There was a time that Christ Lutheran Church in Harrisburg had multiple orchestras. A couple of years ago, I found boxes of music by John Phillip Sousa while cleaning out a closet. Along with the dusty arrangements were programs for fundraiser concerts and smorgasbords and pictures from the middle of the last century of the movers and shakers of Harrisburg in evening gowns and suits dining in the fellowship hall. Those church folk were deeply invested in their church and community. They had just completed an ambitious capital campaign and greatly expanded the size of the church, adding new offices for the pastors, vast halls, and classrooms. I’m certain few of them could imagine the next generation of the church would look so different, the Sousa marches packed away with the fine china and silverware.
Now those classrooms have been converted to a dental clinic, with beautiful new picture windows replacing the crumbling originals, thanks to the support of Derry Presbyterian Church. The pastor’s study is now a prenatal clinic for women without health insurance. The previous generation of the church invested in hope for the future of the church, but they could not imagine what that future would hold. So much changed in our culture, in our city, and in our neighborhood.
On our 130th anniversary, Christ Lutheran Church has about 2,000 fewer members than we did a century ago, yet the church continues to invest in hope and to be a place where our neighbors in the region’s most economically challenged community come to invest in their own hopes: for healing, for pathways to wellbeing. While thousands of members no longer fill our church rolls, every year 22,000 patients fill our clinics, hundreds of patients receive dental care, dozens of women meet with a doctor throughout their pregnancies.
Our dental clinic provides free emergent care, doing primarily extractions and fillings. A few years ago, a woman came to our church to see a dentist. She was in excruciating pain. She had severe cavities in most of her teeth, having never seen a dentist. She needed to have 20 teeth extracted. I told the dentist, “I’m glad we can help people with this kind of emergency care, but we should also help people keep their teeth.” This year Derry partnered with our church and the United Way to make improvements on the Dental Clinic so we could bring in Oral Hygiene Students from Harrisburg Area Community College to provide free teeth cleanings, so we are providing preventative care in addition to emergent care.
Because of our Health Ministries, and the partners like Derry Church who invest in hope by joining our mission, Christ Lutheran Church continues to be a spiritual home for many. Our mission provides us the opportunity to worship as well as the reason to worship. We see God’s healing taking place and we get together to praise God for God’s faithfulness and give thanks we get to be a part of it. Derry Church has not only invested in the missional work of our church but the spiritual and community life as well. The Derry Brass filled our beautiful sanctuary with vibrant music. The puppet ministry came and not only performed a great show but fed the congregation as well, serving up a full community event. In the audience that day was a family that had just arrived as refugees from Nigeria. The three young boys sat in the front row with huge smiles on their faces, smiles which were a result of Derry’s investment in hope.
Investing in God’s hope is a bold and brave investment to make, for God’s hopes are always far beyond our expectations and imaginations. God’s hopes are not for us alone but for the whole world. God’s hopes benefit the poor and the suffering most of all. As you invest in hope, the only certainty we have about the future in which we invest is that God will be a part of it and to God be the glory.
With this year’s stewardship theme INVEST IN HOPE, I find myself reflecting on that idea. How much that idea has been the grounding force for many of us these past difficult months. How else to stay hunkered down at home? How else to continue to connect with family and friends?
I also find myself reflecting on these past two years and how integrally hope has been part of my daily life. In August 2018, I was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer, a rare and aggressive cancer with a reputation for a poor prognosis. As a physician, I had heard of this cancer, and I also knew that it would never happen to me. Yet here I was, and with visible symptoms marching across my breast. For the first few weeks, I couldn’t talk about it without breaking into tears.
An aggressive cancer calls for aggressive treatment. The next months were tough. I went from enjoying hiking, bicycling, and kayaking to having difficulty walking for five minutes. I developed lymphedema as a side effect of the treatment. Although I had not been singing with the Sanctuary Choir, my choir friends kept in touch with me. When I finally emerged from chemo, surgery, and radiation, my friends were eager for me to return, especially to meet the interim choir director, Dan, who was bringing joy and life to the choir.
I did slowly return. Gradually I was able to increase physical exercise, and I tried to sing. I decided that singing was going to be a part of my rehab and I restarted voice lessons. For me, singing is an important expression of my spirituality, especially singing with a group where you physically and musically can feel yourself a part of something larger. I receive so much support! Thank you, everyone, so much! I continue to do well with my cancer recovery.
