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God is With Us
Good Morning FPCE Family,
I write to you from my desk at school in one of the most bizarre beginnings of the year I've ever experienced. This is my 3rd first day of school this week, as 25% of our students attend for one in-person day to receive their iPads, classroom materials, Google Classroom codes, and any other items they may need for virtual instruction that begins Monday. By the end of this week, I will have given my "welcome to choir" speech 16 times, and "welcome to music theory" 8 times. I'm starting to get bored with myself!
The Presbyterian Outlook magazine blog entry from a week or so ago speaks to this frustration about how we move ahead. Many of you have a child in your life -- son, daughter, niece, nephew, grandchildren, family friends -- that are about to begin any number of ways for a new school year. The author of the article provides some hope and comfort, and I share it with you today.
A word for weary parents: God is with us in the pandemic
August 12, 2020 by Rebecca Gresham-Kesner Leave a Comment
This summer we have instituted the Friday Funday breakfast picnic.
Typical summers, my daughter and I are both off on Friday and we have Friday Funday — because, let’s be honest, Sunday Funday doesn’t work when mom is the pastor.
This year, like most of you, we are finding new ways to have fun. She is a nature lover, so we have been exploring different places while we eat breakfast and I hear all about what happens in her mind. We have baked muffins. We have traveled dirt roads I did not know my car could handle, and now have a hiking bag to take with us full of useful stuff. I sometimes post pictures of our adventures, and recently a friend commented, “You have the most fun adventures!” Pandemic be damned, I will be making memories with this beloved child of mine all summer long. It gives us a sense of normalcy. Yet, what I didn’t post after our latest adventure, was that on the way home we decided to listen to a Christmas CD and had Christmas in July — in pandemic time there are no rules about such things. This led to a conversation about missing Grandma (my mom), who is currently living in Florida. I said: “I regret standing in line to buy dog food on March 13. I should have gone down to get her.” We hatched a plan: The moment the number of COVID 19 cases in Florida dip, we will drop everything and go get Grandma and keep her with us forever. It was a fanciful way of dealing with our collective grief about no Grandma visit this summer and the likelihood that even in December we won’t be hugging her.
Our adventures serve as a great distraction from the pain in the world right now. They are a few hours each week where we don’t have to worry about masks, social distance or a pandemic. For me it is a few minutes to forget about all the impossible decisions I have to make as a parent and pastor in the foreseeable future. For months now, I have been working with church leaders to make a plan for when we can reopen our building. The constantly changing recommendations and illness numbers have made this task feel insurmountable. We have had to ask hard questions about what church might feel like if we return and cannot sing. And: How do we partake in communion if we have to have masks over our mouths? What if someone gets sick? This experience of leading alongside my elders has given me compassion for everyone who has to make hard decisions in regard to safely reopening anything.
My focus on making memories comes from a place of pain in my own coming of age. Just before my father turned 40, he was diagnosed with a disease “men didn’t get,” and he died about 10 years later after a long struggle. Through those 10 years, I clung to happy memories, and I still do. This has certainly affected how I parent. I am always up for making memories — be it breakfast picnics or water balloon fights or reading together. My zest for adventure comes from the truth I have known since I was 8 years old: It can change in a moment. What is easy today can be hard tomorrow.
Why do I tell you all this?
Well it is because we are in the throes of making impossible decisions about reopening church buildings. It is because the news is a political firestorm of if and when our children can go back to school and go back safely. Just last week our school district sent out a survey outlining three options: a hybrid of in-person and online instruction, online only instruction, or homeschooling. I can have compassion for the school district leaders as they offer us three less than ideal options. There is no good solution; nothing can get us back to where we were on March 1. There is no way to meet the needs of every child and parent. It is a complete no-win situation. While I am frustrated at three impractical choices, I understand there isn’t a fourth solution that makes everything better. I also understand that the fact that I get options and can make a choice is a tremendous privilege that not many parents have. It is an impossible decision. Not one of these options is ideal for working parents.
Next, can we talk about economic disparities? In our home we will have to make one of these options work and we are in a place where we can make that happen and keep food on the table. I do not believe this is true for many parents. There are hundreds more “what if?” scenarios and unimaginable decisions to make. My other concern is that we keep hearing “children don’t get this, and children don’t die from this” (teachers and staff, I see you and I value you too). Those statements are both untrue, children can get COVID-19 and they can die from complications. Yes, it is a very low percentage, but in my book one child dying is one too many.
