From the Pastor's Desk . . .
In his book The Welcoming Congregation: Roots and Fruits of Christian Hospitality Henry Brinton, pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church, shares some thoughts on the practice of hospitality as it is lived out in the life of the church. In his view:
Hospitality may be the key factor in a faithfully growing church….The main difference between a congregation in decline and one with a future is the difference between practicing the faith for the exclusive benefit of “insiders” (the members of that congregation) or passionate concern for the “outsiders” (those who have yet to hear and to respond to the gospel).
He visited churches and pastors across the country and pastors of those churches to identify ways in which they intentionally practice hospitality to strangers. A welcoming facility, accessible worship, and a culture of hospitality within the congregation all seem to be important factors in making visitors and guests feel welcome.
That culture of hospitality is a way of being, not just some “tricks of the trade”. I remember worshiping at a large Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC that went out of its way to identify visitors by asking them to wear name tags and to stand in worship to be recognized; but following worship not one person spoke to us! They had the trappings of hospitality, but not the substance. Covenant is frequently described as “a warm and welcoming congregation”. That description might fairly describe “a culture of hospitality”. We all have a role in nurturing that culture by reaching out to neighbors down the street and neighbors in the pews to make them feel welcome. We practice hospitality through Outreach to our community, but we also do so each time we invite a new neighbor to worship or to participate in a Covenant activity. We do so through speaking not only to those we know on Sunday mornings, but also and especially to those who are unknown to us. We act as hosts in our building to help visitors and guests find their way around. We take time around coffee or lemonade to get to know those we don’t know and to get to know better those we know just a little. And the “we” in all of those acts of hospitality includes “you” – we need you to be welcoming if we are to be welcoming.
This summer I encourage you to take time to practice hospitality – invite a neighbor to worship, speak to those in the pew with you, following worship visit with someone you don’t know. For, in doing so we respond to Christ’s call to be a family of faith – brothers and sisters in Christ who not only proclaim love for our neighbors, but practice it!!
~ John C. Peterson, June 10, 2013
From the Associate Pastor's Blog . . .
As some of you may have heard via the Covenant grapevine I will be going on sabbatical this summer. From June 10 through August 18 I will be studying, writing, and enjoying a little bit of travel. Each pastor in our presbytery is granted a sabbatical (pending session approval) after six years into a call. Sabbatical leave is a planned time of intensive enhancement for ministry and mission and extension of the biblical concept of the Sabbath day and year. As we approach the eighth anniversary of our shared ministry together, schedules have aligned for me to take my sabbatical this summer.
During this summer I will be taking three Doctor of Ministry classes on-campus at Drew University. From July 15 through August 2 I will be in Madison, NJ living in a college dorm room while I take three classes in three weeks! One class, Theological Methods of Ministry will continue to enhance my own understanding of concepts we have been exploring as a church since our Long Range Plan development (adaptive vs technical changes, what does it mean to be a member, etc). I haven’t seen the syllabi for my other two classes – “Theology + Art” and “Minister in the Mirror” - but I’m quite excited about the possibilities there too.
I will also be preparing for the launch of my book Who’s Got Time: Spirituality for a Busy Generation. The book I co-authored with my dear friend Teri Peterson will be launched by Chalice Press on September 30 and this summer I will generate supporting resources and materials.
Along with all of this “doing” I also will partake of some genuine Sabbath. When I am not in New Jersey, I hope to read a book a week that has nothing to do with classes! I also hope to continue to cultivate my spiritual disciplines which – if I’m honest – often suffer during the busy seasons of the church.
I will miss seeing you all during the week and most certainly on Sundays. As hard as it will be to not worship or go on mission trips or work on the ministry of the church with you, I am thankful for this time away. I know it will be renewing and that I will come back from sabbatical an even stronger spiritual leader.
~ Amy Fetterman, May 27, 2013
From the Pastor's Desk . . .
