Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Reflections on Ash Wednesday

Reflections on Ash Wednesday
Market Square Church
Pastors Jim Brown and Kelly Wiant-Thralls

Leaving our sons at home to do their homework, my wife Kris and I had a date of sorts as we went to Ash Wednesday worship service together at our Market Square Church. I was seeking a Taize Service, and Market Square does it beautifully. Their musical group was particularly eclectic and excellent: a dulcimer, harp, piano, flute and trombone. It seemed to me, at first thought, to be a strange combination of instruments, but together they created a fabulous foundation for my prayers and the quiet chanting of the Taize music. Market Square Church, in my experience, does everything with careful planning and a precise eye for detail in their worship. This matches my personality very well, with my penchant for making lists, checking details, and worrying about plans.
What is it about Taize that is so soothing and so calm? Taize is particularly suited, in my mind, for evening worship, when a long work day is coming to an end, and a quiet tiredness fills me. Since I am not musical and do not much enjoy singing; I am usually a quiet listener to the rhythms and simple lyrics of the Taize songs. But their simplicity and the repetition are always significant and meaningful for me. In the massive space of Market Square’s sanctuary it was very easy for me to settle into myself, not affected by others around me, to be simply still in my soul.
Then a very discordant note rang in my heart. The pastors introduced and invited everyone to share in the imposition on ashes. I remembered as I sat quietly in the pew that I have never done that before. I know and I appreciate the theological symbolism of Ash Wednesday. The deep, penitential themes of Psalm 51 are important to me. But in all my years of serving as a pastor I never actually expressed the ritual of the imposition of ashes. Growing up in a Presbyterian Church, I remember that we had special Lenten services and programs every Wednesday through the season of Lent, including Ash Wednesday. But I am sure the little Presbyterian congregation where I was raised never expressed the imposition of ashes. I have in all the churches I served created and led services of worship on Ash Wednesday. Often these services were very meaningful and important to the congregation. But I structured my Ash Wednesday services as Services of Evening Prayer; returning to the many biblical texts that call us to repentance. But never have I expressed the ritual of the imposition of ashes. Sitting very quiet and still in the Market Square sanctuary I realized deep within myself that I did not want to begin. It was very important for me to worship on Ash Wednesday; the meaning and symbolism of the season of Lent is very meaningful to me; I fully understand and appreciate the symbolism of the ashes. But I did not want to share in the ritual. I sat quietly in prayer while the congregation slowly, reverently processed forward for their ashes.
I felt odd leaving the worship service that evening. I was, as far as I could tell, the only one unmarked by the ashes. Who am I to reject such a deep and meaningful ritual? I have pondered this since that evening. There are lots of different themes weaving together as I come up with an answer. Theologically, one of my responses has to do with the sacraments. I believe the sacraments are vitally important in the church, and neglected. With our reluctance to celebrate the Lord’s Supper every week we neglect its importance and power in the life of the church. So on Ash Wednesday it is theologically frustrating to me that we reach for an ancient ritual of the church in the imposition of the ashes but we do not express our most powerful, common and ordinary sacrament in the Lord’s Supper. Spiritually, I know how I felt that evening sitting through that Taize worship. I was comfortable and quiet in myself, moved into a time of personal confession and prayer. I simply did not feel like getting up and walking forward for the ashes. That simple change would have spoiled my sense of prayer. And emotionally I know that the great Presbyterian response was pounding in my brain; the response that we hear over and over in our churches; the response that in any other context will annoy me. But there I was sitting quietly in Ash Wednesday worship but rejecting the imposition of the ashes because that is not the way I have always done it.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. (Psalm 51: 1-6).

Monday, February 26, 2007


Mercersburg, officially known at the Presbyterian Church of the Upper West Conococheague.

Only a block south of the town square in Mercersburg you will find our Presbyterian Church. It is a classic, old, stone sanctuary with a heritage going back to the 1730s. The gorgeous sanctuary, with its exquisite oak woodwork, creates a holy place for worship. This is a family church, where everyone knows everyone and a deep sense of caring and friendship is always present when the congregation gathers. The numbers are small; less than 40 people gathered for worship this snowy, winter Sunday. Mercersburg is now a church in transition with a Pulpit Nominating Committee elected and beginning their work to call a new pastor. There is a stellar group of leaders who divide up the responsibilities of the session, the trustees, and the new PNC. I am motivated and encouraged by these strong, committed lay leaders who will persevere and continue the heritage of faithfulness which has been passed down to them. Heather Sigler and I were there for the first expression of our Committee on Ministry’s new Congregational Vision Day curriculum.
Our Committee on Ministry and our Strengthening Our Congregations Committee created together a special taskforce to look at the question of mission study curriculum and long range planning for congregations. The first step in our taskforce’s work was the creation of a new Congregational Vision Day curriculum which has the specific purpose of working with congregations to help them quickly gather the information and data necessary to write their Church Information Form. We are very grateful to the Presbytery of Washington for allowing us to adopt and adapt the one day, mission study curriculum they created and have used successfully. Our new Congregational Vision Day curriculum is a comprehensive, one day mission study process which will provide a wealth of data for a PNC to write the five narrative questions in the Church Information Form. This Vision Day is simply that: one day. With leadership provided by Heather and me, the congregation gathered at 9:00 a.m. this Sunday morning to begin the process. The morning session is spent working through several creative activities which together grasp the mission priorities of the congregation. We then moved into worship together. In Mercersburg, the 25 people who gathered for our Vision Day work made up most of the worshipping congregation. After worship, we moved immediately back into our Vision Day work around lunch. The session at Mercersburg had made arrangements for a marvelous catered lunch which helped get our afternoon session started. The Vision Day is scheduled to finish at 3:30 in the afternoon. Unfortunately, a snowstorm today forced us to cut our day short and finish after lunch. Despite our shortened day, I am gratified that a priority of being more actively committed in mission and outreach clearly emerged from the group’s conversation and will inform their Church Information Form.
I am very grateful to the Mercersburg congregation for their willingness to work with us as we continue to write, revise and polish our new Congregational Vision Day curriculum. The leaders at Mercersburg – session and PNC - were very helpful in both helping us prepare for our time together and evaluating and improving our process. With gratitude to the Mercersburg folks – who did it first – we now have a resource which will help Pulpit Nominating Committees quickly gather data and information to write their Church Information Form and begin their pastoral search. I believe this is an important step in our effort to support and encourage the ministry of our congregations.

Trinity Youth Conference

Trinity Youth Conference

Note: This essay was inspired by my visit to Trinity Youth Conference last summer.
Not far from the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Bedford exit, a driveway drops down a very steep hill, comes around a sharp turn and a beautiful, little valley opens up. It is an exquisitely beautiful spot in the hills of Pennsylvania surrounded all the way around by our steep, tree-covered Laurel Highland Mountains. This gorgeous valley is Camp Living Waters, owned by the United Church of Christ, and for many years the site of our Trinity Youth Conference. TYC, as its names implies, is one of the programs of our Synod of the Trinity from back in the days when our Synod was in the program business, an era that has since passed.

