It feels like so much has happened since the APNC extended the call to join the staff at Derry Presbyterian Church back in the early days of March, before lockdowns and quarantines and virtual worship were even a thought for most Americans. Thinking all the way back to December, when I first came across the Derry Presbyterian Church Ministry Information Form (the part of the pastoral search process that shares with potential candidates information about the church and programs), there’s one thing that I still have a very clear memory of reading: that Derry Church was a place that welcomed and encouraged innovation.
This grabbed my attention at the time because I had just returned from a week and a half in the UK as part of an international cohort program that focused on youth, theology, and innovation. I had so many new ideas swirling around in my mind. Some things to jump in and try to pilot, some to dive deeper into development, and some that were just the smallest seedlings of ideas coming out of new opportunities I was seeing. None of those ideas centered around remote, virtual ministry, though.
In the past couple of weeks since I’ve officially started here, I have seen Derry’s commitment to innovation first hand. It’s not easy to shift gears and completely change how we do things, but COVID-19 has made us do just that. Even from June 21, the Sunday on which I offered my candidating sermon, to this past Sunday when I preached for the first time as your Associate Pastor, there have been shifts and changes to how things are done in the Sanctuary on a Sunday morning. Everyone who is present is patient and kind as we wade through these ever-changing waters and the comments that are received in the online guestbook show that those qualities are embedded in the congregation, too.
Last week, I launched a Virtual Youth Room that has links to a number of different resources for prayer, study, and mission from home. While the space is geared towards the youth, many of the links that you’ll find there (by clicking around on the images) can be used by people of all ages. It’s still a work in progress but knowing that the folks of Derry Presbyterian Church are a patient and flexible group helped when I released the link into the world. I am hopeful that this is an online space where the youth (and other congregation members) can find a moment of peace — whether that’s from the Taize music that is linked through clicking on the speaker, the devotional that’s on the bookshelf, or one of the prayer options — in an otherwise hectic and ever changing world.
As I continue in my ministry here, I hope to dream up other innovative ways of doing ministry with our young people, our families, and all of our members, both for times when we need to be apart as well as once we can gather together within the building once again. Derry Church has shown itself to be an engaged and thoughtful community of believers and I am excited to be here and to be a part of this church.
For the last ten weeks, the children and families of Derry have had the opportunity to open their Bibles together as a family and learn about the Fruit of the Spirit gifts that God gave to each of us. For many, we have heard of the Fruit of the Spirit but never had the chance to study and understand the incredible power of these gifts. This summer we have had all kinds of fun exploring and learning through movement, reflection, creation, eating, sharing and thinking.
At a time in our lives when so much feels out of our control and comfort zone, it has been a blessing to use this summer as a time to be reminded of the truly important things. I know for me it has allowed me to think about more than a just virus that has changed so much, distract my mind from worrying about all the things I cannot control right now, and has offered my family the chance to carve out time at home to gather and learn about the gifts that God gave to each of us.
This fall our learning opportunities will likely look quite different from our traditional classes we offer. Many programs will probably move to an online format, be shared through a study-at-home guide or become Zoom gatherings. While most of us do not prefer these learning and teaching styles, we know there are times where they will be needed to help us stay connected, continue our learning together and simply see the warm and comforting faces of our church friends, all while keeping one another safe.
Recently I was asked to offer the Conversation with Children to help the younger members of the church connect with our scripture reading. We had just heard in the Gospel of Luke 24:36-43 the story of Jesus returning to his disciples after the Resurrection. The disciples, who had locked themselves in a room in fear of their own lives, stood in complete shock and disbelief seeing Jesus standing in front of them. Jesus reassured them that it was him. He asked them to touch his hands, see his scars and then he joined them for a meal.
In my planning, the recipe for chocolate chip cookies rose to the top as my connection to this reading. How in the world can you connect a Resurrection story with a recipe for cookies? Simple. The disciples had many of the ingredients they needed to go out in the world and continue to live like Jesus and share the amazing news and stories of God and Jesus, but they needed one last “ingredient” to give them to undeniable courage to risk their own lives to share the amazing news of God’s miraculous ways.
