In life and in death, we belong to God. To me it feels like a long winter of losing many church friends. Compounded by isolation and restrictions from the pandemic, it has been a sad and difficult challenge to say goodbye to church leaders and friends. It has been a long season of grieving things and people we lost. And on recent Sundays, our memorial white rose, which honors a loss, seems a constant reminder.
Even in death, we belong to God. This comforting line begins one of our newer confessions of faith. As we approach Holy Week with the promise of Easter around the corner, I am reminded of God’s constant care and promise of abundant life. I am comforted that no matter what, I belong to God.
Several years ago, one of our members was suddenly overwhelmed by an infection. After years of being an active presence at church, she was quickly unresponsive with little that could be done. It was hard to believe as I visited, prayed, and saw her slowly slip away. I was sad and discouraged for myself and all of us. One afternoon I needed a break and visited the Hershey Gardens and spent time in the butterfly room. I had been there before and delighted in the colorful creatures who landed on my sleeve and flickered around like dancing rainbows. But I didn’t stop to notice them. Instead I headed right to the cocoon display. There hanging silently in rows were small, brown, wrinkled sacks. looking completely lifeless. One at the end of the row began to twitch slightly. I watched and another began to crack and a little wet substance appeared. I was mesmerized. A new creation was underway.
This image gave me a new appreciation for what was taking place in the hospital room. This tired, worn body appeared lifeless to me, but something was taking place. Mysteriously, I knew that as this frail life ended; soon a new life, totally different, would be emerging.
No wonder the butterfly became an ancient symbol of the resurrection. A beautiful new life awaits each of us. Because in life and in death we belong to a Creator God who redeems each of us and breathes into us a new wondrous existence, there’s a resurrection around the corner for each of us.
At a recent funeral, in a cemetery atop a beautiful mountain view, I shared the words of a favorite hymn. Although it’s new to our hymnal, we’ve sung it often. Here are a few verses:
In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
in cocoons, a hidden promise, butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter, there’s a spring that waits to be,
unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
in our doubt, there is believing; in our life, eternity;
in our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
And so we wait, believe and trust.
Hymn of Promise by Natalie Sleeth, 1986, is #250 in our Glory to God Hymnal.
A Brief Statement of Faith was written in 1991 and is part of the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Its first line is a reminder of an older creed (The Heidelberg Catechism, 1563) that begins with the question: What is my only hope in life and in death? The answer: I am not my own, but belong — body and soul in life and in death —to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
I realize the organ project has been “in progress” for quite some time, and I thought I’d take this opportunity to provide you a detailed update on what’s been done, as well as the remaining steps before the organ is complete.
Due to the winter COVID surge, the organ builders were unable to travel from New Haven, Connecticut to work on the instrument between late November and mid February. They returned during the third week of February and made significant progress on the installation. All of the pipe chests (i.e. the “chassis” of the organ) are now in place, barring the special chests for the new sets of pipes which will be added for this particular installation.
There’s been a bit of a delay between late-February and now as they work on a very time-sensitive matter of removing a historic E.M. Skinner organ from a mansion on the Connecticut coast which is scheduled for near-immediate demolition as soon as the organ is removed.
The organ console is nearly complete at Organ Supply International (OSI), and I anticipate it arriving here at Derry sometime in early April.
Here are the remaining steps between now and the instrument’s first notes:
- Wind supply: the builders need to complete the installation of branched metal tubing from the single wind supply (a blower in the basement) to each and every pipe chest (this is ~65% complete).
- Pipes: Place all remaining pipes in their designated holes on the pipe chests (this is ~70% complete).
- Wiring: Connect wires from each pipe chest to a central processor so the signals from the console are sent to the desired pipe (this is only possible once all the previous steps are completed).
- Regulation & Tuning: Once the wiring is complete, the organ will be playable. However, adjustments may be required to achieve the optimal balance between ranks of pipes the original builders planned for the instrument. Nick Thompson-Allen (the primary organ builder of the firm) has already voiced each and every pipe in his shop, so only tweaks will be required.
Although I only had the chance to play the instrument once at its original home in New Haven, I knew it was a special instrument almost immediately. We are planning dedication services and a dedicatory recital for the organ, and I hope all of these will happen sometime during the summer.
Please don’t hesitate to email me with any questions about the instrument or the process. Being a proud “organ nerd,” I’m always happy to talk about the organ!
Editor’s Note: Sunday, March 21, is the 336th anniversary of Bach’s birth! Although the Prelude will be a Bach chorale from his “little organ book” or “Orgelbüchlein,” Grant will also present the entire French Suite in G Major on the piano as a “pre-prelude” to celebrate the occasion. If you’re attending in person, be sure to arrive by 10:15 am, and if you’re live streaming, the stream will launch at 10:15 am with the music beginning shortly thereafter.
This week, exactly one year ago, I was on a cruise ship. It was a chartered cruise designed for nerds and gamers of all varieties. The dining room held a board game lending library, there were tabletop role playing games scheduled throughout the week, the guest list included popular podcasters and science fiction authors, and instead of classes on towel folding or wine tasting, there were retro video game tournaments and Broadway sing-a-longs.
