From the Pastor’s Desk . . .

In the Fall of each year, we begin looking toward the next year in our planning; it is our observance of that dreaded          S-season – stewardship. While stewardship may rightly conjure up images of pledge cards and memorable Moments for Mission about money (that is all the M-s I could muster), fundamentally stewardship is about our expressions of gratitude to God for our blessings and a commitment to share our gifts so that they may be used through the church for God’s good purposes. This stewardship season, our theme is from 1Thessalonians 2:12: “Lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into God’s own kingdom and glory.” None of us fully lives up to that standard – none of us is worthy of God – but our unworthiness should not be for lack of trying! As Jesus’ disciples we are called to put forth our best efforts to follow faithfully, and the example he set was giving all that he had – even his life! He calls us to love God with all that we are, and “all that we are” includes our time, talents, and finances. By that standard, how are you doing? Are you sharing your time and talents? There are a lot of needs and opportunities to do so, from rocking babies in our nursery, to raking leaves in the church yard, to helping with an Outreach project. Might you commit to share your time and talents here in at least one more way each month? For, the church needs you!
We cannot do all that we do without your sharing of financial resources too. Across the years Covenant folks have been generous in sharing those gifts to enable ministry and mission. Without them we could not have the wonderful staff that we have – Jeff, Chris, Lou, Kat, Martha, Cleo, Mitzi and her preschool staff, and soon Rachel; we could not maintain the beautiful building that is so vital to many of our ministries and worship; we could not support a preschool that ministers to young children in the community; we could not serve our neighbors whose needs far exceed what we have to share; in short, we could not be the church that Christ calls us to be! Last year our total giving was a little over $617,000, exceeding our budget; that $617,000 figure is our budget for this year and we are hopeful of meeting it. For 2024 we are projecting a budget of about $647,000 in order to meet increases in staffing costs, building maintenance, and outreach work. A host of Covenant saints before us laid a good foundation for us to build upon; they were good stewards of God’s gifts! May we be worthy of their legacy in the good stewardship of our gifts, and in so doing, be the church Christ calls us to be — a church worshiping with joy, growing in faith, and serving in love! — October 23, 2023
103-0. That was the vote last week to call Rachel Watson as our next Associate Pastor. Her family now begins the daunting task of packing up and relocating to Staunton this month in anticipation of her start with us on November 1.
We are excited to have Rachel coming on board and hope that you will keep Rachel and her family in your prayers as they make this transition!

In our conversations with Rachel and other candidates, one of the aspects of ministry here at Covenant that was of particular interest was our commitment to mission and outreach. I found the same to be true when I first arrived at Covenant 28 years ago. That commitment is expressed in a variety of forms which include:
  • Financial support of agencies through our annual budget ($82,000)
  • Partnerships in mission with Crystal and Raph, Tracey King-Ortega, Sharon Kandel, and the Bedele Church in Ethiopia
  • Participants and support for the annual mission trip to Baja, Mexico to build houses
  • Serving meals at Trinity Soup Kitchen each month (3 teams)
  • Working with Blue Ridge Area Food Bank to provide food boxes to neighbors in the Hispanic community each month
  • Collection drives for items for Shelburne Middle School, Middle River Jail, Valley Mission, and Verona Food Pantry
  • Providing meeting space for groups like Martha’s Meals on Wheels, the Augusta Bird Club, SACRA, a Narcotics Recovery Group, and the NAACP
  • Building and renovating homes with Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Augusta
  • Glorious Gifts, our alternative gift-giving program at Christmas, that annually provides over $10,000 to a variety of designated organizations
  • Special offerings that support the work of the wider church and particular ministries including One Great Hour of Sharing, Peacemaking, Sunnyside, youth-at-risk and young adult programs, and 4 Cents per meal to feed the hungry
  • Our preschool that provides scholarships to enable children in families with limited means to learn and grow in a loving, supportive environment
  • Support for an Afghani refugee family as they integrate into American life