Jason Best, an energetic cheerleader and organizer for TYC, invited me to visit. This was convenient for me since I simply dropped in at the camp for a Thursday evening when I was running the Turnpike to Pittsburgh to be home. I arrived in time for dinner and was delighted to join a dining hall full of teenagers for their meal. Between being very involved in youth groups as a kid and always being a pastor with a focus on youth ministry, I have eaten my fair share of camp dinners, in camp dining halls, with teenagers. I love it. I love teenagers and love to be around them. I love their energy and creativity, their unlimited enthusiasm and bold, outlandish convictions. I love every flavor of guitar music. I love to talk with teenagers about politics and religion, the Bible and American culture. I like to argue with them by saying crazy things like, "I think tattoos are stupid and should be forbidden. That there is never a need for anyone to see anyone else’s underwear in public, and that all the boys should pull up their pants up and buy belts." Since I was with a group of strangers at TYC none of those topics came up. Actually, around our dinner table we talked about the Church, and several at table with me were very interested in my new job. I was impressed.

During dinner I remember pausing, sitting back in my chair, and just listening to the room for a moment. It felt different. It felt very different. I have been with large groups of teenagers many, many times. There is always loud, boisterous commotion, typically a threatened (seldom real) food fight, always a high energy of intimacy, fighting, teasing, complaining, love, disrespect and a generally disgraceful level of etiquette. Teenagers! Everyone knows what that means. I love it. But at dinner at TYC it was different. In fact, this was like a dining hall full of adults. The conversations were hushed and polite. Now I was really paying attention. There was a much, much higher level of politeness, courtesy, and maturity in this place. Many of them came and introduced themselves to me and welcomed me BEFORE I was introduced, and my esteemed position as Executive Presbyter explained. Wait a minute! These are not your ordinary teenagers. I filed the thought away, finished dinner and was invited to stay for their evening worship service.

And everything became very clear to me during worship. Worship at TYC that evening was deeply authentic, genuine and meaningful. I was very touched. These teenagers wanted to worship God. They were all gathered, and politely waiting, long before the sound system was prepared. Their singing was glorious. Everyone was seriously engaged with the sermon. The sermon was excellent, biblical, long, full, complete and sophisticated. The touches of creativity in worship with a shared prayer time and an innovative statement of faith were brilliant. As a personal conviction of my own understanding of ministry, I never hug teenagers. But when I turned during this worship service to shake hands and pass the peace of Christ, I was gently told, "We hug here." Indeed, the Passing of the Peace was an extended, very devout time of hugging. I think I was hugged thirty times!

I chatted with Charlie Best after worship. I told him I perceived a remarkable spirit and a very rich, spiritual maturity here. I asked how that happens. He said, "I’m not sure. But over the years of this Conference, some how, the expectations of what we do here together have risen very, very high. That seems to be the way everyone acts." Trinity Youth Conference is an extraordinary event which attracts some of the most extraordinary, gifted, devout, and intelligent teenagers I have ever seen all together in one place. Thanks be to God!

P.S. Because of the significant restructuring of the Synod of the Trinity, funding will no longer be available for programs like Trinity Youth Conference. Its funding is being gradually cut back and will be eliminated in time. For this program to continue, it will be necessary for congregations to establish and maintain it as part of their congregation’s youth ministry.


The Waynesboro Presbyterian Church sits with historic majesty on the main street of town. Visiting for the first time, I noticed its steeple several blocks before I arrived. I soon discovered a wonderfully welcoming back door entrance, along with ample parking, directly behind the church. Like many, healthy "downtown" churches today, the Waynesboro Church has done an excellent job of redoing their building. Often these old, main street churches were built to reflect a time when church people appreciated a stroll along main street and direct access to the sanctuary. The architecture was frequently directed toward the main street, the back bone of small town America. The church was often set apart from the main street by steep steps up to the sanctuary, very symbolic of rising up to worship. This symbolism is completely obsolete today, and churches often must rethink. Now with our automobile culture and the scattering of our homes away from main street, we always prefer parking lots to on-street parking. Main streets do not connect people together as they once did so the church must try to do it.

The Waynesboro Church is another brilliant expression of this massive culture change. Their new entry space, with the covered outdoor entrance off of their parking lots, and their bright, light, and spacious greeting area, "Jessen Hall," is fabulous. Without affecting their sanctuary, the congregation has effectively remodeled their church building to create a very inviting space. It is another example of intelligent architectural design which both makes an innovative theological statement and remains very true to the tradition of the church on main street. Of course, accessibility throughout the building is the symbolism we want today, reflecting our theology of hospitality. Congratulations Waynesboro on your successful remodeling and, of course, the good news that it is already paid for, and a full tithe of the Capital Campaign was directed to mission work!

I was delighted to lead worship with the Waynesboro congregation. Being a detail person, I greatly appreciated the care with which I was prepared for worship and particularly the care and reverence which went into the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. There was a wonderful, good spirit in the congregation. I perceive the congregation to be in a very good place to move into the future which God has prepared, after the long and successful service of Chuck Jessen.
In addition to their architectural innovation, the Waynesboro Church also has a deep and obvious commitment to extending the Gospel of Christ around the world through their generous mission commitment. Waynesboro is also on the front edge of our changed way of doing mission work, with our new emphasis on personal relationships and mutual support. We no longer simply throw money at projects. Now congregations across the church are creating ongoing, intentional, long-term, personal relationships with people doing ministry all around the globe. This personal commitment to mission is a very evident, high priority of the Waynesboro Church and reflects a transformation in the way our denomination is doing mission. Their mission bulletin board, the likes of which I have seen in many churches, includes a photograph of all their mission partners and concretely reflects our new theology of mission. Waynesboro Presbyterian Church, Thank you for your commitment to sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Port Royal and Mexico

Port Royal and Mexico Presbyterian Churches
Pastor Carol Davis

I was delighted to be part of the Presbytery’s Installation Commission created for the purpose of installing the Rev. Carol Davis as the pastor of the Port Royal and Mexico Churches. North on Route 322 along the Juniata River is now one of my favorite drives, and I know it well. Exit at Route 75; go west only a bit, cross one of those old, narrow, steel frame bridges across the Juniata and you arrive in Port Royal. The action of our Installation Commission was a unique and specialized expression of our church’s polity. Nothing Carol was doing and nothing about her service to these two yoked congregations in Juniata County is changing. Carol has been serving there for years. She has settled into a very effective and comfortable pastoral relationship. There is, I perceive, a wonderful sprit in these churches. The reason for the Installation Service was to celebrate the good news that Carol’s official status was changing from designated pastor to pastor. After our full process had worked itself out including recommendations of both sessions, the affirmative votes of both congregations and the concurrence of the Committee on Ministry, and by her request, Carol’s status was changed and she is now Installed as Pastor. Good news, great ministry, a caring and effective pastoral relationship, small but strong congregations: Thanks be God! Congratulations Carol! Congratulations Port Royal and Mexico Churches!
As we worked through our process for changing from designated pastor to pastor, I have come to an interesting insight. I believe the concept of the designated pastor reflects some real institutional flexibility and creativity by our Church. I know very well that anything typically associated with the requirements of our Book of Order is not usually used in the same sentence with words like ‘flexible’ and ‘creative’. But I am now convinced that this category of designated pastor reflects our deep, spiritual and intellectual desire to create a theology of professional ministry responsive to the needs of the Church today.