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, their families and friends, and the rescue workers dealing with the aftermath of the tornado that devastated Moore, OK yesterday. The images of the tornado, the destruction it left in its wake, and the shattered lives of the residents there tell a story of immeasurable power, sadness, and grief. It is yet another in a seemingly constant stream of tragedies that have befallen people across this country (Newtown; West, TX; Boston) and around the world (Bangladesh, China, Iraq) in recent weeks and months. In the face of such tragedies, especially those that claim so many innocent lives, we struggle to answer the question of theodicy - Why do bad things happen to good people and why does God allow such bad things to happen? After more than three thousand years of struggling with those questions we still have no satisfactory answers that make sense of the suffering. To be sure, some suffering is of our own making - the consequence of poor choices made by humans who have free will. But that does not answer the question of innocent suffering which is random and unrelated to any choice but the choice to live and be in a particular place at a particular point in time. We cannot makes sense of those circumstances and that suffering. But we can offer what God offers us - the assurance of God's presence with us, God's strength sufficient for all things, God's love from which nothing can separate us, and hope for tomorrow in the promises of God. The psalmist says: "Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning." Even with the dawn of this new day the people of Oklahoma are in the night of weeping, but the hope we hold is that in Christ morning will yet dawn one day for those folks and with it will come joy. It is the promise of that morning that sustains us in the night, and by our prayers we seek to sustain the folks in Moore through their darkness until the morning dawns. May God embrace them in divine arms and grant them comfort, strength and peace for the challenges of this day and the days to come. And may God grant you that comfort, strength and peace as well - this day and all days. Amen
~ John C. Peterson, May 21, 2013
This Sunday we will celebrate Pentecost, that season of the church year when we recall the gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples in Jerusalem. The signs of the Spirit that first Pentecost were tongues of fire (hence we wear red), a rushing wind, and disciples suddenly emboldened to go out from behind closed doors into the streets with the good news of Jesus. What are the some of the signs of the Spirit alive in our midst today?
· The shower trailer project, a mission component of our Capital Campaign, is moving forward. The trailer has been ordered and soon work will begin to convert it to house four showers, two sinks, and a washer and dryer for use at disaster sites. In the meantime our builders have been busy repairing and re-constructing homes with Rebuilding Together. In August a group is heading to New Jersey to help with cleanup from Storm Sandy. The Spirit leads us to serve!
· Earlier this month six confirmands joined the church by profession of faith after offering their faith statements to the Session in unique and inspiring form. The Spirit leads us to make new disciples!
· The house church project we have begun in partnership with RISE is attracting 14-20 people in downtown Staunton each week for worship, fellowship and service. Many of these folks have a hunger for God, but have been alienated from the Church. Rather than waiting for them to come to us, we are reaching out to them with the Gospel where they are! The Spirit urges us to share the Gospel!
· 25 men gathered for the first Men’s Dinner last week, the women will meet for their Birthday Dinner this week, 70+ folks of all ages gathered for Family Fun Night two weeks ago, and our Nursery School children hosted a tea for their mothers. The Spirit binds us together in fellowship with one another!
In worship, in study, in fellowship and in service the Spirit is alive in our midst, urging us to try some new things and to go out into the world to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Pentecost reminds us that God enables us to do what we could not do alone, and that is great reason to celebrate!!
~ John C. Peterson, May 13, 2013
From the Associate Pastor's Blog . . .
This Sunday six eighth graders will be joining our church as adult members. They’ve gone through a four month confirmation journey that has asked them to think deeply about their faith. Now they are ready to claim their faith as their own and join the church.
Every year that I lead a class through confirmation I am amazed. Each class has its own character and concerns. Each class learns in different ways and teaches me something different. This year’s class spent a lot of time reflecting on the mysteries of the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ, reflecting and rejecting the explanations that have worked for me in the past!
I am so privileged to lead this class. Not only do I get to spend time with some of our fantastic youth, but I get to grow in my own faith. Spending time talking about questions of faith – who is God, why are we here, how exactly can Jesus be both God and human – is good for the mind and the soul. I get to revisit what I believe and each challenge to my explanations for my beliefs (and trust me, with teenagers, there are many!) helps me to grow stronger in faith.
I wish each and every one of you could have an experience like I have had. And while not everyone can teach a confirmation class I do believe every one of us can engage in such thoughtful discussion. We can all take time to intentionally reflect on and dialogue about our faith.
But where to start? Why not start where we start each confirmation journey? Set aside some time to make a list. A list of all your questions. Questions about God, questions about the Bible, questions about church. Invite your family or perhaps a friend or two to make their own lists. And then share. You don’t have to address every question you all have (we never get through the pages and pages in the four months of confirmation!). Let the Spirit move you and go where the conversation naturally flows. Don’t try to answer another’s questions rather listen and perhaps share your own perspective as just that – your own. Enjoy what happens when two or three are gathered and talk about God.