I’ve been flirting with turning 40 this year — and as I do, I am remembering and looking forward. I have often pondered my own mortality; I wonder if we have made enough memories to sustain my dear child through a lifetime should I perish in the next 10 years. But now, as I am forced to make decisions about school, I have thought about that beautiful young woman’s mortality. My tremendous love for my child does not make her immortal. Ash to ash and dust to dust, no one is immune. Somehow in pondering my own mortality, knowing that “in life and in death we belong to God” is a great comfort. This is not the case when I consider her mortality (or that of any child). The uncomfortable truth is that children die.
This is perhaps the underlying truth in what is wearing all of us down these days. We are mortal, our parents are mortal, our children are mortal. Six months ago, we were making decisions based on if our budgets could accommodate a trip to the movies. We thought nothing of being in a building with other people. We made everyday decisions that involved some risk – like driving in a car or swimming in the ocean – with ease. Now we face bigger decisions about if we should send our children back to school and if we should reopen our church buildings. And in the back of our heads, with every decision we make, COVID-19 and its ability to take lives is lingering. The exhausting thing is that it is in our everyday small decisions too: Do we sign up for Girl Scouts this year? What do we do about the summer camps that are still open? How about sports? Is it worth it to go into a store to get an item that would make life easier? How about a small outdoor gathering? Is it safe to visit my sister? Do I hug my aunt at my uncle’s funeral? My throat kind of hurts today, is it COVID-19? Wait — was I exposed?
I am exhausted (and I bet you are, too). I have been working from home since March and trying to do online school, followed by being “camp mom” during these summer months. I come at this with a decent amount of privilege and enough resources to make slime, moon sand and tie dye. Yet, I long for anything that feels like the old normal — to make a decision based on if my budget can accommodate something rather than if the calculated risk of leaving the house is worth it. All the while, I carry with me my own life experience of watching someone I love suffer with a disease they “couldn’t” get. I desperately want to believe my child is safe and protected from this by virtue of her age, but I have already lived through one statistical anomaly and I will do anything to avoid living through that again.
Being a faith leader, I feel like I should have some answers, some wisdom to add to the conversation, or at the very least be a non-anxious presence. In the absence of answers here is what I have. I believe in all things we are loved deeply by God and that God is with us on our best days and on our worst days. I believe when I am anxious about decisions, when I am fearful about what happens next, when I break down in tears because I am absolutely overwhelmed, God is with me. I know that going to school is safer than staying home for some children. I know that teaching in schools is the only choice some parents have. I know that some parents do not have a choice at all. I know we are all experiencing various levels of strain on our mental health. I know that we are called by God into loving community. We are capable of living into that call in these most difficult times. Loving community means we are going to work together to see our way through this. We will not let insecurity about our own decision-making reduce us to judging other people’s decisions about education or opening church buildings. We are called to support the single parent who has no choice but to send their kids to school and to support the parent who opts to homeschool.
Every day I ask: How are we supposed to manage this? Working and doing school/camp at home? The answer lies in that call to community. Community looks different now, but there is no reason we can’t support each other in making the gut-wrenching decisions that lie ahead. We can love each other and support each other even if we cannot hug each other. Let us remember in all things our call is to love one another and trust that God is with us in every moment of our pandemic ravaged lives.
REBECCA GRESHAM-KESNER is pastor at Faith Presbyterian Church in Medford, New Jersey. Outside of church and family life, you can find her in nature, finding fun ways to be creative or asking awkwardly deep questions of people she just met.
Happy Friday, FPCE Family!
Several announcements for you this morning:
THUR, AUG 20, 2020
Thought for the Day
God can make me new every morning.
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
— John 10:10 (NIV)
By late winter most of us have had enough of seeing bare, lifeless branches. Judging by the bigger picture, the color, warmth, and vibrance of spring seem far off. But if we go out into the garden and look at the smaller picture, we can see the beginnings of tiny shoots and the earliest signs of new life. Something is happening after all.