The concept of designated pastor is a new thing. The 196th General Assembly (1984) took action adding this category into the Book of Order, a constitutional action which was affirmed by a majority of the Presbyteries. There was a lot of work that went into this proposal including research and study papers by the Vocation Agency and the General Assembly Mission Board. The focus of this effort was to create a pastoral position which has a defined term. This new category of designated pastor created a very flexible and experimental pastoral relationship. With a term of only two to four years, it is possible to create a designated pastor relationship in situations where we may not be certain the relationship is viable. Initially the designated pastor relationship was presented as a tool to be used for redevelopment and transformation projects, i.e. experimental ministry. By definition the designated pastor is intended to be a risky and bold new expression of ministry.

The real kicker came in 1991. The Presbytery of New Jersey brought an overture recommending that a designated pastor "may not be called to be the next installed pastor or associate pastor of the church..." Importantly, this overture was defeated. Indeed, as we have done in Port Royal and Mexico, a designated pastor may become the next installed pastor. This sets the designated category in a very different place than our concept of interim pastor which is expressly forbidden from becoming the next installed pastor. We have created a new expression of the office of pastor. With that we have introduced into our theology and practice of ministry a concept we have never had before. The designated pastor is an installed position for a term of two to four years which may be considered as the next installed pastor. We affirmed the possibility of a gradual discernment of call. We may establish the pastoral relationship, but only for term, to allow ourselves time to test the call, and continue the discernment. We constitutionally affirmed the reality that discernment may be flawed.

Once it was decided that a designated pastor could be the next installed pastor there was a lot of work done to refine the actual procedure for doing so. In 1992 the General Assembly took action revising and combining overtures from the presbyteries of Wyoming, New Castle and Detroit in order to define the procedure by which a designated pastor may become the next installed pastor. This was a difficult piece of work since it was necessary to guard one of the true sanctities of Presbyterian polity: the open search process. Thus the very difficult and dense language we currently have in the Book of Order, 14.0501, was added.

And there we have it. A sparkling new office of pastor in our Presbyterian Church: the designated pastor. I propose we put this innovative concept to work in our Presbytery. We may use this office, with its defined term, to create positions in new church development. One of our congregations, with support from the new church development committee, may call a designated pastor on staff for the expressed purpose of creating new ministry. With its two to four year defined term, we will give that new pastor permission to go at it. At the end of the defined term we can evaluate the new ministry, and the future viability of planting a new church. If it thrives and is blessed the designated pastor may become the installed pastor of the new church. If it does not blossom, we can reevaluate. By the mysterious providence of God, maybe our Book of Order can be used to create flexible and innovative ministry in our midst. Thanks be to God.

Book of Order g-14.0501g is quoted here: "g. A designated pastor is a minister of the Word and Sacrament approved by the committee on ministry to be elected for a term of not less than two nor more than four years by the vote of the congregation. The relationship shall be established by the presbytery. Such a pastor shall be nominated by the congregation's pastor nominating committee only from among those designated by the committee on ministry of the presbytery. The congregation and the minister both must volunteer to be considered for a designated term relationship. Such a call may be established only with the prior concurrence of the committee on ministry of the presbytery. The terms of the call shall be approved by the presbytery. The minister shall be installed by the presbytery and shall be moderator of the session. The sections on calling and installing a pastor shall apply. (G-14.0502-.0507) If there has been an open search process conducted by the committee on ministry and after three years of the designated pastor relationship, upon the concurrence of the committee on ministry, the designated pastor , and the session, acting in place of the pastor nominating committee for the single purpose of calling the designated pastor as pastor, a congregational meeting may be held to call the designated pastor as pastor: The session, with the concurrence of the committee on ministry, may call a congregational meeting to elect a pastor nominating committee to conduct a full pastoral search or to prosecute the call to the designated pastor to become pastor. The action of the congregation shall be reported to the presbytery. If the congregational action is affirmative, the presbytery, after voting to approve the new pastoral relationship, shall install the designated pastor as pastor"


Mechanicsburg Presbyterian Church
Pastors Rick Sweeney, Myrtle McCall, DCE Kathy Wells.

I was delighted to be in worship with the Mechanicsburg Presbyterian Church on the Third Sunday of Advent. The chancel was filled with wrapped Christmas gifts for their generous ministry into their community: a wonderful expression of Christmas cheer and compassion. The hymns of the season and the excellent music program at Mechanicsburg were deeply meaningful to me. I realized again how the melodies of our great Advent hymns have penetrated into my soul. I grew up with this music, and the hymns of Advent move me.

But my reflections on the day went off in an academic direction sparked by Rick’s fine preaching on the text about John the Baptist. In an outstanding development of our story of John the Baptist, Rick made the point that we need to claim again the idea of our Christian faith as a movement, not an institution. There is freshness, energy, novelty and creativity in the Christian movement which gets stifled when all we do is institutionalized in the life of the church. What is the difference between Christianity as a movement, the model of John the Baptist and Jesus, and the institutionalization of the church into large congregations and bureaucracies?
Rick’s sermon on that question sent me scurrying back to my bookshelf to revisit one of the classics: Ernst Troeltsch, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches in two volumes with an Introduction by H. Richard Niebuhr, (University of Chicago Press, 1976) (First English edition 1931; First German edition 1911). I remembered that Troeltsch made exactly this distinction between "institution" and "movement". Of course, I remembered wrong. Troeltsch’s brilliant distinction which he uses to help interpret all of Christian history is between "church," "sect" and "mysticism". With special thanks to Rick’s good Advent preaching and in memory of John the Baptist who started the Christian movement, I bring to you here a summary of Ernst Troeltsch’s wonderful thesis (volume 2, page 993):

"From the very beginning there appeared the three main types of the sociological development of Christian thought: the Church, the sect, and mysticism.
The Church is an institution which has been endowed with grace and salvation as the result of the work of Redemption; it is able to receive the masses, and to adjust itself to the world, because, to a certain extent, it can afford to ignore the need for subjective treasures of grace and of redemption.

The sect is a voluntary society, composed of strict and definite Christian believers bound to each other by the fact that all have experienced ‘the new birth’. These ‘believers’ live apart from the world, are limited to small groups, emphasize the law instead of grace, and in varying degrees within their own circle set up the Christian order, based on love; all this is done in preparation for and expectation of the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Mysticism means that the world of ideas which had hardened into formal worship and doctrine is transformed into a purely personal and inward experience; this leads to the formation of groups on a purely personal basis, with no permanent form, which also tend to weaken the significance of forms of worship, doctrine, and the historical element.

From the beginning these three forms were foreshadowed, and all down the centuries to the present day, wherever religion is dominant, they still appear alongside of one another, while among themselves they are strangely and variously interwoven and interconnected. The churches alone have the power to stir the masses in any real and lasting way."

Possibly we need a bit of sect-like and mysticism-like quality in our churches.

McConnellsburg and Wells Valley

All in the family.

I had a Sabbath day experience that captured, in one day, all the blessing and all the challenge of my job.

Wells Valley Presbyterian Church:
I arrived very early at the Wells Valley Presbyterian Church in Wells Tannery. The ride up the road from route 30 is pristine Pennsylvania forest, the kind of place I love to spend time. Wells Tannery is a very isolated little collection of homes that encourages you to breath deep and slow down your soul. I found the church and was immediately impressed with its very good condition. Both in and out the church building shines with pride and dignity. Wells Valley is a family church whose primary and sometimes only purpose during the week is to offer a sacred place for friends to worship God together. I imagine that all 20 people in worship sit in the same pew every time they attend. I am sure they all know each other, and worship is very much a weekly family reunion. This kind of congregation and style of worship is the way I was raised. Worship in a family style church is always restful and peaceful for me. In what ways is God calling us to sustain and nurture small, strong churches? Rick Cepris’ temporary supply worship leadership is a wonderful gift, and a huge commitment of time and energy on his part.

