in the fields, the mud of farm machinery on the roadway, need give us pause, for here and now is the moment of reverence and sacredness. God’s loving providence is holy and other, yet Jesus makes manifest the holy intimate presence of God.
May something as simple as the taste of a chocolate treat bring you to the wonder of sacredness in this moment, in this month of spring, in this year of our Lord.
With love and peace,
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
During this season when nature appears to sleep,
the Blue Jays, Finches, Morning Doves, Sparrows, and Chickadees continue to visit the feeder outside of our dining room window. Rabbit paw prints encircle the house, and there is evidence of someone tunneling in the snow when it melts a bit.
Maybe the sleeping time yields more activity of the holiness of life than we think it does, even if it is you and I who are sleeping. When our bodies are at rest our brains remain active. Father Chuck Schmitt heralded midwinter as a time for hot chocolate, a book, and a blanket. The benefit of quiet time in the winter is life enhancing, in the same way that daily meditation, quieting our thoughts and listening, is healing all year long.
Research has revealed that our brains may actually be trained to become less reactive and anxious through the practice of meditation, going to that deserted place like Jesus did. And therefore, our lives and responses in times of trouble and distress become more balanced and resilient through meditation practice. There is even a term to describe it which is neuroplasticity. Another benefit of meditation is the increase of compassion toward others in general. There has been a measurable increase in love and generosity within eight minutes of completing a period of mediation.
By meditating on a regular basis we are actually changing the world in the manner of Jesus, beginning with our own!
It makes so much sense that the Gospel of Luke includes numerous times that Jesus withdrew to deserted places to pray, especially in relationship to those times when Jesus healed people, cured diseases, taught them and ministered to their needs which is love in action known as compassion.
During our chosen and unchosen times of quietness we may listen for the voice of God, wait upon an experience of holiness, pour our hearts out before God and participate in the compassion building transformation of our own brains.
May Jesus’ religious practice encourage us to engage in moments of quiet, similar to that which we experience gratefully in winter, and bring a practice of meditation and prayer to our daily living all year long. Let it snow!!
Deep and abiding peace be yours,
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Wow, I just typed 2018 for the first time.
The firsts just keep happening as 2017 transitions into 2018. My birthplace, Erie, Pennsylvania was on the national news this week for the mammoth 54+ inches of snowfall in a 30 hour period over Christmas Day. The National Guard has assisted with digging the city out. The -20 and colder temperatures (not including wind chill factor)
for me here in the North Country is a first also.
These weather related details may not be firsts for some of us as we compare notes and tell stories,
but 2018 certainly is. It helps to share stories and wisdom as we support each other through new experiences. Especially when it comes to what to be alert for when the wind chill is -35 or more. Especially when entrances and exits to homes become completely covered under massive amounts of snow and assistance is needed for survival.
Yes, the years pass by one after the other and yet we are all entering 2018 for the first time, individually and together. As a family of faith the peace, hope, love, and joy upon which our attention was called during the holiday season provides a secure foundation upon which newness rests. As a people of faith we bring to 2018 our renewed commitment to justice, peace, and reconciliation as we have recently been encouraged by our exposure to The Confession of Belhar during Advent and Christmas.
2018 need not repeat the difficulties of 2017, but learn from them. We learn from the past as we courageously step forward, individually and together, for we need each other to do so.
We need each and every one. We are so much more as a people, as a family of faith, as a nation, as a world, together than we are apart. When we gather for worship as family of faith during the winter months of 2018 we will courageously seek to share more of ourselves in order to create increased community. We rejoice in who we are and we will grow in love for one another and by doing so we will grow in love for our world.
See you in church!
Dear Sisters and Brothers:
Advent and the approach of the birth of Christ is fast upon us. Advent, the beginning of a new liturgical year, like the dawn of a new day, reminds us to be alert to the presence of God. I often wonder, how do we discern what God is calling our attention to and then what if anything are we to do about it? I’ve decided repetition may be the clue. With each new morning, with each new liturgical year God continues to knock on the door of our hearts until we open the door. And that knock may come unexpectedly, and the one who knocks may appear in different forms, but it is important to be listening. Repetition of the knock is something to pay attention to. It’s important to determine who is on the other side of the door, and to determine that - we have to open it- maybe just enough to see who’s calling, or maybe wide enough to invite the one who knocks into our hearts and lives. God may knock in the form of a person, an invitation, an opportunity, an event and all these things may have something in common.