When we think of our own lives, do you have all the ingredients you need to live a life with Jesus and God at the center? Have you studied the word, used all the stories to help guide your choices, and feel you have all the knowledge you need to live the life that God gave you? I am guessing none of us can say YES. We are all still learning, and that is how it should be. No matter what age we are, there are still stories from the Bible that we have yet to hear and let influence our lives. Those stories, the INGREDIENTS of life, are our recipe for the most amazing chocolate chips cookies ever! Sure, we can cheat ourselves, go to the store and buy a package of cookies, but I can assure you that those cookies will taste nowhere near as amazing as the ones we make from scratch… the ones we make with our hands with all the best ingredients (including Hersheys’ chocolate chips) and using a recipe that has been perfected by God.
So, as we move to the fall and find our lives going in a new direction with new work experiences and new school days, I challenge you to make time to keep finding the ingredients of a God- centered life by joining us for classes here at the church. I know there will be times when you just want to be left alone, you want a day off and free of online learning, and that is ok. Give yourself, your family, that day, but then rejoin us the following week. I can promise you that the church staff and leaders will be doing our best to create programming that will be engaging, informative and inspiring. You will enjoy seeing the faces of your church friends and letting them fill you with encouragement and promise that these crazy days won’t be here forever.
Please know that we are all here for YOU! Please reach out to say hello, stay in touch and let us know how we can be helpful to you and to your family.
Bless the Lord, my soul
and bless God’s holy name.
Bless the Lord, my soul,
who leads me into life.
These words from Psalm 103 open every Sanctuary Choir rehearsal. The concerns of day melt away as we sing this refrain over and over, focusing on our reason for being, both as a choir and as people of faith.
Our song was disrupted in mid-March.
Choir people are hard core. We need to sing. We need to be together. That’s why we are committed to Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings. Like everyone, we were and are most unhappy about this!
We began to connect through Zoom, holding to our tradition of singing of Psalm 103. While we tried to encourage one another, we also needed to be authentic with one another. Singing the words, “Bless the Lord, my soul, who leads me into life” seemed incongruent to us as a choir.
We found life as we joined our voices in song. That wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. And yet, our weekly Zooms began to take shape, we open in song and we close singing the beloved blessing “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” to one another.
Early on, Nancy Reinert shared words about living in the present, not missing the gift of each moment as part of a devotional. Something shifted for us. We began to find a new depth of community with each Zoom Choir as mem-bers shared their favorite hymns, moments of laughter in their week and moments of “finding life.” One particular night as we were honestly sharing burdens, one of our newest choir members, someone new to the Christian faith, shared words she had just discovered reading the book of James,
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, be-cause you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4
With each meeting there are surprises and gifts of encouragement. They come as we sing “Bless the Lord, my soul, who leads me into life” in the midst of a pandemic. It will be our special joy to welcome Grant, our new director of music, at tonight’s choir zoom. He brings amazing music gifts and a beautiful open spirit. Exciting days ahead!
I believe most of you know that Courtney, Verity, and I are expecting a new addition to our family later this month. We are looking forward to welcoming Verity’s little brother, whose due date is August 27. As Verity said in her Verity Good News segment of Some Derry Good News back in May, “We are also welcoming a new church member!”
On behalf of our family, I want to thank you for your prayers and support. We, along with many others expecting new additions to their families, did not anticipate navigating pregnancy during a pandemic. It has come with an unexpected set of challenges and losses, but it has also provided us with new opportunities and advantages. While Verity missed going to a big sister class at the hospital and attending Courtney’s appointments to see the sonogram and hear her brother’s heartbeat, I have been able to be home more during this time. We have had more time as a family to strengthen our own bonds and to prepare for the baby’s arrival.
In the weeks leading up to the birth, I plan to take vacation time so I can self-quarantine to ensure I don’t get sick, which would prevent me from being with Courtney at the hospital and to be readily available in case of an early delivery. August 16 will be my last Sunday leading worship until September 13. I’m thankful for the amazing and talented staff members who are willing and able to allow me to care for my family’s needs during this time.
Following the baby’s birth, I will be taking paternity leave. With the support of the Personnel Committee, I will be working half days rather than taking 6 weeks of full-time leave. This will allow me more time at home to help care for Courtney, Verity, and the baby, and it will also allow me to maintain momentum on essential church work. I will still help lead most Sunday worship services, attend virtual meetings, make pastoral calls, and do other planning and work that needs to get done.
I’ve been hard at work this summer writing sermons, morning meditations, and Sunday school lessons, and planning other activities through Christmas. I will still check email daily, so if you have questions or needs, feel free to contact me.
Thank you for your continued support and prayers and thank you for allowing me time to be with my family during this transition. I am grateful both Verity and her little brother will grow up in a loving and supportive church community that they know cares for them.