Confirmation is not about learning the “right” answers; it’s about discerning what you believe and where that fits in the history of our faith. No matter what our age or how long we’ve been members of the church or how certain and sure we are in what we believe, we can all benefit from spending time in thought, reflection, and community.
~ Amy Fetterman, April 29, 2013
From the Pastor's Desk . . .
When in our music God is glorified,
And adoration leaves no room for pride.
It is as though the whole creation cried: Alleluia!
The words of that hymn by Fred Pratt Green reflect something of the spirit of YuLee Larner. YuLee taught us that worship is not a part of worship; music is worship. In the words of anthems and hymns, in the tunes to which they are sung, and in the instrumental music that permeates our worship, we lift to God our thanksgiving, praise, and prayers. For 26 years YuLee led our worship from the choir loft and organ bench. She shaped our worship and the lives of many folks here at Covenant through her work with our choirs, her teaching in Bible Studies and Sunday School classes, her newsletter articles and her accompanying of our hymns. Friday afternoon we celebrated YuLee’s life and commended her to God’s eternal care with fitting worship in words and in music. All of it was worship!
As you sing the hymns each Sunday think about the words you are singing, the tunes that give expression to the words, and your voice added to the melody or (like mine) joyful noise with which we worship the God from whom all our blessings flow. For, there is a place for all of us in creation’s choir! In 1996 we commissioned a hymn in honor of Yulee and its last stanza is a fitting tribute to YuLee and an appropriate charge to each of us:
Each in our way, we creatures sing Our never-ending praise;
Birds warble carols on the wing, And choirs their anthems raise.
So may our lives be one great song, Resounding in this place,
Reflecting, echoing along The music of your grace.
In what way do you sing your never-ending praise?
~ John C. Peterson, April 15, 2013
One of the things that makes the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament so terrific is the triumph of the little guys over the big guys. This year Florida Gulf Coast University (who most people didn’t even know WAS a university) defeats the perennially powerful Georgetown Hoyas, and Lehigh (not to be confused with Lee High) knocks off #4 seed Kansas State, and so it continues year after year, surprise after surprise.
Perhaps we should not be surprised by such surprises, for our story of faith is a story of divine surprises and unlikely results across the ages. Little David defeats mighty Goliath. Gideon leads three hundred Israelites in the rout of a Midianite army numbered in the thousands. Seemingly barren Sarah gives birth to a son in her old age. The Red Sea parts to allow the escape of Hebrew slaves from Egypt, but comes crashing down when the Egyptian army tries to follow. Manna appears in the wilderness for hungry exiles searching for a home, and when they thirst, water pours from a rock. A young virgin peasant girl becomes pregnant with a child who is the Son of God, and wise men from the East are led by a star to his cradle. At the touch of Jesus a lame man walks, a blind man sees, a bleeding woman is healed, a dead child comes to life. At a word from Jesus five loaves and two fish feed five thousand, a man possessed by demons is dis-possessed, Lazarus comes out of the tomb. And most surprising of all, the crucified Christ rises from the dead to walk and talk with his disciples.
That story continues today. God continues to surprise us with coincidences that are God’s way of working anonymously, with healings we cannot explain, with inspired moments that touch and change lives in the 21st century. Keep your eyes and ears open; keep your heart open to what new things, surprising things, God may be doing in your midst. For, “with God, all things are possible!” Who knows what surprises God may have in store for you this year – or this day!
~ John C. Peterson, April 1, 2013
Around the time of the papal conclave there was much discussion about the significance of the name chosen by the new pope. In choosing Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio made a statement about identification with and focus upon ministry to the poor. That emphasis is consistent with his ministry across the years. In 2007 he told Latin American bishops: “The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers.” His namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, would surely have shouted, “AMEN!”
Too rarely do we think about social sins. We have a hard enough time focusing upon our personal sins! Social sins are those sins that are systemic, sins that we own corporately because we both benefit from them and are part of the culture that perpetuates them. They often seem beyond our reach and control. What can we do about persistent poverty or the culture of violence that pervades our society? What can we do about the polarization of society and the nasty name-calling that has replaced respectful discussion and disagreement? What can we do to make a difference in the social sins which we own by our own actions or inactions?