Repetition of two themes have been presenting in the life of our church. The first comes to us denominationally in the form of focus on education and healing in regard to racism: personally and systemically. The second comes to us from within our own community in regard to becoming educated about the cost of war in the lives of our military and especially our veterans, and encouragement on our part to act.
During Advent we will begin to address the topic of racism with the help of our newly adopted confession The Confession of Belhar. Our study will continue into the winter months. As to extending care to our Veterans we have already begun with the education and compassion.
On Veterans Day weekend in November our church family had the opportunity to share a poignant evening with an exceptional young man, Bryson Villamor, who served in the United States Army from 2003 through 2011, in South Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. As Sergeant, leader, and commander, he was an educator, confidant, and a rock upon which his troops found footing, and strength upon which they depended. And yet, when Vill stood before a group of civilians-strangers, acquaintances, and friends it was with great risk that he opened his heart to us and shared his story. Vill is one of thousands of soldiers who are living with and healing PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
It is likely that we have heard of it before: Soldiers Heart, Shell Shock, Nostalgia, or Combat Exhaustion, to name a few. And as Vill related, anyone is susceptible to Post Traumatic Stress. For Soldiers, however, it is important for civilians to become educated about PTSD, to not generalize (as we unfortunately do with so many things) and to be willing to reach out to those suffering. The suicide rate for soldiers is 20 per day in our nation. There is loud knocking on our hearts’ door.
Just two days prior to our Veterans Day program,
the Hammond Central School hosted a breakfast for Veterans who were invited by their children or grandchildren. The following are those who were recognized during the ceremony following the breakfast. (Please note, it is not an exhaustive list of veterans living in our community.)
Donald Bartlett Janice Bellay
William Waiculonis Mike L’Abbe
Barry Kiah Gerry McRoberts
Robert Boland Craig Bartlett
Bryson Villamor Andrew Hodgdon
Trever Kimber Kim Kimber
Robert DeGrande Charlie Gardner
James Kroeger Dan Phalen
Charles Clemons Glen Parker
Fran Colby John Kerr
Richard Paquette Shane Baxter
John Perretta Lori Fay
Robert Pike James Walsh
John Jewett Gary Maloy
Terry Neuroth William “Joe” Tate
Claude Barse Dave Shephard
Is God knocking on the door of your heart in regard to the care of Veterans in our community? God continues to repeat this topic for me and members of our church family by the provision of educational resources and more. So, just in case God is knocking on the door of your heart, please, open it! You may want to check out resources, express kindness in person, and work for peace. In regard to education here are a few resources:
Art that Heals Veterans, p. 23, TIME November 20, 2017
Online Documentary: time.con/CreatiVets
Online: VA: The Human Cost of War
Online: Almost Sunrise
(The PBS resources have been shared by one who attended Vill’s program. Thank you!)
If you are interested in a feature length film that addresses Post Traumatic Stress, Shia Lebouf stars in Man Down.
It is with deep gratitude that I offer this information to you. I am thankful for light and grace, for healing and transformation, and for the sharing of such by Bryson Villamor as he grasps new life with passion and a determination to make a difference for those in need. He is already doing so- for he has done so for us.
As I write this Vill is traveling from Hammond to Hawaii where the next stage of his healing will continue with his family of origin. God’s speed, Vill. Thanks for knocking.
The Advent and Christmas seasons are significant ones for being alert to God’s activity, for receiving God’s healing love, while at the same time living as disciples of Jesus who are recognizing and participating in that loving compassionate activity, the annual and daily ritual of love for one another. God is knocking!
I am thankful and humbled to be your pastor.
Here are two of Vill’s poems as requested; such is grief, trauma and healing in process.
PTSD Vill Villamor
I look around at the faces of my brothers
And hear the screams of sadness from crying mothers.
If you take the time to look into his eyes
You’ll see he’s soulless and a part of you dies.
He tries to hide how he feels from others.