McConnellsburg Presbyterian Church:
Quickly after leading worship in Wells Tannery, Rick drives back to McConnellsburg to lead worship there, where he is the Installed Pastor. McConnellsburg is a thriving, healthy, mid-sized congregation with a good mix of different aged members. There is a wonderful worshipful spirit in the congregation with a fine choir. This Sunday there was a bluegrass group doing some special music in worship. This is the first time I have ever heard a banjo in worship. It was wonderful! Rick does a very nice coordinating the different parts of worship, and preached on the importance of putting our faith into practice. It is not good enough to simply have a personal, private, interior faith which does not directly impact your daily behavior. How is God calling small-town churches like McConnellsburg to grow spiritually and numerically? How can the Presbytery nurture such growth? How can we support and encourage solo-pastors in small towns where, I know, the spiritual isolation can be a heavy burden?

Pine Street Presbyterian Church:
In the afternoon I attended the Installation service of Russell Sullivan at the Pine Street Church. With its classic, cathedral-style stone and wood work the sanctuary of Pine Street Church is a spiritual and architectural masterpiece. Simply being in that sacred place inspires my heart to soar with praise and prayer.

On the same Sunday I worshiped in these three Presbyterian Churches. The differences made my mind spin. They could not be more different, but we are all in the same Presbyterian family. These three congregations and three very different places of worship represent both the beauty and the challenge facing our Presbytery and the whole Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). What do the Wells Valley and McConnellsburg and Pine Street Churches have in common? One is a small family church where everyone knows your name. One is a small town, solo-pastor congregation which is on the edge between being a family-style, pastoral church and being a program church. One is a large, multi-staff, corporate congregation with an amazing diversity in membership and a commitment to serving the city. What concerns and objectives do these churches share? What can we do as a Presbytery to connect together these wildly different types of churches into one family? In these three very different communities - rural, small town, and city - what are the similar and different ways in which church people live out their faith? Worshiping in these three different churches on the same Sabbath day inspired me, once again, to lift up a prayer of thanksgiving for the sacred and beautiful tapestry that is our Presbyterian Church.

Lower Marsh Creek

Lower Marsh Creek
Pastor Dale Williams

I eat oatmeal most every morning. So I buy the big container of Quaker Oats. Everyday, usually very early in the morning, the goofy smirk of the Quaker Oats man smiles at me from his trademarked perch on the side of the Quaker Oats container. With his identifiable hat, and colonial hairstyle the Quaker Oats man is an image of a different era, probably the colonial era, when Quakers were common and influential in America.
By the strange working of my mind, the image of the Quaker Oats man reminded me of my recent visit to Lower Marsh Creek Church. Lower Marsh Creek has one of the oldest church buildings in the Presbytery, and indeed in the state of Pennsylvania. There is a plaque on the outside of the sanctuary which reads in part: “This site was part of the Manor of Maske warranted by John, Richard and Thomas Penn, proprietors of Pennsylvania, June 18, 1741.” (For a fascinating history lesson, Google on Manor of Maske and read about our Scots-Irish ancestors in Adams County.) John, Richard and Thomas were the three sons of William Penn. They took over as proprietors of Pennsylvania at their father’s death in 1718. Indeed, in 1691 William Penn was given 45,000 acres of wilderness by the King of England and a charter to create a colony in the new world. Penn’s colony, motivated by William Penn’s Quaker sensibilities, was intended to be a society that was godly, virtuous and exemplary for all. Now the plot thickens. I wonder what William Penn and his sons thought of all the Presbyterians, who rushed into their lands. The Presbyterians soon started preaching the crazy idea of becoming an independent nation. This, of course, was in direct opposition to the Penn’s good friend, the King of England. But that is another story. These images all blurred together in my mind: the Quaker Oats man, William Penn and Lower Marsh Creek. I love Pennsylvania history!
Lower Marsh Creek Church today, under the energetic leadership of Dale Williams, is the little church that could. It is a remarkably energetic place, which is committed to a path of growth and vitality. I met recently with a joint Session and Deacons meeting to consider some ways to get our hands around the growth that is coming up the road from Maryland very quickly. As a real estate person who was part of our meeting commented, out of her knowledge of the kind of housing developments which are being planned in the area, “There is a stream roller coming up the road. We are either going to drive it or we will be run over by it.” The leaders at Lower Marsh Creek are energized to be in the driving seat. Their small, historic sanctuary is filled beyond ordinary comfort levels for their regular worship service, so they added a second service. The second service has grown enormously since its introduction. The congregation has a beautiful multi-purpose building and classroom wing, which sits across the parking lot from the historic sanctuary. But it is maxed out as well. When they have congregational dinners and meetings there is not enough space for everyone to sit. The congregation has thrived in a relationship with Gettysburg Seminary. Kathyrn Yaroschuk, a Candidate of our Presbytery, is now on staff as their seminary student intern. They have also brought on a youth minister through the Coalition for Christian Outreach. As a smaller congregation, Lower Marsh Creek does very big things in mission work.
One of the great blessings, which surprised me, when I started my service as your Executive Presbyter is the number of churches in our Presbytery, like Lower Marsh Creek, who are boldly creating a vital future for themselves by the grace of God. The challenges of planning growth and managing growth are enormous. The challenge of putting resources out in front of growth and then trusting the Lord to bring the church up to the challenge is cutting-edge discipleship today. Energetic leadership is the key. A devoted faith in the power of Jesus Christ to do a new thing in our midst is required. And it is all happening in Lower Marsh Creek. I expect the Penn family would be proud. There is some godly, virtuous and exemplary living in their lands.

P.S. The Quaker Oats company has no connection to the Religious Society of Friends also known as the Quakers. The company chose its name because Quakers have a reputation for honesty in their dealings. The antiquated image used by Quaker Oats looks nothing like a modern Quaker as that form of dress has been abandoned by the religious movement for quite some time. Many members of the Religious Society of Friends do not approve of the name usage by the company as the company was not founded by Quakers and does not follow the same codes of behavior Quakers follow. They believe the company's use of their name is dishonest behavior and, at best, causes public confusion, even to the point that many people assume they are similar to the Amish in their customs and beliefs.

Highland United

Highland United Presbyterian Church
Pastor Ed Baugh

History can be dry and sterile. Often we need a deep, spiritual imagination to read between the lines in order to understand the blood, sweat and tears that are behind a simple statement of historical fact. For example, in our Bicentennial History of the Presbytery of Carlisle it is reported (Page 80):

“The New Bloomfield and the Newport Presbyterian Churches petitioned the Presbytery of Carlisle that they be merged at its meeting at Middletown on January 24, 1967 on the basis of the Articles of Merger approved by the two congregations at a meeting held on December 16, 1966. The Service of Merger was held at the United Presbyterian Church at Newport, PA on Sunday January 29, 1967. Assets of both congregations were held by the merged church.”

That seems like such a cut and dry, straightforward statement of historical fact. But between those lines is a story of remarkable vision and true congregation-based redevelopment and renewal. These two congregations did something that is very rare, very difficult and fraught with all kinds of danger. But they did it! And that story is only part of their journey of change and innovation. This amazing story continued in the early 1990s when the United Presbyterian Church of Newport and the First Presbyterian Church of Millerstown merged their congregations to form the current Highland United Presbyterian Church.
With that history in mind, I had the opportunity to spend a Sunday with the Highland United Church. Not only is Highland United the culmination of these successful mergers; they now have built a beautiful new Church building on a gorgeous (and windy) little, hilltop bluff in Newport.