Hope is part of every forward step I take. I find hope in my family, friends, and spirituality. I am experiencing an amazing feeling of hope within our church. I am energized by our church community’s action and movement forward into issues of inclusiveness, of “sitting at the table together.” Our church leadership gives us the opportunity to reflect on and to be challenged by present day concerns, and how to learn and draw strength from the scriptures.
I am excited and hopeful about our church’s direction. We have new energy with Pastor Stephen, Grant, and Pastor Pam. Our wealth of musical talent provides new and novel music experiences. I look forward to our continued collaboration with the Wesley Union AME Zion Church in Harrisburg. I look forward to the day that we will be able to physically and spiritually sing together.
For me, our mission committee represents hope. And for me hope has always been paired with faith and charity, which are all elements of our mission committee. Underlying that is our focus on the basic needs of housing, education and health care.
Before I joined the mission committee I was part of Derry Church’s Peacemaking committee. In the late 1980s we became involved in a project in Yonkers, NY called SWAP (Stop Wasting Abandoned Properties.) We worked side by side with future homeowners to reclaim three-story brownstones, restoring them into safe apartments for the new homeowners. Nothing gives one hope like safe, secure housing.
Seven years into that effort, many people on the block encouraged Rev. Bill Daniels, the minister living in their midst, to travel to Nicaragua after Hurricane Andrew and establish a similar effort in their home country. SWAP morphed into Bridges to Community and we have been blessed to be able to participate in Nicaragua and lately the Dominican Republic for these 20 years, replacing more than 500 fragile shacks with sturdy concrete block reinforced homes, with tiled floors instead of mud, allowing people to the focus on improving their education and health.
In November Logos Academy, near the Broad Street Market, came into focus for me when Derry’s session committed $10,000 to support the creation of a second grade classroom. Education is something that can never be taken from a person. This fledgling effort has been growing over the last four years. Their focus was to build a unique and compassionate bond for the families and children with an education that was Christ-centered and diverse in all ways.
Current students are about 50% black with the remainder split between white and Hispanic or ‘other.’ Approximately 70% receive tuition assistance. Small classes allow for individualized attention to both the education and needs of the students. Community is intentionally fostered between the students, families and staff. Before the pandemic, I volunteered in the office and was very impressed with the dedication of their staff. I am happy that Derry’s Mission Committee has been able to support the school.
Many of the groups that we support with mission funding provide hope to our community:
- Joshua House, a middle school tutoring program in Harrisburg
- Hope Within’s medical and dental services
- Christ Lutheran Church’s medical and dental clinics
- The Community Check-up center in Harrisburg’s Hall Manor neighborhood
- Stop the Violence in Steelton
Each is an important example of providing hope. Now a new school year is under way and children who are attending Logos Academy have a safe learning environment with a Christian focus. My fervent hope is that however the year evolves, students will have a solid basis on which to build their lives.
Hope is a lifeline, especially for Love in the Name of Christ of Greater Hershey clients. Derry Church has always been a strong supporter of Love INC through monetary donations, use of the Mission House and those serving as volunteers. Love INC is extremely grateful to have Derry’s investment in hope.
WHAT IS LOVE INC?
As a Christian organization through and through, Love INC does its best to demonstrate God’s love by being the hands and feet of Christ. It exists to mobilize and provide resources to our member churches that will transform lives and communities in the name of Christ. Love INC Greater Hershey is an affiliate of Love INC National and serves churches and anyone who lives or worships in the Hershey/ Hummelstown area.
WHAT DOES LOVE INC DO?
The Connection Center is the heartbeat of Love INC, taking calls from those in need and referrals from local churches. Volunteers take time to build trust with clients and get to know them in a caring, non-judgemental way. Many clients find hope from knowing that someone is listening to them and praying with them.
While all Love INC staff and volunteers are Christians, Love INC embraces diversity and helps anyone in the service area regardless of their religious beliefs. The Connection Center reminds me of the old TV show M*A*S*H, triaging those in need to provide the right help at the right time. Just recently Love INC provided a laptop for a college freshman from a low-income family who did not have the means to buy one, just days before school started.
THE PERSONAL CARE CLOSET MINISTRY cares for our community by providing Hershey and Hummelstown food bank clients the opportunity to receive items not available through food stamps — like toothpaste, laundry detergent, and diapers. Love INC volunteers are at the food banks to meet with clients, building relationships and providing support and encouragement: their goal is to surround clients with love.