Sometimes our lives are a bit like that. We feel much the same and look the same from a distance, but up close God is at work in us — creating small changes. Little by little, God clothes us in more gifts and more love. We may summon up the courage to try something new. Often when we take that risk, we are surprised by the gifts that God has placed within us. We find that we are better at doing something than we thought we might be.
As we accept and enjoy these small changes, we sense God’s love flourishing within us. Just as the first signs of spring are beginning to show in the garden, so God’s spiritual gifts are taking root deep within us.
Living Lord, thank you for the new growth within us. Help us to trust your presence within us as we risk doing new things for you. Amen.
Meg Mangan (New South Wales, Australia)
Each Day is a Gift
Happy Tuesday FPCE Family,
A month or so ago, I shared with you the d365.org devotional site, which is primarily focused on younger Christians like college students. Given that most of our schools are starting back up in some form or another (I'm sitting at my desk in my office at school now!), I thought it was worth going back to the site to see what reflections they were offering for us. You'll recall that their format is short, simple reflections broken up into 5 actions: pause, listen, think, pray, go. Here is Sunday's entry, titled "Blessing of the Student Planner:"
The Lord your God is with you.
God’s Spirit goes before you as you listen, think, and respond.
Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
-- Matthew 6:34
One of the big changes that the current pandemic has brought about is the shift from existing in an ever-changing group of people (like at school – different classes, groups, clusters of people) to being in a much smaller circle. Sociologists have been saying that we are spending much more time in our own heads. Without the distraction of other voices, environments, and interactions, we are forced to be more on our own – with only our own sights, sounds, ponderings, and outcomes. This might be a dream come true for you. Or this might be the greatest challenge of your life.
Regardless of whether this “time in your own head” is a positive or negative experience, you have TODAY. In your own head you can imagine what your day can be. You can let your dreams and hopes parade across your mind’s eye with time you might never have again!
Not worrying about tomorrow allows you to see what you and God can do today. Each day may have trouble of its own, but each day is a gift. And it sits there… in your mind.
God, I may or not have a plan for today, but let me focus on today. Let me stop and examine the possibilities for living that come with today’s hours. Today’s possibilities might lead me to quiet discoveries or important and significant changes in my life. Today’s plans might change completely! But I will be with you, God. I am here, and you are here. With all of the tools you’ve given me – to understand, comprehend, dream, plan, think, examine – I will use them for you. Amen.
Taking today’s moments into your breath, your heart, your hands and feet,
live what you hear from God today,
Hope you can take time to enjoy TODAY.
FPCE just received a phone call from Edgewood Fire Department telling us about a food distribution they are sponsoring on Saturday, August 29 from 10AM until they don’t have any left.
Location: Edgewood Towne Centre by Scene 75. Pass on to whomever might be interested/in need.
P.S. They will also be parking in our lots tomorrow night, August 15 when they hold their Pasta Drive Thru Dinner – please support our local fire department if you can. Below is article from our latest newsletter…
Typically, this month you would see calls for volunteers to help us work the FPCE booth at the annual Edgewood Community Day celebration. For obvious reasons, this year Community Day will not take place in person. However, the Edgewood Volunteer Fire Department invites you to a “drive-thru” pasta dinner, Saturday, August 15th, from 2pm-7pm! Enjoy a night off from cooking, while supporting the EVFD!
In lieu of our famous Community Day chicken & rib dinners this year, we will instead be hosting a “socially distant” pasta dinner. Stay in your car and drive through the fire station on Race Street! $10 per dinner. Each dinner includes rigatoni with red sauce, salad, roll, & choice of drink (sauce optional). Baked goods will also be available for sale, priced between $1-10. Payments can be made electronically using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay.
Free delivery available for more than 5 dinners ordered by calling Steve at (412) 901-3096.
Friday Time Change
Friday's recording time has been moved to 4:00PM. I officially start back at North Hills tomorrow for what is sure to be the most unique year of my teaching career with variations of virtual, hybrid, and in person teaching over the next few months. So that I can make it across town and have everything set up, I asked everyone involved in the worship service to come later in the day. This will likely be the schedule for the next few weeks. So if you are planning to join us in the back of the sanctuary for worship when we record, plan to arrive for 4:00PM, not 1:00. Thanks for accommodating me!