Merging churches, creating healthy yoked relationships or even finding ways to cooperate in shared ministry are tremendously difficult tasks for our congregations today. There is enormous emotional power and cultural inertia invested in the life of our individual congregations. Changing that is profoundly difficult; only possible by the abiding work of God’s Holy Spirit. The financial questions of church mergers, and the lingering questions of property and ownership can be divisive and debilitating in their own right. The subtle issues of congregational culture are most difficult. How do two, distinct and separate congregations give birth together to a new future which is true to but moves beyond the history and heritage of both?

Highland had done it with remarkable success! In casual conversation on a number of occasions with Ed, and in hanging around their Sunday school and greeting time before and after worship, during my visit, I asked a number of Highland members about this history. There is common and universal agreement that the story of the mergers is now old history. There are no lingering divisions; no splits in the congregation today out of past allegiances; no on-going turf wars. For everyone I spoke with my question about the lingering influence of the mergers was a non-issue. There was simply nothing to talk about; the new congregation had moved on.
Theologically, it seems to me, because of our very high Reformed doctrine of sin, our congregations have a deep reluctance to celebrate themselves, to applaud themselves, and to simply give thanks. Of course, there is wisdom in this theology. We know fully and do not hide from the reality of how truly messed up our relationships often are. But there is also time to celebrate and give thanks for the great gifts which have been given to us.
I celebrate the Highland Church, what they stand for and what they have accomplished. For the leadership of those who have gone before who made it happen; and for the leaders today who are trying to live into that legacy of bold, innovative change. Indeed, that is really the point I came away with from my time at Highland Church. There is tremendous energy in the congregation. Ed leads an energized and Spirit-filled worship service which has the sanctuary very full. There is a wonderful tone of moving, growing, changing and creating which must be the legacy of their unique history.

And then there was this question that came back to me in a number of ways, and from a number of their Elders who expressed deep passion for their Church. I know that this is also the question that Ed is praying about as he leads their church. What are we going to do now? As I hemmed and hawed and stumbled around some inadequate responses to that question, my heart rejoiced. I thought to myself: these people are not stuck in their history at all. This is a forward-looking church with a forward-looking spirit. I do not have any magic formulas or answers to the important question, “What are we going to do now?” But I pray and pray that question will fill every one of our congregations. If we can begin living into that question then I believe truly the very best days of our Church are yet to come!


Greencastle Presbyterian Church
Pastor Anna Straight

Many of our churches, of course, have many gifted teenagers active and contributing in their life. Many of these teenagers regularly offer leadership in many different ways in our worship services. Also, many of our congregations often have "Moments of Mission" on any variety of topics, and at this time of year the topic is often stewardship. But my visit to the Greencastle Presbyterian Church was the first time I have ever witnessed a teenager doing a "Moment for Stewardship." When it was announced who was doing this Moment for Stewardship, a quiet hush settled over the congregation. Preachers know this quiet hush when everyone begins to pay a little more attention, everyone snaps out of their daydreaming, and focuses in. Actually, pastors often do not get this extra special attention since we are the ones who are supposed to do all the talking. But when someone special and different is introduced, everyone listens up.
So it was that the youth liaison to session did the moment for mission for stewardship. And it was brilliant! His moment was very organized, clear, personal and effective. So the Greencastle church gets huge points in my book for this little piece of creativity. First, to begin with they have a youth liaison to session. This is an excellent innovation that is too rare in our churches. It may be true that high school youth cannot serve a full, three year term on session and thus it may not be prudent to ordain them as elders. Although our churches should be open to this. But the idea of a youth liaison to session, not a full term, but as sort of a Youth Advisory Delegate is a great idea. Secondly, allowing the Youth the opportunity to reflect personally on money, finances and stewardship in the church from their perspective is very effective and a wonderful expression of worship in support of the church.

How does your church think and talk about stewardship? I admire Anna for doing in her sermon what we absolutely must do as Americans but, for a whole list of reasons, are afraid to do. We need a call to a more simple life. I applaud Anna for the courage and directness with which she called us to authentic stewardship. Thank you Anna for being bold, forthright and direct. She called us to take a serious look at our own lives and ask about needs and wants, and whether it is possible to downsize and simplify. She preached about the empty, dark void in each of us that can only be filled with God but which we so often try to fill with more stuff and things. Stewardship is a spiritual issue about our life convictions and lifestyle choices. Stewardship is about the God we choose to worship and serve or the gods to whom we sell our souls. Money is a god in America. How do we talk about that god in the light of the God we worship in Christ? These sermons will always be difficult and edgy. But they should not be avoided. How does your church think and talk about stewardship?

After worship, I had the wonderful opportunity to have lunch with a group of Greencastle’s Junior and Senior High Youth. We had a delightful conversation over lunch. Like my own sons, it always amazes me the sense of opportunity and choice that our church kids feel today. They have the whole world before them. I am convinced that our churches have done very effective ministry planting into the hearts and souls of many church kids this abiding sense of hope and future. All but one the seven kids at lunch with me were baptized as infants, and that one expectation was baptized at her Confirmation. These are kids, having grown up in the church, who have a balanced, healthy and very positive worldview and who walk into the future with a very genuine and close relationship with Jesus Christ. My wife, Kris, as a school social worker, works with a very different population of youth. Kris spends time with youth who are seldom in church, and often the police need to be included with her conversations. I spend time with church kids. Kris and I are convinced that one of the most important things kids need today is an active church life. What a difference it makes! Indeed, Greencastle Church is gifted with a wonderful, bright and committed group of young people. Care for your youth and include them in every way in your congregation. Greencastle is a wonderful example. Thanks be to God.


Gettysburg Presbyterian Church
Pastors Dan Hans, Lou Nyiri, Candace Veon-Nyiri, D.C.E. Phyllis Dowd