This list is not exhaustive, and each year we identify new opportunities to serve. In mission outreach we support neighbors down the street, across the country, and around the world. Our commitment to being a Matthew 25 congregation will challenge us to explore new opportunities to address issues of systemic poverty and structural racism. And all our work together builds congregational vitality. It is a great legacy of which we are a part, and an important response to us as a Covenant family to Christ’s call to serve God by serving our neighbors. Well done, good and faithful servants! Keep up the good work! — October 9, 2023
I am excited to announce, with the permission of the APNC, that this coming Sunday, October 1, there will be a congregational meeting at 9:30 a.m. in the Great Hall to hear a report from the Associate Pastor Nominating Committee and to vote to call Rachel Watson as our Associate Pastor! While much more information will be forthcoming at the congregational meeting on Sunday, let me tell you a little bit about Rachel. Rachel is a native of Texas and comes to us
from University Presbyterian Church in Austin, TX where she served as an intern and then as a stated supply associate pastor following her graduation from Austin Seminary. Rachel was a teacher in the public schools for 17 years before entering seminary and has great experience with children and youth, but also has a passion for working with older adults. All of Rachel’s references – colleagues, seminary professors, and friends alike – have been glowing in their comments about Rachel’s gifts for ministry. Oft-repeated were descriptions of Rachel as “incredibly gifted, talented, compassionate, smart, and hard-working.” In our conversations with Rachel, the APNC appreciated her characterization of Christian Education as Christian Formation and found ourselves using that term along the way. Rachel, husband Douglas, and
their three daughters are excited about moving to Virginia and joining us in Staunton, and we are looking forward to welcoming them. If all goes well, Rachel would start with us November 1!

Rachel has already been examined and approved by presbytery, and the next step is for us as a congregation to vote on extending the call to her. The terms of call (including her compensation) have been approved by the presbytery and meet the budgeted figures established by Session. The only remaining step is the vote of the congregation, which is what
Sunday’s meeting is all about. We hope that you will join us n the Great Hall on Sunday morning to learn more about Rachel and to vote on the call to her. We have felt God’s hand at work throughout this process, and trust that God will be at work in and through us all in the meeting on Sunday. — September 25, 2023

We are a Matthew 25 congregation, an initiative in the PCUSA to be intentional in addressing issues of congregational vitality, structural racism, and systemic poverty. We made that decision as a Session over a year ago, yet we still struggle to interpret what that means for us in our lives and life together. Candidates for our associate pastor position have taken note of our commitment to Matthew 25 and have asked what that means for us. How might you answer that question?

As a Session we discuss one aspect of the Matthew 25 initiative each month, especially how those issues have impacted our church and community. Several years ago, we identified the impact of poverty on children as a societal need to be addressed across the life of the congregation. We read books and held forums with local agencies to better understand the issues. We began new programs with the Boys & Girls Club and other agencies to address some of those issues. We are still trying to address the impact of poverty on children, but Matthew 25 calls us to respond to the issues around SYSTEMIC poverty. We have taken strides in addressing issues of racism in our community, including a public reading of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, but Matthew 25 calls us to address issues of STRUCTURAL racism. In our long-range plan we identified challenges for us in growing in spiritual vitality, but Matthew 25 calls us to address CONGREGATIONAL vitality. These initiatives are big and can seem overwhelming. What can we do – as individuals, as one congregation – to make a difference in them?

Mother Teresa once was asked how she could keep on trying to make a difference in the slums of Calcutta when there was so much poverty and suffering around her. She responded: “Because it is important that I hold this one child now.” She kept on keeping on as Jesus did – one person at a time, one day at a time. That is what we are called to do in addressing these Matthew 25 initiatives and in being the church faithfully – serve one day at a time, one person at a time. Session has committed to invite one person to join in doing something – come to church, join a Sunday School class, help with an Outreach project, be in a dinner group – as a way of building congregational vitality. Might you try the same – to accept an invitation, to extend an invitation to a friend or acquaintance, or to try something new this month as a way of responding to Jesus’ call to us in Matthew 25? For it is in serving one another, including lots of others, that we serve the risen Christ! — September 11, 2023