The Pumpkin and the Bee
Happy Tuesday FPCE Family,
Did you know that we have a denominational magazine called Presbyterians Today? Of course there is an online counterpart to it. In addition to the articles in the print edition, there is also a blog that has entries submitted by pastors from across the country. The most recent was posted on August 7, and I share it with you today as a spiritual reflection for your week. Enjoy!
The pumpkin and the bee
by Ken Rummer
The pumpkin is bigger than a softball now, in dark green with a few warty bumps. It’s something of an accident.
Last fall, when our porch pumpkin sagged into mushy flatness, I carried it out back on a shovel, and deposited it, without eulogy or ceremony, behind the garage. Mowing near the place this spring, I was surprised to find four or five leafy stems sprouting from a pile of pumpkin seeds.
I figured I should pull out all but one to get a stronger vine, but I didnʼt have the heart. So they all kept growing. Across the yard. Out toward the alley. One even grew up into the forsythia bush, clear to the top.
Large green leaves and striking orange flowers grace the vines, and on one I recently discovered a growing pumpkin, the green one I mentioned earlier. I’m hoping it makes it all the way to big and orange.
Of course, a lot can happen between now and frost, some of it bad for pumpkins. But it would be nice to see the offspring of last yearʼs porch pumpkin promoted to this year’s jack o’ lantern.
I keep looking for other pumpkins-in-progress. Turning back the leaves with my foot. Checking the places the flowers have been. So far, I havenʼt seen any.
I did notice, in one of the large Victrola-horn flowers, a bee. It was busily doing its bee thing, climbing around inside the flower, slurping up flower juice, and buzzing in an important-business-being-done-here-leave-me-alone sort of way.
I imagine if you were to ask the bee, “What are you doing?” the bee would say, ”Making honey.” At the top of that beeʼs to-do list you would most likely find, “Make Honey,” and at the end of the day, the bee could check it off. “Made honey.”
But for a few minutes in our impromptu patch behind the garage, that bee was also making pumpkins. Leg hairs loaded with pollen, dropping a little off at each flower along the way, that bee was making pumpkins.
Now I donʼt want to get into an argument about which is the more important work, making honey or making pumpkins. That depends to a certain extent on whether you have a hankering at the time for pie or for biscuits. But I am thinking about that bee, working hard to make honey and along the way making pumpkins, too.
I wonder what important things God might be doing along the way while weʼre busy doing something else. I’m thinking about the interruptions, the chance encounters, the strangers, the people who watch from a distance, the folk who are around us all the time.
You and I, in Godʼs scheme of things, may be doing some important things in this world while weʼre busy with what we think of as our main work. And we may not even know weʼre doing them.
Itʼs a grace and a wonder, the way I see it. Like the pumpkin and the bee.
Ken Rummer, Teaching Elder PCUSA, Honorably Retired
Ken Rummer, a retired Presbyterian pastor, writes about life and faith from the middle of Iowa by the High Trestle Trail. His other posts are available at http://presbyterianmission.org/today/author/krummer
Tomorrow & Survey
Dear FPCE Family,
Tomorrow afternoon at 1:00, we welcome the Reverend Brian Wallace, assistant minister at Pittsburgh Presbytery to our pulpit to record Sunday's worship. We will also celebrate the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. As we have done for the past month or so, you are invited to join us, sitting in the back of the sanctuary with a mask, spaced out. We will have communion elements available at the back entrance for you to pick up as you take your seat so that you have them for the appropriate time in the service to share in the body and blood of Christ.
As we begin to move ahead in this uncertain time, we would like to get a feel for what the congregation thinks about our current format and the safe return to Sunday morning worship. I personally find out tomorrow exactly what my expectations as a North Hills School District teacher will be (rumor is we are to report to our buildings for regular times even if we are virtual, so that may change the time of our FPCE Friday recordings if I'm in Ross Township at 1:00!).
PLEASE CLICK THIS LINK to complete a brief survey about worship at FPCE and your feelings about online, in person, and live streamed services. If you could answer by Monday, we can gather the information as the worship committee to share with Session at their meeting Tuesday night.
Thanks in advance for your responses as we prayerfully consider our future and safety of the congregation.
For your mid-week meditation, I present to you the devotional site thepracticeco.com, written and maintained by a pastoral couple in Australia. There is an iPhone and Android app version of their site, and you can also purchase subscriptions or some of their published devotion books. I registered an account to check them out, and this was the first message/devotion.