“Preach the Gospel always,” said St. Francis. “If necessary, use words.” We proclaim the gospel and work toward repentance for our social sins by acts of faithfulness day by day, one life at a time. We can’t change the whole system by ourselves, but we can make a difference where we are – in how we live and in the choices we make. We can speak up for justice in the face of injustice, but more importantly, we can act justly. We can speak against poverty, but more importantly we can reach out to the poor and live more modestly. We can preach the Gospel, but more powerfully we can live it, for the old adage is true: actions speak louder than words. What greater example do we have than the one we seek to follow, the one whose great act of faithfulness – the crucifixion and resurrection – are for us the gospel – the “good news” and the source of our hope this Lenten season and all the seasons of our lives!
~ John C. Peterson, March 18, 2013
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1
At Covenant December is apparently a time for giving – and thankfully so! As you may recall, we entered December with a deficit (year-to-date expenses exceeding income) of $35,048. Average monthly income per our budget was about $47,000 so it seemed likely that we would end the year in the red. But in December we received contributions of $95,670 – over two months’ gifts in one month! With our teams holding a firm line on expenses, we thus finished the year with a surplus (income exceeding expenses) of $12,142! It was a wonderful end to the year! For 2012 we received total gifts of $534,787 exceeding our 2011 gifts by almost $20,000! In addition we received gifts to our Capital Campaign Fund of $107,465 and an additional $11,372 for our Glorious Gifts alternative gift giving program. We are grateful for all those gifts as they support our ministries locally, nationally and internationally! What will we do with the 2012 surplus? Session has approved distributing it as follows:
$4832 will go to Outreach programs to fulfill our commitment to allocate 16% of our General Fund gifts to help others near and far. Of this sum, $3300 will be used through the Nancy Summers Fund to provide scholarships for families in our nursery school. This year we have a greater demand for such assistance than ever before! An additional $1500 will be used through our Minister’s Discretionary Fund to assist folks in need in our community with utility bills, rent assistance, food, and the like. This supplements our support of the work of SACRA. $32 will go to reimburse miscellaneous expenses incurred for Baja Mission projects.
$750 will be placed in a reserve fund to prepare for our next audit. Every five years or so we have a professional audit done to assure our good stewardship of the funds placed in the church’s care. Each year we put away a little for that purpose so that we will not have the full cost of the audit hit us all in one year. In 2013 the contribution to that reserve was cut from the final budget in order to bring it into balance. This contribution will restore that sum.
$3,000 will be used for purchase of new hymnals, if necessary. As you may know we are examining the new Presbyterian hymnal that is coming out this fall to determine whether it will be an improvement on the hymnal and hymn supplement we are currently using. While $3,000 will not cover the total cost, it will give us a head start should we decide to purchase them. If we do not need all those funds or decide not to purchase the hymnal, these monies will go back into the General Fund to be used for other purposes.
$2,000 will go into our Cyclical Repair Fund which is used to pay for significant expenses that arise for our building in the future. It is hard to believe that our “new addition” is now ten years old! Some of the heat pumps and equipment are nearing the end of their useful lives and will have to be replaced. In addition to this sum, the third phase of our Capital Campaign will contribute almost $19,000 to this Fund.
$1560 will be held in our General Fund as a reserve. As last year made clear we need reserves to tide us over those months when expenses exceed our giving. We still have to pay our bills! The Session has expressed a desire to have about two months’ worth of expenses on hand so that we have sufficient cash flow to meet our needs in months when giving lags. These funds will move us toward that goal.
God has blessed us all in many ways and has blessed us as a Covenant family! We are grateful for those blessings and for the opportunity to bless others through our ministries. To God be the glory!
~ John C. Peterson, March 4, 2013
In an interview this week about the decision of the pope to step away from his papal position, a priest on NPR recalled keen advice given by one of his seminary professors. The professor told him, “The good news is that there is a messiah. The better news is that it is not you.” His words are a helpful reminder not only for priests and popes, but for all who bear any messianic aspirations or guilt for not saving the world. We do not save the world; God does. Our role in God’s plan for salvation is not to be little messiahs, but faithful disciples. Our calling – whether as pope or parishioner – is to follow faithfully the messiah who came among us, and to offer ourselves as instruments of God’s saving work. It is a calling for young and old, male and female, lifelong Christian and inquiring seeker alike. There are no excuses, for God can use us one and all.
