From the Pastor’s Desk . . .


With St. Patrick’s Day fast approaching, the words of the Irish blessing come to mind:
May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine bright upon your face.
May the rain fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of his hand.
It is a pastoral blessing from a pastoral island nation. It takes its place along a host of blessings oft-repeated across the years. One of the earliest is the blessing in Numbers that the Lord directs Aaron and his sons to use in blessing the people:
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious to you.
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you,
and grant you peace.
Such blessings are perhaps a little lengthy to replace a “good-bye” or “see you later.” But their sentiments are worth repeating, perhaps in this simple phrase which builds off the Hebrew and Arabic words of parting:
“God’s peace be with you” or perhaps more succinctly just, “Peace!” Paul ends many of his letters with a simple blessing, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”
Drawing on Paul’s practice, I often close letters with “Grace and Peace” which seems an improvement on the more formal and somewhat stilted “Sincerely”.
Consider your own practices – at departures or in letters. When is the last time that you blessed someone with words of blessing – and meant it?

— March 13, 2023

Some years ago, when we first completed the front parking lot, there was a temporary walkway to connect the parking lot to the brick sidewalk at the church. A Covenant crew built it and finished it with green turf to prevent slips. I told Grif Bonham who was involved in the project that I was impressed that he had chosen the liturgically correct color for the season (green) and trusted that as the liturgical season changed, the color would too. To my surprise as we entered Lent, there appeared a purple ribbon, running the length of the walkway – courtesy of Grif!
With all else that goes on this time of year – anticipation of spring, March Madness, tax preparation, a time change, and more – the purple of Lent can go largely unnoticed. In her book The Color Purple Alice Walker suggests it ticks off God when we don’t notice the color purple in our midst. I suspect that it is especially true about the purple of Lent. Lent is not a season that God orders us to observe as some kind of additional commandment. For centuries the church simply has found it useful to take time through these 40 days to prepare our hearts, minds, and souls for Holy Week and the grim reality of Jesus’ crucifixion and the impossible joy of Jesus’ resurrection. It is a time to reflect on our lives as they really are – good, bad, and ugly – and commit to do better. It is a time to contemplate our response to the great sacrifice of love Jesus offered for us. It is a time to look inward to our own hearts, to look outward to the needs of our neighbors, and to look ahead to the Holy Week to come. In so doing, we hope to better appreciate the great sacrifice Jesus made for us and the great gift he offers us, rather than taking it all for granted.
To aid in your observance through these 40 days, we offer some resources for you. A Lenten devotional – Water & Spirit – is available to guide your reflections. Weekly TOW meals of soup and bread offer fellowship around a simple meal. Taizé worship services offer a time for prayer and reflection aided by beautiful music. Prayer stations in the chapel offer a place for personal thought and reflection around varied activities. Lent is a gift, not an obligation. Accept the gift, take time for some self-examination and prayer, and perhaps notice the color purple in your midst day to day throughout these 40 days.

— February 27, 2023

Three years ago at about this time we had little idea of the pandemic road that lay ahead of us. We had inklings about the virus as it began to migrate around the world, but we had no idea of how significantly it would impact our lives and life together. It has been a long and sometimes arduous journey, and while the journey is not yet complete, we are at least moving out from under the long shadow that COVID has cast. Along the way we have, as a church, taken steps to try to continue our worship and service while doing our best to safeguard ourselves and one another. We have been guided by a COVID task force that has advised the Session as they have considered policies for our worship, preschool, and use of facilities. Our thanks to that task force that has shared their wisdom, medical insights, and personal perspectives along the way: Rebecca Allison, Kent Diduch, Kathy Henderson, Melissa Hostetter, Thom Jennings, John Sayers, Kristen Siegel, and Mitzi White.
As COVID now moves from pandemic to endemic status, we will no longer require masking in church facilities when our area moves into the orange/red/high-risk zone of transmission for COVID. At a called meeting on February 5, the Session approved a recommendation from the COVID Task Force to change our policy as follows:
To safeguard one another, Session encourages all who are having symptoms of COVID, flu, etc. to mask or take other precautions to prevent transmission of the malady to other persons. Masking in all church facilities is optional for all persons, but is encouraged for persons who may have greater vulnerabilities to disease,
especially in times of viral surges. The church will communicate changes to the CDC status from the COVID
map as it is available, and in times of red/orange/high risk of transmission, encourages all folks to take appropriate precautions to mask or social distance to protect themselves and others.
The principal change is to make masking optional instead of mandatory throughout the church in times of orange/red/high-risk surges of the virus. We still encourage everyone to take precautions for their own protection and to prevent the spread of infection to neighbors, not only from COVID, but also from flu, RSV, and other nasty bugs that may arise from time to time. Our policies have served us well through the pandemic in preventing any super spreader events here at Covenant, and we appreciate the efforts of everyone to respect and care for one another. We hope that spirit of compassion and concern for one another will continue under this new policy as we seek together to be faithful to Christ’s call. If you have any questions on this policy change, please let me know.
Stay safe and be well!