In a recent article in The Atlantic, David Brooks addresses two questions which seem to be relevant to our lives and life together:
                                                                  Why have Americans become so sad?
                                                                 Why have Americans become so mean?
Those questions arise from a host of incidents and statistics that suggest that something has changed in our culture, making us less happy and more cantankerous than previous generations. While there are a variety of explanations and contributing factors, Brooks suggests that a core part of the problem is: “We live in a society that’s terrible at moral formation.” Moral formation, in his view, has three elements:
  • Helping people learn to restrain their selfishness.
  • Teaching basic social and ethical skills.
  • Helping people find a purpose in life.
Those elements seem to echo the substance of much of Jesus’ teaching and example. So might our Christian faith offer a remedy to this plague of sadness and mean-spiritedness? Jesus repeatedly warns against greed and self-serving actions while encouraging disciples to love and serve one another. By his example, Jesus demonstrated skills in welcoming
those at the margins of society, forgiving even those who crucified him, and loving all his neighbors. His ethics are grounded in love for God and for one another, the basis for all our ethical decisions. And he affirms that God has a purpose for us, a purpose for which we were created in the image of God. To paraphrase the Westminster Catechism:
our chief purpose as human beings is to glorify God and enjoy God forever. To do that, we follow the example and
teaching of the one who came to save us! Our Christian faith offers specific guidance in moral formation for us, our children, and our children’s children. If we are failing in moral formation, perhaps it is because we are not living into our faith. We are not practicing what we preach and teach. And perhaps we are not doing a good job of teaching those morals to our children and grandchildren. As Christians we should be more hopeful, cheerful, and kind, for we embrace the good news of a gospel that is truly good news for us and for all people – a gospel of hope, love, and peace. We should be the
exception to those larger societal trends; we should be the agents working for change to be a more faithful community, nation, and world. That is what Jesus calls us to do and who Jesus calls us to be. Moral formation is not primarily the job of school teachers or Sunday School teachers; it is the job of parents and family and friends. It begins with each of us – with our teaching and our example! How then are you doing in practicing and teaching good morals and
saving grace? For the world and our children are watching and learning from us! — August 28, 2023
Some years ago, there was a popular book by Robert Fulgham entitled All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten that had some amusing stories about lessons learned early in life that had lifelong applications. There are some folks who seem to think that the book’s title could be well adapted to their lives of faith – All I Really Need to Know about God I Learned in My Kindergarten Sunday School Class. For others the title might be extended to: All I Really Need  to Know about God I Learned in Confirmation. The assumption is that there is no need for further reading of the Bible or attendance at Sunday School classes or participation in Bible studies as teens or adults because all that needs to be known is already known by that time. Perhaps the earliest lesson we learn is: God is love! That is a fundamental tenet of our faith, but there is much more to be learned and discerned and applied in our lives across our lifetimes. The reality is that faith grows and changes over time. New discoveries, life experience, and changing circumstances may dispel old assumptions about God and reveal fresh insights into who God is and what our role is in God’s plan. To paraphrase Fyodor Dostoevsky: “Faith is forged in the crucible of doubt.” Doubts are not enough, but in wrestling with the doubts and the questions and the discoveries, you may find faith growing stronger and being reshaped into something useful and purposeful day to day. Newly elected elders here at Covenant who have served in prior years often indicate that in writing their statement of faith
for presentation to Session, they find that the statement they presented previously no longer accurately reflects the faith they now hold. Their faith has grown! Is your faith growing or are you holding on to that kindergarten faith, afraid to challenge
it or wrestle with the questions that arise? Does your faith matter to you, and if so, what, if anything, are you doing to nurture your faith in this post-pandemic world? As schools begin and Sunday School prepares to gear up for the fall, it is an apt time to recommit to nurturing your faith through worship or study or reading or prayer or all of the above, to recommit to being a
lifelong learner about the God who created you and sustains you and saves you and calls you to be a disciple! Or do you already know it all? — August 14, 2023

There are few more beautiful and famous paintings than the work done by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. The paintings tell the story of humankind, from creation through the Fall to salvation; the image of one long finger of God reaching out to Adam at creation portrays in vivid color a God who is both powerful and personal! Our sanctuary ceiling here at Covenant is a little less ornate, but then Michelangelo was unavailable to do the work! We are, nevertheless, blessed with a beautiful space to worship, marked by simplicity and clean lines. From time to time, that sacred space needs
spruced up as the color fades and paint peels. This is one of those times.

In August the sanctuary ceiling and walls will be cleaned, repaired, and painted. All the pews will be removed and stored in the Breezeway and Narthex so that a lift can be brought in to reach the high spots and far corners. At the same time, the organ pipes will be removed and reinstalled for some repairs to the organ. While all that work is being done, we will worship in the Great Hall. Sunday, August 6 will be our last Sunday in the sanctuary for a few weeks until the work is complete, and we will appreciate your help in removing the hymnals and Bibles from the pews after the 10:00 service that day. Some of you may recall we worshiped in the Great Hall for a couple of months in the winter a few years back when repairs were being made to the boiler.