Gettysburg is one happening church. I was blessed by the opportunity to preach there on a Summer Sunday. The congregation, even in the dog days of August when all the pastors were away, bristled with energy and excitement. Now I know, first hand, why the congregation is exploring the creation of a third Sunday morning worship service. Even in August the 11:00 service was filled well beyond the comfort zone of most Presbyterians.
After my visit to Gettysburg, my reflections got all caught up in the aura of the American Presidency. Gettysburg is our church of the Presidents, with its connection with the Eisenhower family and, as many tourists to Gettysburg learn, its Lincoln pew. Visiting Gettysburg sent me thinking about a fascinating, historical detail I had discovered long ago but could not fully recollect. When I got home I was off on a search through my American history books, wikepedia and google. I found it; another gem of American history. . .
What do the Presbyterian Church, President Eisenhower and President Lincoln have in common? In 1863, when Abraham Lincoln was the President of the United States, he commonly walked the several blocks from the White House to worship at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. Although he never joined the church, he did rent a pew. After his assassination all things associated with Lincoln including the pew where he sat in the Gettysburg Church and the pew where he sat in the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church became something like national shrines. Given its proximity to the White House, the Lincoln pew in the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church has taken on a special significance with American Presidents. It has become an unofficial tradition that the President worships at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Chruch and sits in the Lincoln pew every year on the Sunday closest to Lincoln’s birthday, February 12.
Following the stellar career of Peter Marshal, in 1954, a Scotsman named George MacPherson Docherty was the pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. In preparation for Lincoln Sunday, when he knew President and Mrs. Eisenhower would be in attendance, he wrote a sermon reflecting on Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Rev. Docherty preached that the essence of the American way of life and spirit was the sense that the nation was, in Lincoln’s phrase, “under God.” His sermon was built on Lincoln’s famous phrase from the Gettysburg Address, “. . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom . . .” Docherty developed this idea into a discussion of the American Pledge of Allegiance. As a Scotsman he was very aware and deeply troubled that the American Pledge of Allegiance included no reference to God. President Eisenhower was paying attention.
The very next day Eisenhower started some political wheels to turn which was quickly expressed in the Oakman – Ferguson joint resolution to Congress adding the phrase, “under God” to the American Pledge of Allegiance. President Eisenhower, in a nice symbolic touch, signed the bill into law on Flag Day, June 14, 1954. Eisenhower’s reflection on that new legislation picked from Rev. Docherty’s sermon:
“These words ‘Under God” will remind Americans that despite our great physical strength we must remain humble. They will help us to keep constantly in our minds and hearts the spiritual and moral principles which alone give dignity to man, and upon which our way of life is founded.” May it be so today.

First Newville

First Presbyterian Church, Newville
Pastor Vern Gauthier

Since starting my position with the Presbytery of Carlisle, I have been astonished by the architectural genius that has gone into major renovation projects in some of our church buildings, and I have not been to all of our churches yet. Silver Spring, Waynesboro, Derry, Market Square, Falling Spring, Greencastle have all done brilliant and beautiful renovation projects. Now I also add First Newville to this list of Presbyterian architectural masterpieces. Their gorgeous, new entry and greeting area with its warm and welcoming windows, and prominent accessibility ramp inside is a wonderful addition and renovation. I am especially delighted that the congregation had the insight to keep those beautiful oak trees in the middle of the parking lot! (There is another image we may ponder. How many huge, box stores – Walmart, Home Depot, Target – cut down huge trees to make room for their parking lots, only to plant tiny, new saplings in proper, unobtrusive places when their construction is done. At these big stores the trees are made to fit around the parking places; at First Newville the parking places are made to fit around the trees. I think the church has a better idea!)
I was delighted to be with First Newville for a Sunday morning. I was impressed with the fact that the adult Sunday School class I was asked to lead was more than twice as large as any other congregation I have visited. There is a strong, noble heritage of Sunday School at First Newville.
My reflections from my morning with First Newville really took off from Vern’s sermon. I do not remember his title, but I would like to rename his excellent sermon as “Practice, Practice, Practice.” Vern used a baseball image as a guiding metaphor and lifted the importance of practicing our Christian faith. This message was ideal for the season of Lent with our tradition of spiritual disciplines. But in my mind his sermon touched on one of the great reformations happening in our Church today. We have renewed and reclaimed an emphasis on practicing our Christian faith. In so many ways there is a new emphasis on Christian practice. In worship we are practicing our faith more by greater attention to the sacraments, the increasing use of laypeople in worship leadership, and many creative expressions of worship like rededication of baptism and anointing with oil. We are practicing our faith more by a renewed commitment to active mission service, not simply giving money. Mission service projects locally and mission trips are now common Christian practices in our churches. Spiritually we have renewed the practice of our Christian faith with greater attention to Bible reading, personal devotional practices and very intentional ministries of prayer. Our Christian faith will blossom and grow when we put it into practice. Vital Christians today want to do it; not simply talk about it.
Vern’s sermon on practice, practice, practice brought to mind a great new book from the Alban Institute which I recommend to all our church leaders: Diana Butler Bass, The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church, (Alban, 2004). Bass pushes out a thesis that I have been working on from a number of different directions: I believe the best days of our old, mainline denominations are yet to come. Bass’ thesis is the same: “Thirty years removed from the initial studies of mainline ennui, the most precipitous drops seem now to be ending and these denominations may be entering, however tentatively, into a new period of their history. In some cases, numerical decreases have slowed or stopped, mainline church attendance appears to be rising, mainline theology is demonstrating new sophistication, and higher levels of commitment and giving are beginning to register among the laity. Quietly, without much attention from either an uninterested public or skeptical scholars, reports of emerging vitality are being heard across the old mainline” (page 10).
For Bass the key to this new mainline vitality is practicing the faith. These paragraphs capture her thesis:

“Christian practices are both individual and corporate. Christian practices embody belief, and, conversely, beliefs form practices. Christian practices are the constituent parts of a larger Christian way of life, as revealed, modeled and taught by Jesus Christ. Christian practices necessarily involve reflection, imagination, tension, attention, and intentionality. Practices imply practice, repetition, craft, habit and art. Christians engage these actions for their own sake – because they are good and worthy and beautiful- not because they are instruments to some other end (like increasing membership or marketing the congregation). Practices possess standards of maturity and excellence to which practioners can aspire.
Practices fall roughly into three definitional categories: moral, ascetical, and anthropological. Moral practices – activities like hospitality, healing, dying well, stewardship, doing justice, and caring- stress communal formation in virtue. Ascetical practices, including contemplation, silence, and union with God – things that may be achieved by a variety of means in the form of spiritual exercises – emphasize deep connection with God and personal Christian maturity. An anthropological approach to practice resists fixing such actions. Rather, Christian practices are just the things Christian people do – eating, meeting and greeting – as they negotiate their faith in relation to the larger culture; theological reflection arises within the ordinary workings of Christian lives. Whatever the difference between these approaches, they all integrate faith and life, define practices as social and historical, understand that practices are part of living tradition, and articulate a kind of theological wisdom embodied in the life of all God’s people.
When Christians understand that what they do comprises a way of life that is corporate, ancient and wise, the theological imagination opens up.” (pages 65,66)

May it be so in all our churches!

East Waterford

East Waterford Presbyterian Church

On a gorgeous Sunday morning all the farm fields and barns along Route 75 sparked my memory of the years we spend serving the First Presbyterian Church in Morris, Illinois, Blackhawk Presbytery. It was there in Grundy County, Illinois that I learned a lot about the American agricultural industry. An old time farmer in our church always joked, "I am not a farmer anymore; I work in the agricultural industry." Grundy County, Illinois is truly one of the most fertile places in the world. It is tabletop flat and the topsoil is black, black, black and many places three feet deep. Because of amazing scientific research with seeds productivity in those fields increases almost every year while the number of farmers is quickly decreasing. Grundy County, Illinois has the flatlands and miles of corn and soybean fields. Juanita County, Pennsylvania has the rolling hills and many dairy farms. The economic and cultural issues are the same.
Massive social transformations have changed everything in farm country. I learned from wise Presbyterians in Illinois that these changes are parallel to what is happening in our churches. The most difficult result of these changes both in farming and in our churches is that "the small guy is being forced out of business." The family farm is obsolete economically; it seems like the family-style congregation is going the same way.