COVID-19 was real and it was in the back of all of our minds but it hadn’t become the menace we now know it to be in America (though, by the end of the cruise, that had certainly changed). Everyone had their temperature checked before we boarded the boat. Throughout the week at sea, crew members were at nearly every door with a bottle of hand sanitizer and passengers dutifully allowed them to pump some of the gel onto their hands each time we passed a station. A passenger who spends his daily life as a virologist held daily “office hours” in one of the ship’s common spaces to answer any questions that he could about the disease and how it spreads. We felt safe.
The cruise was cancelled this year. It would have been its 10th anniversary sailing. The boat would have set sail last Saturday with just over 2,100 nerds and geeks for what is essentially a comic-con at sea and, before its cancellation, I was scheduled to be on it.
As we mark one year of living with COVID-19 in the US, it’s hard not to look back at all of the things that we’ve lost: activities cancelled, holiday celebrations moved to Zoom, vacations postponed.
It’s my hope that you can also look back and see the things that you have found. Perhaps it’s time with family and a return to sharing dinner together each night. Maybe you brought a new furry – or scaly – friend into your home. COVID-19 forced me to slow down a bit and one of the things that I found was a new and healthier sense of self care. I discovered a new joy in cooking and, as an extension, in eating. I took delight in pampering myself with at home manicures each week. Spending so much time with myself, I found my way into a deeper and more meaningful life of mindfulness and prayer and I found my voice and the courage to speak out against the injustices I see in the world.
I mourn for the things that I lost, especially this week as I recall stories and events from the Dominican Republic and Half Moon Key, the ship full of nerds, and the excitement I felt as I signed up to sail again this year. But I am so very grateful for the things that I have found. As vaccines continue to be administered and life hopefully returns to a sense of normalcy, it is my sincere hope that not everything goes back to exactly the way it was. I want more than anything to hold onto the things that I found during this past year and to let them guide me into the future.
Editor’s Note: On the first Thursday of each month, the eNews feature article highlights the mission focus for that month. In March we’re lifting up the One Great Hour of Sharing offering.
The One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS) offering is an integral part of Derry’s and the Presbyterian Church USA’s (PCUSA) observance of the season of Lent. This year’s offering is being received through Easter Sunday, April 4.
Millions of people in the world lack access to sustainable food sources, clean water and sanitation, adequate housing, education, opportunity, and hope. The OGHS Offering is shared almost equally among three PCUSA programs: Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA); Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP); and Self-development of People (SDOP). Each program works in different ways to remedy these deficiencies in the United States and around the world and to provide people with safety, sustenance, and hope.
Because of COVID-19, many of the following programs have undergone modifications to use a virtual platform to provide support:
PRESBYTERIAN DISASTER ASSISTANCE (PDA) is well-known for its rapid response to natural and international disasters as it supplies funds to help initiate the recovery process. In recent years this has been readily apparent following hurricanes, the California wildfires, typhoons, and several earthquakes. This year efforts have been directed at building up local support in order to respond more rapidly to an emergency situation. PDA is also involved in programs supporting the refugee crisis in Syria, South Sudan, and the southern US border.
PRESBYTERIAN HUNGER PROGRAM (PHP) works to alleviate hunger and eliminate the root causes. Some of this is accomplished through providing animals, bees, and seeds, promoting better crop selection and agricultural methods, fair trade practices, and family gardens. They seek to supply better and more nutritional foods, secure loans for income-producing projects, tree planting, and establish wells and sanitation systems.
SELF-DEVELOPMENT OF PEOPLE (SDOP) works in partnership with people in economically poor areas in the United States and around the world. The aim is to invest in communities responding to their experiences of oppression, poverty and injustice, and helping them develop solutions to their particular problems in areas such as cooperatives and workers’ rights, farming, skills development, and immigration/refugee issues.
Your gifts to the OGHS Offering will be shared equally with the PCUSA and Bridges to Community (BTC), the non-profit organization which has coordinated Derry’s trips to Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic for the past 20 years. Similar to the efforts of PCUSA, BTC is building houses in areas struck by hurricanes and earthquakes. With the BTC model, new homeowners are encouraged to pay into the local community fund, which can then be used by the community at their discretion for selected improvement projects. In other areas, planting and maintaining fruit trees is part of the payback. This past year the northeast coast of Nicaragua was struck by three Category 4/5 hurricanes, causing roof loss and extensive crop damage. Derry’s continued support of BTC will be directed at home repairs and planting plantain as a cash-crop for next year. Unfortunately, last year and this year, we are unable to travel with BTC because of the pandemic.
Our Mission and Peace Committee has set a goal of $15,000 for this year’s OGHS. You may give online or by check made out to Derry Presbyterian Church and notated OGHS. Taken together, your contributions to the OGHS Offering will enable both PCUSA and BTC to assist many people with the opportunity to improve their quality of life. Thank you for your generous support!