THE PARSONAGE MINISTRY provides families with a place to stay when loved ones are inpatients at the Hershey Medical Center. Two former church parsonages are now serving people who must travel more than 50 miles to be with their loved ones but cannot afford a local hotel. People are referred to Love INC by the patient’s social worker at the Medical Center. The parsonage director not only runs day to day operations but also visits and comforts the parsonage guests and their loved ones. For people who might otherwise have no alternative than to sleep in their cars, the impact of having a safe, clean, caring place to stay is a true blessing.
THE HOMES OF HOPE MINISTRY provides temporary housing while clients work toward financial stability and obtain permanent housing. Participants are encouraged by supportive staff, a dedicated advocate, and a social worker. Participants must attend needed Love INC classes or programs to become self-sufficient, such as financial education, parenting classes, improving their skills in writing and speaking English, and counseling. Love INC volunteers (Allies) ensure participants’ success by helping with transportation to work, babysitting, homework help for kids, job coaching, improving diet and nutrition and more.
Homes of Hope provides a safety net and a plan to get out of poverty. A former participant expressed her sincere thanks for having a safe place to sleep at night for her and her daughter. She can now sleep without fear and has renewed energy and focus. She also received job promotions and has become self-sufficient. Her daughter went from getting passing grades to A’s and B’s.
On behalf of Love INC, thank you to Derry for your investment in hope. For more information call the office at 717.835.0101 or contact me directly.
Let me leave you with James 2:14-26:
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also, faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
In the summer of 2015 I had my first surgery. I didn’t need it, but I needed to do it. I had surgery to remove some of my bone marrow in order for it to be given to someone else. Who? I don’t know. All I knew is that he was 29 and dying. My bone marrow, out of millions of people, was his best hope of surviving.
I signed up to be a donor because I knew two people whose lives were saved because someone else decided they would take 15 minutes to get swabbed and register with Be the Match. My prayers for those two faithful friends were answered through someone else’s willingness to donate. I thought maybe I’d be the answer to someone else’s prayer for his or her mother, father, spouse or child. I didn’t really think I’d ever get matched with anyone, but I thought it was the right thing to do. It was an investment in hope; hope that maybe someone’s life could be saved.
I received the call that I was the best match for this young man and that they wanted to do the surgery soon because the situation was desperate. He wasn’t going to be able to survive much longer without a bone marrow transplant. They asked if I was still willing to donate. I thought about my daughter Verity. What if at some point in her life she needed some kind of transplant: bone marrow, stem cell or organ? I would want every single person in the world to register as a donor in the hopes that someone may be the match that could save her life. If I felt that way about my daughter, then I’m sure someone felt the same way about this 29-year-old young man. And I remembered the commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I quickly agreed to donate.
I went to Iowa City to make sure I was healthy enough to donate, and learned more about the operation and the recovery. The risks were low and the rewards were great. The average time to a full recovery is 20 days. Twenty days. Was I willing to trade 20 days of perhaps not 100% health so that someone could have hope; potentially have many more years of health?
I was sore for a few days and more tired than usual, but it was a great excuse to have that afternoon nap I’d been missing.
Why did I give? For all those reasons above, but mainly this: I gave because I could.
I had enough of what someone else desperately needs. It was not any great sacrifice to give some of what I had, but it meant the very life of someone else. It meant hope. I could give a little of what I had more than enough of to give hope to someone else and change their life. Honestly, it was a gift and a privilege to give and invest in hope.
This fall our sermon series and stewardship theme is INVEST IN HOPE. When you invest your lives and resources in Derry Presbyterian Church, you are making an investment in hope. When you financially give to Derry, you help Derry Church profess, practice, and share hope with the world. Our hope is eternal and it is too good to keep to ourselves. It is a gift and a privilege to give and invest in hope that can change and transform people’s lives.
When you INVEST IN HOPE you help us share our message of hope with the world through worship, education, mission, and fellowship. Your financial gifts to Derry transform lives and bring hope when people need it most, whether it’s the hope of love, friendship, a home, health care, a meal, or a friend. We bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ.
Derry has been professing and sharing hope for nearly 300 years and we can continue because of your continued financial support of all we do here. In a few days you’ll receive a letter with more information about our stewardship campaign, a provisional budget based on requests from committees, and an estimate of giving card. We worked hard to lower our annual budget because we realize the financial challenges facing our community and nation. We anticipate a reduction in income to the church in 2021, so we ask that you prayerfully consider your giving to Derry in the coming year so we can continue to be a beacon and foundation of hope for so many.
Thank you for all the ways you have and continue to INVEST IN HOPE through Derry. It is because of you that we can proclaim God’s word, share God’s love, and practice God’s justice. It is because of you that we bring hope. Thank you for investing in Derry and investing in the hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.