Our Happy Half Hour time between services will move to the back of the Great Hall, and fear not: the coffee will keep flowing! Since we will be in that less formal space out of the summer heat, I invite you to dress more casually than usual – I don’t plan to wear a robe or tie – and to bring your coffee, lemonade, or water bottle with you to your seat. There will be tables set up for kids to color or draw during the service, trusting that some of them are paying closer attention while their hands are at work. That Great Hall space will be holy space for us during that time, made holy not by new paintings on the ceiling tiles above, but by God’s presence with us as we worship the One who says, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my
name, I am there among you.” Please join us!!  — July 31, 2023

This week Laura Lawson and I are at the Montreat Youth Conference in NC with six of our youth. The conference offers opportunities for worship, small group activities, reflection, and fun with hundreds of youth from around the country. It is an inclusive, welcoming environment in which all those attending – youth and adults alike – are encouraged to explore their faith, raise questions, and wrestle with challenges to faith and faithfulness. Such conferences plant seeds of faith, but the growth happens as the youth return home. We all bear responsibility for nurturing faith and modeling faithfulness for our young people – at home, at church, at school, and in the community. That work is not delegated to conference leaders, Sunday School teachers, or youth leaders. It is a shared responsibility that begins with parents but includes all of us, as we fulfill the promises we make at the time of a child’s baptism.

What then are you doing to nurture faith and model faithfulness for our children and youth? Do you make them feel welcome on Sunday mornings? Are you volunteering as a helper to rock babies in the nursery or to be part of a team teaching a Sunday School class or to help with the youth group? Do you speak to children and youth when you see them in the community? Do you take time to get to know them and to let them get to know you? Do you show them by your actions what a faithful Christian looks like?

In his book Incarnational Ministry, Samuel Wells contends: “Parenthood…isn’t simply biological procreation but a moral status and a vocational role – and for that latter role presence is clearly required…[I]t takes a church to raise a child.” It takes a church that is present with a child and for a child and alongside a child day after day, week after week, year after year. That is our shared responsibility, but also our shared joy. We are blessed with some wonderful kids here at Covenant! Take some time to get to know them, to talk with them, to welcome them, for you may be a blessing to them, and you may find that you in turn are blessed by them! — July 17, 2023
Last month at the conclusion of Donna Esther’s Memorial Service we interred her ashes in the Memorial Garden; there are now 22 members of our Covenant family whose ashes are interred in that sacred space. Their names are listed on the outside of the curved wall just outside the Breezeway beside Jesus’ words: I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE. It is in the confident hope we hold in his resurrection promises that we lay to rest the remains of those dear members of our Covenant family. The blooms, growing plants, and water bubbling from the rock in the garden remind us of the promise of life in the face of death. The Memorial Garden is a place to remember those friends, but also a place to sit and rest awhile or to gather for fellowship. It is a place for the living among the memories of those saints who have gone before us.

We created the garden when several Covenant folks asked if we would consider it as an option for them in their end-of-life planning; they thought a garden at the church, which had been an important part of their lives, would be the most fitting final resting place for their ashes. We specifically chose a garden in which ashes are scattered and then covered with dirt and mulch, rather than a columbarium in which ashes in an urn are buried, in order to be more environmentally conscious and in affirmation of those words spoken in the committal service: “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” From the dust of the earth we were created; to the dust of the earth we return.

This summer on nice days, we will share fellowship and refreshments in the Memorial Garden during the Happy Half Hour between services. Take a moment to look at the names on that wall and remember the lives well-lived and well-shared, the saints who have gone before us. Or take a quiet moment at another time to sit and rest awhile – to read a book or just
meditate in the silence (apart from the street traffic). And in your own end-of-life planning, which we all should do now not later, consider whether the Memorial Garden might fit your needs for that day when we return the remains of our bodies to the earth and affirm our own place in God’s heavenly home. — July 3, 2023
One of our foci as a Matthew 25 congregation is building congregational vitality. Our hope might be that all congregations are vital, but sadly we know that is not the case. In a recent newsletter our presbytery reported that of 97 churches in the presbytery, 74 have less than 100 members. Membership alone is not a measure of vitality, but declining numbers do reflect challenges for many of those churches to remain vital. The Presbyterian Mission Agency has suggested seven marks of congregational vitality, and membership numbers are not among them. They are:
  • A commitment to forming disciples over every member’s lifetime
  • Embracing the call to evangelism
  • An outward focus
  • Discovering one’s gifts
  • Spirit-inspired worship
  • Caring relationships modeled on God’s love
  • Congregations with healthy systems