I sat with the three students in the Junior High Sunday school class. We had a delightful conversation. These are bright and gifted young people with good family support and strong church connections. I found out from Derek that his family runs a dairy farm. He was tired because he had to help in the barn earlier since his older brother was away for the weekend. Derek’s family is rare these days. They live by farming and the kids in the family are helping with the work. Few farming families actively encourage their children to take up farming as a career. Kids today can go to college and most often will find jobs in a completely different sector and place. So what happens in towns like East Waterford, PA and Morris, IL? The children grow up and move out, and a whole generation is not sitting in those pews. The economic and social life of small town, family farm America has changed forever. In the Presbyterian Church where two thirds of our congregations are family-style, less than 200 members, and located in rural communities this change has been devastating. The decline in these churches has nothing to do with theological position, the policies of the General Assembly, or the style of the worship service. The churches are having the life blood sucked out of them by these massive social transformations.

There is a wonderful spirit and deep sense of prayer and reverence in the East Waterford congregation. I am very grateful for their warm welcome and appreciation for my visit. The deep sense of care and concern they have for one another and our world inspires me. Bob Rhoades is doing wonderful work as their Stated Supply while they search, discern and ponder the future. Despite it all churches like East Waterford are faithful, resilient and boldly innovative. But they face enormous, challenging realities. They all know that things do not look good for a congregation in their small town. With a visceral sense of concern their Pulpit Nominating Committee gathered with me between Sunday School and worship to simply ask, "What more can we do?" There has been very little response to their Church Information Form which is advertising their part-time position.

The East Waterford congregation provides a vital and necessary ministry in a community that has been wracked by social change. What is God doing there now and how do we enable and support the call of God on these strong, faithful Christians? How do we gather our similar congregations together for mutual support and ministry? Is God encouraging different patterns of ministry and service like our Commissioned Lay Pastor program? I was blessed by my visit to East Waterford and Bob’s thoughtful and engaging worship leadership and preaching. But I drove home with my head full of questions and not very many answers.


Derry Presbyterian Church
Pastors Dick Houtz, Marie Buffaloe, D.C.E. Debbie Hough, Youth Pastor Eli McCulloch

I am deeply moved by the story of America and the profound genius of this nation. I am inspired by American Presbyterian history. In this part of our nation, American history and Presbyterian history are the same thing.

In the parking lot of the Derry Church, I stood quietly for a long moment next to their old and sacred cemetery and next to their preserved Session house. These artifacts of history pull prayers right out of my heart. The Session house is carefully preserved under a full glass enclosure and stands now as it did in the first half of the 1700s. Pondering it, my mind raced: who were the people that built it, what kind of discussions and meetings did they have here, what were their issues, what were their joys and concerns, what did they see when they looked around more than 250 years ago from this same spot where I am now standing? What was the culture into which they brought the Gospel and planted a new church?

For the most part, that sacred history is left behind as you enter the Derry Church. This is an ultra-modern, thriving congregation that is so busy and so active and so energetic that my morning there made my head spin. The architecture of their new, modern facility is fabulous. They have a hospitality desk in the greeting area. As soon as I walked in the door I was greeted and welcomed. I was impressed instantly by the feeling of hospitality. Derry has built invitation, hospitality and belonging into the very culture of their congregation. Hospitality is in the air. It is an outstanding example of an inviting church.

For example:
The worship bulletin is a work of art. It clearly and precisely outlines the worship service. In my opinion, a person who never in his or her life participated in a Presbyterian worship service could walk into Derry and easily participate in worship. This hospitable presence is very difficult to achieve. Derry does it beautifully. (I know they have a communications/ public relations person on staff. I expect the bulletin had her touch on it.)

At the beginning of worship, Dick Houtz generously welcomed everyone, introduced himself and everyone leading worship by name. A very nice touch which I have never heard before.
Their friendship pads are custom made with cardboard covers that change every month. Thus the friendship pads included a schedule for all the activities and events in October and directions on how to get involved. This is a brilliant communication tool which I never saw before.
The educational reinforcement in the worship service was subtle and powerful. There was a memory verse in worship, Matthew 28: 19-21, printed in the bulletin and read in unison. This same memory verse was the foundation of Marie’s excellent children’s sermon and repeated again with the children. How many of our worship services include Bible memory verses? This was very effective.

Dick gave a three or four sentence introduction for the use of the Nicene Creed as an Affirmation of Faith, which was a concise and brilliant explanation of why we read this together. Everyone immediately understood the importance of the Affirmation of Faith. It was read in unison with gusto.

Dick’s preaching was outstanding. He was able to balance on the thin line between speaking to the biblically and theologically sophisticated people, of which I expect there are many in Derry, as well as being simple and clear enough to speak to a first time visitor. It was a positive, upbeat message, emphasizing theology, and our understanding of God as extravagantly generous. His sermon flowed naturally and smoothly into the Lord’s Supper.
Different from either the opening welcome or the sermon was an extended presentation of several church programs including an aggressive evangelism and outreach campaign, opportunities for mission trips, and peacemaking. Anyone attending worship was clearly presented with multiple ways to get involved and serve the Lord. This recruitment was an intentional expression of the worship service. There was a subtle and powerful message that just ‘coming to church’ is not good enough.

The flashes of novelty and freshness in worship were evident in many ways: a teenager reading scripture; lots of different kinds and styles of music including singing the classic, children’s song, "This Little Light of Mine" and a sign language choir. But pulling all those pieces of novelty together was the structure and flow of very traditional Presbyterian worship. In its totality, the worship service was carefully constructed and beautifully expressed.

One thing I found very interesting: The worship service was almost 90 minutes long including the Lord’s Supper. When I asked Dick about this he fluffed it off by saying, "Oh, I have been here so long that they quit fighting me about it." I think a better answer is that authentic, fresh and energized worship does not need a clock. And I am a clock watcher!

There are now and again, here and there congregations that by grace and mystery move into a growth mode that explodes with an energy and enthusiasm beyond all expectations. With a wonderful, competent staff, a marvelous building, some incredible leadership in the congregation, blessings and gifts all around, and most of all by the extravagant abundance of God’s grace Derry has entered that unique mode. It is a very special congregation. Thanks be to God!