Slowly he pushes away his family and his lover.
Not knowing how he is going to handle his troubles
He looks for help in a bottle
and the drunk nights double.
Can’t close his eyes at night, no longer can he sleep
For when he does images of days at war begin to creep
And very slowly the life in his body disappears
His vision starts to blur as his eyes fill up with tears.
A bottle of whiskey lies on the ground,
with a hole in his head
He found a way out, and feels much better,
he is now dead.
God is Everywhere Vill Villamor
Every morning I feel God’s warm embrace
An embrace in the form of the bright sun.
He’s everywhere in this far away place.
He walks with me, when I feel as if I’m done.
He answered when I asked, “Lord, help me please.”
When I was angry, and about ready to quit
An angel was sent to cool me with a gentle breeze
Took my anger and threw it into a deep pit.
God listened when I needed to talk.
He gave advice to this wayward son
As side by side we took a walk.
Now I’m able to be happy and have fun
So if you’re ever feeling sad and alone
Just remember that God is always there
All you have to do is call on the pray phone
He will answer, for God is everywhere.
SGT Villamor, Bryson J. Senior, Radar Operator
Joined the Army 08 September 2003
Discharged 11 May 2011
Camp Stanley, S. Korea 2004-2005
Baghdad, Iraq 2005-2006
Kirkuk, Iraq 2007-2009
Kunduz, Afghanistan 2010-2011
Advent and the Confession of Belhar
On November 26, during worship, each church family household was given a copy of 30 Days with the Belhar Confession: Reflections on Unity, Reconciliation, and Justice. Each Sunday in Advent , on Christmas Eve and the First Sunday of Christmas we will read from the devotional booklet and light the appropriate candles of the Advent Wreath. By using the traditional Advent framework about the Lordship of Christ we will learn more about living our daily lives as disciples of Jesus in our contemporary context, as we prepare ourselves for, and carry out, the work of peace and justice, reconciliation and unity. The readings will coincide with the daily readings at home in the booklets beginning with Day 1 on December 1. May we all be blessed by this process of education, enlightenment, and empowerment in the Joy of the Lord.
Winter Adult Education Opportunity!
The Presbyterian Mission Agency has provided us with a resource for education and healing. During January and February we will have opportunities to meet together and discuss what we learn from the resource, as well as to study independently. Please sign up to purchase your copy in the Dining Hall by December 17. ($10.00)
The resource is: Race and Reconciliation,
Workbook: Confessions 1967 and Belhar
We will be ordering copies before Christmas.
Dear Sisters and Brothers:
In the latest edition of the journal Spirituality & Health an article about a church in Bennington, VT caught my eye. The pastor of the church described what one would find if one came to that church, and I thought, “Yes! That’s who we are, and there really are other churches like us in the world.”
When I consider what one may find at Hammond Presbyterian Church, I rejoice in the similarities with our sister church in Bennington and rejoice in the possibility of making it known more broadly in St. Lawrence County that this is who we are!
I began to list what one may find here.
We are a church family-a community- a communal unity.
Every person’s contribution of spoken word and perspective, time, talent, and energy is valued and encouraged.
Faith development is supported for each individual in his or her or their own way- together- in a loving supportive environment.
Here people are welcome just as they are.
Here community and welcome are primary.
Here questions and the admission that we may not know everything but are on a quest together is valued.
Here variety and diversity is enriching.
Wisdom of our elders is respected and influential.
Here children dance in the aisles, clap tiny hands to music, and sing out with gusto.
Here peacemaking is not only talked about but acted upon.
Here transformation is happening.
Here people make a difference in each other’s lives without “in your face” judgment or attitude of superiority or inferiority.
Do we make mistakes? Yes.
Are we patient with each other? Most of the time.
Do we love each other? Yes.
Has HPC always been this way? No.
But HPC has been through a great deal of transformation through suffering and that’s where and when growth and wholeness happens. Hearts have been broken open and continue to heal and are made whole. Healing happens during the reaching out to each other in kindness, service and communal activities in which we are encouraged to participate according to our personal choice.