These will be areas for us to explore as a Covenant community. But since the church is the people, these marks are characteristic not only of healthy congregations but of healthy Christians as well. How healthy are you by those measures? Are there areas where you are spiritually unhealthy and need to make some changes? Healthy bodies don’t just happen on their own; they require some intentional work and care. The same is true of our spiritual health.
We need to be intentional about the work and care we put into our spiritual lives in order to grow in faith and be faithful. Here are a handful of suggestions for you to consider to address each of those marks noted above:

  •  Spend time in prayer daily
  • Invite someone to church this summer
  • Help with an Outreach project (there are lots here to choose from)
  • Try something new
  • Come to worship each week
  • Call, write, or visit a friend each week
  • Take a moment to talk with a child on a Sunday morning

This is a sampling, not an exhaustive list. In your own circumstance, you can probably think of far more opportunities. The key is not just to think of the opportunities, but to take advantage of them and go and do something! For we want to be a vital congregation and to be a vital congregation we need to be vital Christians – individually and together! — June 19, 2023


While we were in London in May we got a tour of Lloyd’s of London, the legendary insurance and reinsurance market. As we learned in the tour, most of the business written at Lloyd’s is still conducted face-to-face in the Underwriting Room which welcomes more than 5,000 people, sees £100m in premiums come into the market and £82.1m paid out in claims every single day! It is a business built on relationships, and those face-to-face meetings are key to establishing and maintaining those relationships.
Summer can be a time to kick back and relax away from the busy pace of the rest of the year. Perhaps this summer might be a good time too to work on your relationships – with God and with your neighbors all! — June 5, 2023


Each year the President offers a State of the Union address to Congress which is often more political theater than substance. We hope to flip that script in our own “State of Covenant” report on Sunday, June 4, at 9:30 in the Great Hall. It will not be nationally televised, and there will be no political posturing! This will be an opportunity for folks to hear from Covenant teams about their work over the last year, to ask questions, and to hear about our vision for the coming year. There has been a lot happening since last June’s “State of Covenant” report, and we have high hopes and expectations for the year to come!

Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer and for us there are some summer changes as well. Sunday School, Monday Morning Bible Study, and choirs take a break until after Labor Day. Preschool has finished their year until a return in August. In July and August worship services will be at 8:30 and 10:00 with our summer Happy Half Hour between services for fellowship. The Fellowship Team has some activities planned for the summer months, so keep an eye out for those opportunities. The youth will head to Montreat for their annual Youth Conference. We hope, perhaps, to offer a book study or two along the way. Many of our Outreach activities continue as well as does weekly worship, so we hope that you will stay engaged and continue to nurture your faith and share your talents through these “hazy, lazy” days of summer. Thankfully, God does not take the summer off, even if we do! Blessings to you all in your travels along the way! — May 22, 2023


The Associate Pastor Nominating Committee (APNC) is continuing its work in seeking the person called to serve as our next Associate Pastor. They have prepared the church’s Ministry Information Form (MIF) that describes the position and have reviewed dozens of Personal Information Forms (PIFs) of prospective candidates. They have contacted candidates that seem to be of interest to the APNC in the hope that they too might be interested in the position here at Covenant. They have conducted Zoom interviews (with more to come) in order to make further assessment of candidates and introduce them to us. They have spoken with references. At some point, candidates in whom there is significant interest and who have interest in us will be invited for a visit to Staunton to meet with the APNC in person and get a feel for the church and community. When the APNC has finally identified the candidate they believe is called to serve here, and the candidate affirms that sense of call, then the candidate will be examined by the presbytery’s Committee on Ministry and introduced to you all for a vote to call that person as our Associate Pastor. As with all things Presbyterian, it is a process to be followed decently and in order. It takes time and prayer!

At the heart of this call process is discernment for both the church and the candidate – discerning God’s will and God’s call to service. It is not just about hiring someone or taking a job. It is about a calling from God to a particular form of service as pastor of this congregation. In our Reformed tradition, all of us are called to particular forms of service to God. No one calling is higher than another; God is at work in all our lives – in the church and outside it. Some years ago, the Army had a tagline: IT’S NOT JUST A JOB, IT’S AN ADVENTURE! The tagline for us in the Reformed tradition might be: IT’S NOT JUST A JOB, IT’S A CALLING! How might that concept of calling, or vocation, change your outlook on what you do – whatever it is you do? Might you see new opportunities to serve God through your work – whatever your work might be?

