Month: December 2020

REV. STEPHEN MCKINNEY-WHITAKER • PASTOR

I love to read the books of the prophets in the Old Testament because they are God’s messages for a hurting and broken world. They instruct us how to live and how to do better, but they also share words of hope, healing, comfort, and love. I need to hear one of those messages, especially this year, so I’ve turned to the prophet Isaiah. 

One of my favorite passages is Isaiah 40, “Comfort, Comfort Ye my people!” In this passage God instructs the prophet to get up to a high mountain, to lift up his voice and say to those who are suffering, rest assured, “Here is your God. God is right here and has been here all along. You are not alone.”

The prophet addresses suffering people. They feel like they’ve been wandering in the dark, abandoned by God, and forgotten by the world. These people who long to hear some good news are given a prophet who climbs a mountain and looks out over the mass of suffering people and says, “Here is your God.”

We are the prophets today. We are the ones called to “Go tell it on a mountain” and proclaim the presence of a loving, steadfast God.

Last Saturday, we premiered this year’s Christmas musical offering, “Tis the Season: Music and Memories.” One of the songs we featured was a favorite from last year’s concert, “The Dream Isaiah Saw.”

The dream refers to the prophet Isaiah’s vision of God’s creation restored to peace and harmony through the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:1-5). It is the panoramic view of the future Messianic Kingdom. The song comes from a poem by Thomas H. Troeger, “Lion and Oxen Will Sleep in the Hay.” The composer Glenn Rudolph began to set this poem to music toward the end of July  2001.  Nineteen days after September 11, he completed this choral work. It captures the contrast of the chaotic world we live in with Isaiah’s dream calling for us to “walk in the light of the Lord.”

Here is an excerpt of the poem:

Peace will pervade more than forest and field:
God will transfigure the violence concealed
deep in the heart and in systems of gain,
ripe for the judgement the Lord will ordain.

Little child whose bed is straw,
take new lodgings in my heart.
Bring the dream Isaiah saw:
justice purifying law.

Nature reordered to match God’s intent,
nations obeying the call to repent,
all of creation completely restored,
filled with the knowledge and love of the Lord.

This is why we proclaim the prophetic message of hope, healing, comfort, and love while these dark days surround us.

We live in what often seems like a dark, divided, and dangerous world – a world so counter to the words like hope, peace, joy and love.  And yet, out of faith, out of conviction, and out of courage, we defy this darkness and proclaim that love has come: a light in the darkness. We proclaim the dream Isaiah saw, the dream Christ promised, and the dream Christ will ultimately fulfill.

We proclaim this good news and we wait, just as our mothers and fathers waited. We wait in the dark, we watch for the light. Each year, as the days grow short and the nights dark, as the years turn and turn again and though it strains our collective memory to do so, we remember. We remember that God came to us and lived among us, a peasant born to a Palestinian virgin, an itinerant preacher hated by the religious and executed by the powerful. We remember, and we wait for his return. But we will not wait in silence because the world needs to hear the promise of the light, a son, and a savior. 

You who bring good news to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”  (Isaiah 40:9)

Grant Wareham • Director of Music Ministries

I am fairly certain that no one could have predicted almost anything that’s happened in the year 2020. This has probably been said more times than anyone would like, but I think it’s important to acknowledge our collective losses when trying to move forward. 

One of my favorite things to do in church music has always been to lead a congregation in the singing of hymns. I consider hymn playing to be the most important thing we as church musicians do, as it’s the only time we’re leading the entire congregation all together. Sadly, this is just not possible right now, and likely won’t be for at least several more months. 

Many of us have various signals or indicators that Christmas has arrived. The Advent and Christmas season is typically one of my busiest; so many extra services, events, and concerts to prepare for, and I actually enjoy this increased pace. However, for me, practicing and playing the well-known David Willcocks descant and reharmonization for “O Come, All Ye Faithful” is a sure sign that it’s once again Christmas. December 2020 has been one of the quietest Decembers I’ve had in a long time.

Although so much has changed, we are having a Christmas concert this year. Yes, it will be different from our usual lively celebration with a sanctuary packed with congregants and musicians. There won’t actually be anyone in the sanctuary when our 2020 concert premieres online, but we hope that the program that we have prepared will help you feel the Christmas spirit. 

We’ve put together some songs from years past, recorded some new offerings, and as a special treat, asked several choir members to share their own stories from Christmases past. 

I hope you’re able to watch at 7 pm Saturday, Dec 19 and remember what you enjoy most about the season. After all, the Christmas story is one of new beginnings and new life; it’s one of hope for salvation from a God who cared so much about us humans to become a helpless little baby to accomplish this. Even in the midst of a pandemic, reflecting on the magnitude of Jesus’ sacrifice remains awe inspiring.

Merry Christmas to each and every one of you! 