(Dinners, studies, discussion groups, music preparation and provision, youth gatherings, welcome of community groups into multi-purpose space, projects serving local, county-wide, presbytery and PCUSA mission are engaged in, and much more.)
Are we perfect? No.
Are we real? Yes.
Do we practice our faith in ritual? Yes.
And that ritual is respected and cherished while at the same time our ritual may embrace newness.
People are free here, people are loved here, just as is encouraged in a sanctuary, a sacred and holy space.
And if we experience love and freedom here, we will find and live it anywhere.
Love is spoken here.
Love is lived here.
Love is chosen here.
May you be cherished.
May you be loved.
May you be.
Jesus responded to the question, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” saying:
”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these hang all the law and the prophets.”
In the receiving and giving of love all is fulfilled.
Dear Sisters and Brothers:
During the month of October members of the Hammond Church Family will be studying “What It Means to Be Presbyterian” on Sunday mornings. Some of these folks may choose to become voting members of the congregation, as did Barb Phillips, whom we welcomed by Letter of Transfer in September.
Because of this process and the class beginning, I choose to enter into a topic in this pastoral letter that I don’t often address directly because it can be a slippery slimy one. It is the topic of evil.
When a person is welcomed by a congregation some questions are asked and answered. One such question may be: Do you renounce all evil and its powers in the world which defy God’s righteousness and love?
Being able to identify evil in one’s life is a helpful practice, in order to be able to choose righteousness- a Spirit-led open relationship with God, guided by God’s wisdom and lived in trust.
The Presbyterian Handbook states: Evil comes in many forms. Some are very clear—hatred, killings, destruction. Some are very subtle and hard to detect—lies, deception, gossip. Evil exists in groups of people and in societies and cultures: Institutions that appear to do “good” may also participate in evil practices—discrimination; racism, sexism; ageism. (p. 102)
I encourage each of us to look seriously at those things which we cling to which cause division and hatred, hostility to reverence for all Life which is reverence for God. It may be time to renounce them.
NPR.org reported in a timely article regarding National Security on 28 September 2017 activity which I think we can all agree is evil. We all, each and every American, need to be aware of this activity and vigilant less we lose all we hold dear of our American values, our human values, which hold each and every human to be equal. We, who live the Christian faith, learn from Jesus of God’s radical equality and that something less than radical equality needs to be renounced and transformed by God’s love and grace which works through us, upon us, around us, in us. Evil is hostile to that transforming power of God. Evil causes division at the most basic level of our lives, causes fear and draws our attention away from God’s character of love and compassion.
NPR reported: (bold print emphasis is mine)
The presidential election is long past, but online attacks aimed at shaping the U.S. information environment have kept right on coming. This week brought a slate of fresh examples of ways in which users — some of them demonstrably Russian, others not — continue to try to use Facebook, Twitter and other platforms to jam a crowbar into existing American political divisions and wrench them further apart.
Oklahoma's Republican Sen. James Lankford cited the ongoing national debate over free speech and protest in the National Football League, which has set players who want to call attention to police brutality — and are demonstrating by kneeling during the national anthem — against President Trump and cultural conservatives.
"We watched, even this weekend, the Russians and their troll farms, their Internet folks, start hashtagging out 'take a knee' and also hashtagging out 'boycott the NFL,' " Lankford said at a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday. "They were taking both sides of the argument this past weekend and pushing them out from their troll farms as much as they could to just raise the noise level in America and make a big issue seem like an even bigger issue as they're trying to push divisiveness in the country," he said.
We may hold opinions which differ, perspectives which appear to be opposing, and yet honest and open debate and dialogue furthers growth and wholeness. However, fanning burning embers into unnecessary flame for the purpose which appears to be the destruction of an entire nation is evil. Let us not fall for this trick of evil activity. Let us be wise, let us be alert, let us be aware and let us seek the good and well being of all and every, whether we agree or not.
The Presbyterian Handbook’s first suggestion for dealing with Evil is this: Examine your life and ask God to help you identify attitudes, practices, and choices that oppose God…Actively work to eliminate the evil that you find in your own life. (p.102-3)
I encourage each of us to seek wisdom, to not be pushed or forced to choose something which opposes God’s purposes of well-being, compassion and love for all Life. May we not be forced into something out of our own apathy or ignorance. Honest open and heartfelt debate is one thing. Name calling and disrespect for another’s perspective is something else.