Christ Church Camp Hill

Christ Presbyterian Church, Camp Hill
Pastor: Tim Roach, D.C.E. Bonnie Kilgore

What is the difference between a circle and a line? Which do you prefer: circles or lines? Circles and lines may be considered symbols or metaphors for very different ways of thinking.
In our culture, controlled as we are by science, almost all of our thinking is linear. Linear thinking is task- oriented. Linear thinking needs to accomplish, succeed, finish and complete. Linear thinking solves problems, makes decisions, and moves us forward from one place to another. Linear thinking is for scientists.
Circular thinking is very different. Circular thinking is reflective. Circular thinking is holistic and relational. Circular thinking does not solve problems but simply enjoys the moment. Circular thinking is conversational and pondering. Circular thinking is for dancers.
The sanctuary of Christ Presbyterian Church in Camp Hill is a circle. The communion table is circular, the pulpit is circular, and the pews are arranged in a circle, and the narthex outside the sanctuary is also a circular. I did not know that when I first arrived at Christ Church, and walking into the sanctuary immediately disoriented me. "Wow! This is different." I needed a moment to change my perspective on space and worship. After settling into the symbol of the circle, I realized that I really enjoyed this worship space. It is soothing and inviting in a circular kind of way.
I was first introduced to the theological difference between circles and lines when I visited the new chapel in our Presbyterian Center in Louisville. There the difference between circles and lines is blatant. Half of the chapel is all architecture done with straight lines. The other half of the chapel is all architecture done with curves. The combination and mixture of the two in the same space is brilliant. The space is comfortable and inviting but creates a kind of spiritual disorientation that moved me into prayer, the proper purpose of all worship space.
For almost all of Christian history, the Church created linear places of worship, often extremely linear with very long center aisles. But there was an American architectural novelty in the late 1960s and 1970s when many worship spaces were created in a circular style. Christ Church is a beautiful example of this unique architecture. Churches should be circular, in my opinion. But church architecture could never overcome our powerful cultural inclination toward linear thinking. Captured as we are by our culture, even the church is often stuck in linear thinking. Thus we are often afraid of the more relationship-building and prayer-inspiring circular reflection. So all linear Presbyterians should pause a moment, visit Christ Presbyterian Church, and ponder the circular words of the one seated on the throne, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end" (Revelation 21: 6).
Our Christ Presbyterian Church is a solid congregation that has settled into a competent and effective life together. It is devoutly Presbyterian. It is neither flashy nor audacious. But it has a good theological identity, an inviting spirit, a generous commitment to mission outside of themselves, and a spiritually enriching worship life. Christ Church also understands that in our world today being solid and effective is not the recipe for longevity that it was a generation ago. Boldly, with Tim’s good leadership, they are beginning to dream about, envision and plan for the transformation of their church into the new church that God is creating.
I was most impressed with Tim’s preaching. Tim did something with his sermon that I was typically afraid to do when I was preaching every week. This formula for preaching is often very fruitful, but requires a lot of hard preparation. Working with the lectionary, the text for the day was Matthew 22: 1-14. As one of the parables of Jesus this passage can go many, many different directions in preaching. What Tim did was highlight what seems to be the most inappropriate and difficult little detail of the parable and make that the key to the whole sermon. Verses 11-14 are the end of the parable:
But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, "Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe? And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.
It would be very easy to skip these last verses of the parable since they are strident and confrontational. But Tim made these verses the heart of his whole sermon. Indeed it is a message about the power of grace in our lives. When we are invited and blessed and called to the banquet as the chosen ones we have the opportunity to rise to the occasion and act like it. And so we should. This is the power of grace. Thanks be to God!

Camp Hill

Camp Hill Presbyterian Church
Pastor David Roquemore

Fifty years is a long time. The Camp Hill Presbyterian Church received a special commendation, the Sarah Hill Brown Award for Early Childhood Education, from Union Theological Seminary/ Presbyterian School of Christian Education for their commitment to children’s ministry and the fiftieth anniversary of their preschool/ children’s program. (That means, of course, that Camp Hill started their preschool/ children’s program before I was born!) This is a remarkable commitment to children’s ministry. Congratulations Camp Hill! and Kathy Kuhn the current Director of Christian Education.
Camp Hill Presbyterian Church is another very energetic church in our Presbytery. The word that came to mind for me after my morning with Camp Hill is “aggressive.” I mean “aggressive” in the very positive sense of forward-thinking, bold, and courageous.
For example, in our Sunday school class that morning I was asked directly what the presbytery was doing about new church development. Typically when this topic comes up in congregations, I find myself needing to slow down, be cautious, and try to bring people up speed on the importance of trying to create new ministry and new churches in today’s culture. When this topic came up at Camp Hill, the tone was very different. The people in my Sunday school class wanted to know why this effort seemed to be lagging slowly behind in our presbytery. It seemed to them that this whole effort in new church development needed more commitment and more energy. They needed no convincing at all about the essential requirement that we have to create new ministry today. They want us to do more and faster. Wow, that was refreshing and encouraging to me!
For example, during worship an Elder gave one of the most passionate, knowledgeable and, yes, I say again, aggressive calls to support the denomination’s special offering for One Great Hour of Sharing that I have ever heard. This was a strong, direct call to give that could only authentically come from an Elder. Few pastors would dare such an aggressive call for giving.
For example, a beautiful, young family also gave a moment for mission in worship that day. The whole family, husband, wife and two young boys, stood before the congregation and explained very, yes, I say again, aggressively, why they were committed to Camp Hill Presbyterian and why they have decided to double their pledge to the capital campaign. Wow! That was a powerful message that flies in the face of the perception that only the older generation is seriously committed to church life.
For example, my morning with the Camp Hill church was the first time in my life that I have heard a professional fundraiser preach. What kind of message is it that the pastors and session would give the pulpit to their fundraising consultant? I say again, aggressive. It seems that the folks at Camp Hill do not believe in the old myth that we are not supposed to talk about money in worship. Not only did this sermon talk about money, it named what I think is one of the most neglected theological issues in the church today. Simply and aggressively stated, the way we use our money is a theological statement that proclaims loud and clear what we believe about God. That is good preaching. That is a message we need to hear in our culture today. I admire the Camp Hill church for giving permission for that word to be preached in their pulpit.
What is the result of this aggressive tone? The very next Sunday, on Palm Sunday, the congregation gathered pledges in support of their, yes, I say again, aggressive capital campaign, which intends a beautiful and bold remodeling of their building. Their goal for their capital campaign was $1.5 million. On the first day that the campaign went into its public phase, the congregation oversubscribed the goal with pledges of $1.62 million. Currently, they have pledges in hand of $1,938,220. Congratulations Camp Hill! I appreciate and admire your tone!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Statement of Faith

Statement of Faith

Baptized as an infant and raised within the love and fellowship of the church, I believe that Jesus Christ has moved in my life as Lord and Savior all my days. Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ I have been blessed, forgiven, saved and redeemed. I believe that the chief end of my life is to serve Jesus Christ and enjoy God forever.

I believe that Jesus Christ is fully God, fully human. Jesus Christ is the incarnation of God. Our loving God is also known as Creator and Holy Spirit. In sovereign love, God created the world good. By the Holy Spirit God continues to move with power and grace in our world. Although it is never the desire of our loving God, all humanity and I have sinned, falling short of the glory that is God’s intention. I believe that God is working for the reconciliation of all creation. God’s work is expressed in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. On the cross of Jesus all sin is forgiven; evil and death are defeated. In the resurrection of Jesus the power of God is made known, bringing salvation and redemption to God’s people. In God’s time the day will come when all creation will proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God.

In everlasting love, the God of Abraham and Sarah chose a covenant people to bless all families of the earth. In everlasting love, the love and grace of God called the church into being to serve and obey Jesus Christ. Blessed by the presence of Christ, the church is called to gather and pray, worship and proclaim, work for a just and peaceful society and call all people to repentance and renewal in Christ. God has graced the church by setting apart pastors, elders, deacons, teachers, leaders and prophets, being present even in the midst of two or three gathered believers, and offering visible grace through the Sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. The one sufficient revelation of God is Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, to whom the Holy Spirit bears unique and authoritative witness through the Holy Scriptures, which are received and obeyed as the word of God written.

Inspired by conviction and faithfulness, the holy and apostolic church has flowed like a river of life through the centuries and around the world. I am in awe of the breadth and depth of the church. Differences in style and doctrine, language and culture, polity and procedure, moral commitment and social witness are all undergirded by the essential unity of the one church of Jesus Christ. I am called and privileged to serve within one of the many faithful traditions of the visible church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Through the gift of prayer I believe we have the opportunity to be constantly attentive to the presence of God. The people of Jesus Christ are called to pray constantly, worship earnestly with heart and mind, breakdown all dividing walls of hostility, fight the principalities and powers of the world, and wait for the Lord, crying out, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Amen!