— February 13, 2023


At its annual retreat on January 14, the Session adopted the following priorities for 2023:
¨ Develop and communicate a plan for Matthew 25 across the life of the church.
¨ Assess and enhance technology as a tool to expand participation, communication, and access in the life of the church.
¨ Call an Associate Pastor and develop and implement a plan for that person in the life of the church while continuing to support staff through the process.
¨ Allocate financial unbudgeted resources in order to enhance ministry and mission.
¨ Engage the Covenant community (in-person & virtual) in the life of the church in order to increase participation and enhance spiritual vitality.
That is not to say that this is all that we plan to do in the coming year. Worship, Christian Education, Fellowship
activities, our Preschool, and Outreach projects will continue. But these five priorities are intended to identify particular areas of focus for us as a Session and congregation as we live into our call as a Covenant community
serving God and our neighbors in 2023. In coming weeks we will look more deeply into each of these priorities, but for now a couple of comments and questions are in order with regard to each of them:
¨ In 2022 we became a Matthew 25 congregation, living into Jesus’ words that in serving others we serve him. How might we fulfill that mission in a more intentional way this year?
¨ While we have dipped our toes into technology enhancements this past year, there is much more work to be done. What technologies might prove most useful to enhance our ministry and mission?
¨ The APNC has begun its work, but the work does not stop when an associate pastor is called. How do we help the new pastor integrate into our Covenant life, and how do we care for all our staff in the meantime?
¨ Through your generosity throughout the pandemic, good stewardship by Session teams, and COVID grants to sustain personnel and our preschool, we now have undesignated monies available to enhance our ministry and mission outreach. How best should we allocate those funds?
¨ With folks returning to the life of the congregation from a pandemic hiatus and more folks now joining us regularly through livestream of worship, how do we draw closer to one another and find creative means to grow in faith together?
Perhaps you have more thoughts or suggestions for one or more of these
priorities. If so, please share them with Session members or with me as together we seek to continue to grow in faith and service in this coming year!
— January 30, 2023



Among the questions that Session wrestled with at its annual retreat on Saturday was this: How is church changing as we come out of the pandemic? Perhaps the question might have been better phrased “as a result of the pandemic” as our return to orange/red in the CDC COVID map this week reminds us that the virus is not done with us yet! In either case, what changes have we experienced in being church over the past three years?
On the positive side, our livestreaming of worship services has enabled more folks to join us week to week. On any given Sunday we have folks on vacation who join us from distant spots, friends who live in different states or at the other end of Virginia who worship with us weekly, members who are hospitalized or homebound as they recover from illness or surgery who worship with us from the hospital or home, visitors who join us virtually on Sunday morning or in the replay of the service during the week – some of whom later come to worship with us in person! COVID accelerated our move into the virtual world, helping us reach more people. Our use of Zoom has expanded participation in our Bible study as folks who could not otherwise be with us in person are able to join from places near and far. We also have seen increased giving online as more donors take advantage of the convenience online giving offers. In worship we no longer pass the plate each week as placing the plates at the doors of the church has worked well.
On the flip side, we continue to struggle to return to pre-COVID attendance levels in worship in person. Through the fall, attendance was roughly 2/3 of the numbers we had prior to COVID. Some of you may be those who have yet to return. For some it has been continued hesitancy about gathering in large groups; for others it has been getting out of the habit of coming each week; for others yet it is reluctance to give up worshiping in pajamas with
a cup of coffee at your side. We have noticed the same trend in many of our programs as participation has not yet returned to pre-COVID levels. Is this the new normal or will we see incremental increase in the coming months? Time will tell, but we hope that folks will return – not for the sake of numbers, but for the sense of community that is essential to our call as disciples of Christ. A new year offers a chance of a new beginning – and we hope many of you who have been slow to come back, will return soon! We miss you!
As a church Reformed and always being re-formed by the Spirit, we must be open to change, hard as that sometimes is. Some of that change is planned; other changes arise in response to changing circumstances. In all those changes are new possibilities for ministry and mission as we seek to be faithful to God’s call, for the children’s song gets it right: I am the church. You are the church. We are the church together!
— January 16, 2023
















The word just came in that a savior is born

In a stable at night in the cold before morn

And the one who delivered her child before day

Gently laid down the babe in the warmth of the hay

For the inn had no room; they had no place to stay.


But that is the way that the world tends to be

So concerned with the problems of me and of me

That the needs of a child who is born as a stranger

Are pushed to the side, to the edge of the manger

Where children are born to the poor and in danger.


That’s the way of the world – way back then and today

After two thousand years you would think that we’d say,

“That’s enough! All these children deserve so much more

We will care for them, love them, no matter how poor

And we’ll find a safe place for them, that is for sure!”


But we don’t! And so refugee kids are still born

In cold stables or worse in the night and the morn

And the Christ who to us came with hope in his birth

Shakes a head that is heavy and lacking in mirth

For the lessons not learned – of his birth for the earth.

~ John C. Peterson, January 12, 2016