United Methodist Pastor, Rev. Dr. Bill Shillady wrote in a devotion about God’s Wisdom: “…perhaps you have been hearing the voice of wisdom at every crossroad you encountered—a voice whose silent murmurings kept you from falling prey to the enticements of competing voices, a voice that kept calling you back to a reverence of God, from which all wisdom originates.”
May we seek and listen for God’s wisdom and focus on reverence for God which is reverence for all Life and not fall prey to competing voices. May we renounce the power of evil in our personal thoughts, beings, and activities and in the world.
Peace and love be yours.
Grace for today be yours.
May your hearts open to receive God’s abundant gifts.
Dear Sisters and Brothers:
While I write this anxiety levels close at home and around the globe continue to escalate. Climate related concerns include devastation from wild fires, flooding, hurricanes, wind damage, mud slides. Immense heartache and life threatening circumstances from political decisions and political posturing continue to astound us. The turmoil is great and it is real.
The challenge is to face the turmoil with love, to face those anxiety producing and life threatening issues within our own spheres of activity responsibly, to seek and offer help, and to join our complete beings (mind, soul, body) with others in prayer and meditation.
It may be tempting to close and lock our doors and never venture forth.
Yet, how fortunate we are to even have doors to close and lock. There are innumerable people in our world who have no door to lock, and have no huge piles of possessions to put out on the curb for the waste management company to pick up after a severe flood, or to even set out for an annual townwide yard sale.
One evening recently, Tom and I watched the movie, Queen of Katwe. It is a true story whose Queen is Fiona, a girl living in the poor sections of Katwe, Uganda, who discovered hope and new life by learning to play the game of chess. Fiona’s family, neighborhood, community, and country were affected by this activity she learned. Her chess coach, life coach, teacher and friend, and his family were a significant part of the entire life enhancing and transforming story. Fiona’s coach was young man, a university graduate awaiting employment as an engineer, who became part of a ministry which offered a sports program in which he coached football (soccer) to young boys. There were some boys who were not permitted by their parents to play such a physical sport because their families could not pay for medical treatment if they became injured. So, this man added chess to the boys’ program, welcomed girls, and provided meals.
To make a long lovely poignant true story short, from 2007 to 2011, Fiona increased in her chess playing ability and became champion in a prestigious international chess tournament which resulted in Fiona, as a young teenager, purchasing a home in the country for her family. For the years after her father died, Fiona’s family existed in one room dirt floor rented hovels on the income her mother earned by selling maize. Some had doors, some did not. All of their possessions could be transported on their backs in one trip. And this was/is the norm for many in Uganda. (And many other places around the world.)
This is the norm for hundreds of thousands more. And if we consider all of the needs in our world among all the members of our human family, we will become overwhelmed. Some of us will indeed want to close and lock our doors to shut the pain out. Some of us will work so hard to make things better we will experience something called Compassion Fatigue, which is a real thing.
Some of us will talk about it all and do nothing. And yet, many of us will seek avenues by which we may make a difference.
Right here, right now, God is presenting each of us individually with specific tasks we may carry out or concerns that we may address. The only way to discern them is to be watchful, to be alert and to be willing to take a risk and make a choice in the moment at hand that meets with our own unique gifts and abilities. If one needs to close one’s door for awhile and rest, so be it. But, please, open it again and allow God’s gentleness and mercy to be present in you and through you.
Right here, right now, God is presenting to all of us together the task of being gentle and merciful as human family. Together we are part of something grand even in the face of the anxiety and turmoil. Our heritage, cultures, ethnicities, music, art, diversity, foods, abilities, riches and poverty all contribute to our world village. In our present day it has become clear that we as human family are not independent separate entities, but we are together a diverse and marvelous Life. Therefore, our immediate individual choices and activities matter.
May our choices be made gently and mercifully in the loving Divine presence of the Source of All Life, God who is Love.
In the manner of Jesus, be who you are, embrace your personhood, receive and offer love, cry and laugh, and be filled with hope.
I am your companion on the way, Evon