Blessings on your Wednesday,
* * * * * * * * *
In the Complete Jewish Bible, 1 John 4:8 says:
"There is no fear in love. On the contrary, love that has achieved its goal gets rid of fear, because fear has to do with punishment; the person who keeps fearing has not been brought to maturity in regard to love.”
I used to think that love banished fear, as in, removed it, as in, I would never feel it. In love, there is NO fear… it should create a state of fearlessness, right?
Well, if it does, I haven't experienced it yet. Even in love - love of God, love from God, love of neighbor, love of self… all the love that exists in my world - I still feel fear. It’s still present. Sometimes the more you love, the more fear there seems to be. Nobody told me that becoming a parent would be the most terrifying thing I would ever do. No one said to me that falling in love and committing myself to be in a relationship with another person for the rest of my life would be a risky undertaking. It’s almost like love can create the perfect storm of fear…
What do we do with that?
In Ancient Hebrew, the word for fear is Yirah, and it has three meanings: fear, awe, and reverence. It can be used interchangeably to define these singularly, but it also carries the possibility that we can have an experience where there is no boundary between fear and awe and reverence, all of which show up in one merged experience, an emotional state that does not have an equivalent English word. Yirah also means “to see” which is tied up with its definition of ‘awe.’ It teaches us to pay attention to reality and warns that if we don’t, we will suffer the consequences.
Reality always has an element of fear, because we can’t control other people, or everything that happens to us, or the things that happen inside of us regarding chemical reactions and illnesses. The one thing we have control over is our response.
There is no fear in love because love is not motivated by fear. That doesn’t mean that love doesn’t make space for fear, listens to what it has to say, is compassionate and gracious, takes on what it needs to and leaves the rest. In fact, I think that’s exactly what love does. When you can love yourself through fear, and even learn to be grateful that fear exists - that it's saved you from making terrible choices, and has sometimes been the catalyst for deep and meaningful change - I believe that’s where fear turns into awe, awareness, and attention. Where wonder and beauty and grace come into play. I think that's how we live aware, awake, and alive in the world - eyes wide open, staring reality in the face with love.
It’s not that you’ve matured when you no longer feel fear. Maturity comes as you learn to stay in the way of love, even when you’re afraid. Punishment is something we do to ourselves when we let fear take control; when we don’t pay attention.
Fear can be paralyzing, or fear can be clarifying. And how much love you allow to rule your heart determines which way you’ll go.
Perfect love puts fear where it should be. A part of us, with something to say, for sure. But not at the head of the table, at the helm of the ship, or the driver's seat in the car. That place is for love.
Written by Liz Milani.
Mindful prompt: If fear rises up in your heart, take a moment to be with it. Listen. What is it trying to tell you? Be calm and patient with your fears. Begin to practice handling your fear, rather than being handled by it.
Happy Monday Brothers and Sisters,
On the heels of yesterday's service and final hymn of "Amazing Grace," I share with you a story that appeared from a friend's post on my Facebook feed Sunday afternoon...
I was at the grocery store this morning and heard a loud crash and something shattering. Being nosy, I walked towards the sound and saw some people whispering and looking back to the end of the next aisle. When I walked down that aisle, I saw an older lady had hit a shelf and many things had fallen to the ground and broke. She was kneeling on the floor embarrassed, frantically trying to clean up.
I felt so bad for her, and everyone was just standing there staring at her. So I went and knelt beside her and told her not to worry and started helping her pick up the broken pieces. After about a minute, the store manager came and knelt beside us and said, “Leave it, we will clean this up.” The lady, totally embarrassed, said, “I need to pay for all this first.” The manager smiled, helped her to her feet and said, “No ma’am, we have insurance for this, you do not have to pay anything!”
If you have read this far, I would like for you to give me a minute. Wherever you are, close your eyes, and imagine God doing the same for you!
Collecting the pieces of your broken heart from all the blows life has thrown at you. The bill for your faults, sin and folly has already been paid through the precious blood of Christ. God will heal all your wounds. He wants to gently lift you to your feet again, clean up your mess, and pick up all the broken pieces. He wants to heal you! He wants to take care of your soul!
We can have that same insurance and it’s called GRACE.
Blessings to you as we begin this first week of August.
Grace and Peace,