Lent is a time to pause and reassess not only our calling, but also our response. It is a time to turn away from those practices that make us less faithful and embrace those practices that make us more faithful. It is a time to acknowledge that in the mess which is our world there is one messiah who is Jesus. If you really don’t know Jesus even though you call yourself Christian, then perhaps it is time that you did. Lent may be that time. It is a time to admit with gratitude that we need no other messiah – not the pope, not a preacher, not a president, not us. We may follow with interest the selection of the next pope, for he will be the leader of the largest Christian church in the world. But as you do, if you do, remember that your calling is no less significant, no less vital in God’s plan of salvation than is the pope’s. God calls each of us with the promise – I will be with you! What then is God calling you to be, to do, as a disciple of Jesus Christ who is the only Messiah of God?
~ John C. Peterson, February 18, 2013
It hardly seems possible, but Lent is just around the corner. Before another of these newsletters arrives, we will have begun that season of prayerful reflection and penitence as part of our journey toward Easter. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, on February 13th this year. On that evening, as on all our Wednesday evenings through Lent, we will celebrate a simple meal of soup and bread together at TOW and then share Taizé worship (simple songs, Scripture, prayer and silence) in the Sanctuary.
While you may already be planning to give up something for Lent (chocolate brussel sprouts perhaps?) I encourage you to take on something this year – take on a time of worship and prayer with us on those Wednesday evenings. Giving up something for Lent is a sacrifice, and part of our sacrifice on those evenings (apart from giving up dessert at TOW) is the gift of time for us to speak to God and for God to speak to us. You may find that it is not only your gift to God, but God’s gift to you. So, join us in observing a Holy Lent this year!
~ John C. Peterson, February 4, 2013
From the Associate Pastor's Blog . . .
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
These words from Isaiah spoken by Jesus in the Gospel According to Luke have been firmly in my mind since the beginning of the year. They are part of the passage (Luke 4:14-21) that our youth have been studying as they plan for this Sunday’s worship service. At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus reads these words and tells the people that this scripture has been fulfilled in their hearing.
What does it mean for these things to have been fulfilled? Good news, pardon, recovery of sight, freedom from oppression – these are familiar enough terms. What about “the year of the Lord’s favor?” These words most likely refer to the ancient custom of jubilee. If your only reference to the word jubilee comes from Queen Elizabeth II ‘s recent Diamond Jubilee, you’re not the only one. We don’t often hear about the biblical jubilee yet at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus says it is upon us.
Leviticus (everyone’s favorite book of the Bible, I’m sure!) tells us about this year of the Lord’s favor which ought to be observed every 50 years. In this year all debts are forgiven, all slaves set free, all people returned to their family and land, and the land itself is given rest from the work of sowing and reaping.
How is this year realized in Jesus’ ministry? How is it realized today? These are the types of questions our youth have been meditating upon. As we near Sunday, I invite you to join them in this meditating. What do Isaiah’s word and Jesus’ fulfillment of the scripture mean for you?
~ Amy Fetterman, January 21, 2013
From the Pastor's Desk . . .
In his book The Jesus Way Eugene Peterson (no relation) reflects on being a follower of Jesus in our 21st century consumer-oriented culture. He writes:
We are the world's champion consumers, so why shouldn't we have state-of-the-art consumer churches? Given the conditions prevailing in our culture, this is the best and most effective way that has ever been devised for gathering large and prosperous congregations...There is only one thing wrong: this is not the way in which God brings us into conformity with the life of Jesus and sets us on the way of Jesus' salvation....The cultivation of consumer spirituality is the antithesis of a sacrificial, 'deny yourself' congregation. A consumer church is an antichrist church.
Those are bold words, but also true words. In our national debate about the fiscal cliff and soaring debt there has been no discussion of self-sacrifice and little discussion of sacrifice on anyone's part. If there is to be sacrifice, it is someone else who must make it. Jesus suggests that sacrifice is integral to our calling as disciples; we are called to be countercultural. We are to give rather than consume, to serve rather than be served, to make sacrifices for the good of God's kingdom. If you would be my disciple, says Jesus, then deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow me. Does that describe you as a disciple of Jesus? What sacrifices are you making to follow him? In this new year perhaps there is opportunity for a new resolution to be a more faithful disciple by willingly making a sacrifice for God. Our resolutions tend to be more about diet, exercise or books than faith; perhaps this year might be different! What might you give up or take on in order to be a more faithful disciple?
~ John C. Peterson, January 7, 2013