Rev. Marie Buffaloe • Parish Associate for Congregational Life & Care

It was late November, cold and brisk with snow on the mountains in the Laurel Highlands. Brad and I faintly heard the deep harmony of the 40 huge wind chimes as they blew in the stiff breeze. They call it the ‘tower of voices’ at the entrance of the Flight 93 memorial in rural western Pennsylvania. It greets those who arrive with wordless voices of inspiration from the 40 passengers and crew who selflessly gave their lives to save others on Sept. 11, 2001. On that morning we were unaware that we were already at war, until teams of terrorists hijacked and killed innocent people of all ages and destroyed more than iconic buildings. They tried to destroy our hope. 

As the hijack began on Flight 93, passengers called loved ones to say goodbye and then learned of the earlier attacks. That’s when these 40 strangers became a unified army of warriors. With unprecedented courage they fought back, sacrificing their lives in order to protect the lives of those they did not know. Instead of crashing into the White House as planned, this plane’s target was averted and saved. Tragically the plane was crashed into this empty field in Pennsylvania, killing everyone. This powerful, simple memorial is the hallowed resting place for these heroes. 

With all our current national discord and divisiveness, I yearn for the commitment seen on that airplane decades ago, that sets aside personal desires for one’s self and individual rights and instead chooses something far greater as a goal. Amid the many items left as memorials on this site, one note stood out to me. The letter simply said,
“I was near the White House that morning and I believe you saved my life. I promise not to waste it.”

What are you and I doing with the one precious life we have been given?

I hope we are not wasting it, after so many have and are working courageously in battles to protect us. My hope is that we can be unified to attack an enemy and not one another.

It made me think of others who became warriors, never expecting or volunteering to go to war. They find themselves selflessly fighting back and risking their own lives for our safety. This winter those warriors are our health care workers (family, neighbors, friends) who for the last nine months have been fighting the attacks of an unrelenting virus and courageously risking their lives to keep us safe.

Like those unsuspecting passengers, those nurses, doctors and health care workers did not sign up to work tirelessly in a pandemic that only seems to worsen. Thanks for these troops!  They are heroes to all of us. We already know that it will be a difficult Christmas season and we are reminded of the gift of the Savior who comes as a light in our darkened world.

In addition to sending Christmas cards and greetings to family & friends this year, I encourage you to send mail to these troops: the many health care workers, nursing home caregivers, and medical professions who are caring for us, protecting us from the threat of a raging virus. As well as a note, let’s make a commitment to assist them in this battle. By the ways I choose to live each day, I do my part to support these fearless troops.

Shari Bellish • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMUNITY CHECKUP CENTER

Editor’s Note: On the first Thursday of each month (or close to it), the eNews feature article highlights the mission focus for the month. In December we’re lifting up the Christmas Joy offering and the organization that will receive a portion of that offering: the Community Check-Up Center in Harrisburg. Donate here. You can always find the current month’s mission focus in the Joys & Concerns section of the weekly eNews. 

First I would like to say thank you so very much for your support and dedication to the Community Checkup Center (CCC).  In March the world in which we live in changed very drastically, and the way we functioned in it did as well. Also in March I began my tenure with CCC. I think they call this baptism by fire!

Shari Bellish, Executive Director, Community Check-Up Center

All joking aside, it has been a bundle of mixed experiences. Since I began here at CCC it has been challenging, educational, scary, and rewarding.

Here at Community Checkup Center we have remained open during the entire pandemic. Since the start of the COVID crisis and leading up to today, we’ve had at least one employee quarantined for the required two-week period. In other words we haven’t had a full compilation of staff working since the start of the pandemic. This means that even though we were open we were operating on limited coverage.

I am very proud of our staff, because even though we were stretched thin they continued to stay very dedicated to our clinic and the community we serve.  They were and are very hard working front line workers, who I’m proud to say are true heroes during this time in our country.

At the beginning of the “stay at home” order people were not coming to clinic. Some didn’t come because of fear of getting the virus, and some didn’t come because they didn’t know we were open and seeing patients.  Our patient visits drastically dropped by 50% in March, April and part of May.  In June patients very gradually started to increase. In July when businesses were beginning to open and there were plans for schools to open and sports to begin, we began to start to fill up our schedules again with vaccines and physicals.

The challenges that we have been facing are first and foremost keeping everyone safe from this horrific virus. The lack of PPE and cleaning/sanitizing supplies, have made keeping the clinic open a balancing act. Doing our part in preventing the spread and honoring social distancing, has caused us to have to reduce the number of patients we can have at the clinic at one time. Reducing patient visits also correlates to loss of revenue. With having to social distance and spread out the wait time in between appointments, we still are unable to get back to the patient visit numbers that we once had. Without the revenue it makes it extremely hard to continue to provide the services to the community that is being hit the hardest by this crisis.

Nevertheless, we’re still providing the services despite all those challenges, and it’s because of people like you who support us and continue to reach out to see how you can help. In order to keep providing services, monetary donations that are unrestricted help us to apply the funds where they are most needed in times of great need. Thank you for partnering with us to provide healthcare to those most in need.