We hope that you will keep the APNC and the candidates (even though they are unknown to you) in your prayers. May God grant us all discernment and the leading of the Spirit to that place where God is calling us to serve with the gifts with which God has so richly blessed us! — May 8, 2023


Much of the New Testament is comprised of letters – some from Paul, some attributed to Paul, and some from other writers not named Paul. The letters circulated among 1st-century churches as guidance for new Christians seeking to follow Christ at a time when there were few other resources available to tell them how to do so faithfully. Those letters, handed down across generations in our Scriptures, have been vital to the growth of Christianity among those to whom they were written and to generations that followed around the world! We take for granted that the letters arrived at their intended destinations, usually by hand delivery from Christian travelers. For had the letters been lost or stolen along the way, a lot of questions would have gone unanswered and perhaps growth of the church slowed!

Today we take for granted as well that our mail will arrive at its intended destination when we drop it in the mailbox. However, there is a troubling trend in our community and across the country – mail is being stolen from mailboxes and checks misappropriated in a process called “check washing”. Over the last year we have had two such incidents here in which the mailbox was damaged, mail stolen, and a few checks misappropriated. While financial institutions, by and large, have fulfilled their responsibilities in reimbursing folks whose checks were allowed to be unlawfully cashed by others, we are taking what steps we can to safeguard your checks and our mail. As of April 1, we have a new address: Box 2948, Staunton, VA 24402. No mail will be delivered to our mailbox at the street.

We hope this change in our mailing address will avoid problems of this nature in the future and will reassure you that we are taking all reasonable steps to secure the mail and gifts to the church. Our thanks to those volunteers under the direction of Louise Scott who have agreed to serve as Covenant postmasters to collect the mail from the post office box and deliver it to the church office during the week. Advice from AARP and other organizations suggest that you not put checks in your own mailbox with the flag up for the mail folks to pick up, but instead drop them off at the post office, hand deliver them to the church office, make your gift online, or best of all – drop your gift in the offering plate on Sunday when you are here for worship! God calls us to be good stewards of all our gifts – and that is what we are doing, together! — April 24, 2023


A couple of weeks ago, four students and a professor from the University of Maryland stayed at the church for a week while they worked with Rebuilding Homes Augusta to repair homes for folks here in Staunton. They slept and ate and showered here at the church, but spent their days doing the hard work of home repair – hanging drywall, constructing a ramp, painting. It was their spring break, and rather than bask on a beach in Florida or head home to catch up on sleep, they came here to help out total strangers.

I have no idea what their faith backgrounds are – apart from one young woman who wondered if she would be comfortable worshiping with us Presbyterians. Yet, their willingness to volunteer their time and talents as they did is surely faithful to Christ’s call to serve those in need; so too was our willingness to house them. Christ calls us to serve all those in need, whoever they are, wherever we find them, for in doing so, we serve Him.

As you think about your post-Easter response to the good news of the Resurrection, consider how you might respond to Christ’s call to serve others. For, we share the Gospel not only by what we say but also by what we do – living and serving as Christ calls us to do. What then are you doing that makes a difference in the lives of folks in need? It does not have to be something grand and glorious. In that list in Matthew 25 which Jesus commends there are such simple things as feeding someone who is hungry, giving a drink to someone who is thirsty, visiting someone in prison, welcoming a stranger, caring for someone who is sick, and giving clothing to someone who is naked. As the Maryland crew showed us, it can also mean repairing a home for someone who needs it.

As a Matthew 25 congregation, one of our areas of focus is congregational vitality; a vital congregation is one in which the people are engaged, not only in worship but in other aspects of the life of the congregation, including service. There are a host of ways to serve here – rocking babies in the nursery, feeding the hungry at Trinity Soup Kitchen, helping our Afghan refugee family, sending a card to someone who is recovering from surgery, helping to prepare communion, pulling weeds around the church, folding this newsletter. The list far exceeds this space and covers a diverse set of needs and talents. What then might you do in gratitude for what Christ has already done for you? — April 10, 2023

“For everything there is a season, and a time for

every purpose under heaven.”

Those familiar words from Ecclesiastes came to mind in thinking about this transition from Lent to Holy Week that is fast approaching. Throughout Lent we have followed the ancient tradition of foregoing alleluias. We have not sung them; we have not read them in Scripture; they have been absent from our Calls to Worship and prayers. Lent is not a season for alleluias. It is a season for that prayer we offer in the Kyrie each week:

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

It is a season for reflection, repentance, and recommitment. It is a time for prayers, penitence, and preparation as we live out again the drama of Holy Week, from the hope-filled cries of “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday, through the murmured command, “Do this in remembrance of me!” on Maundy Thursday, to the agonized cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” on Good Friday, to the silence of Holy Saturday, to the unbelievably good news of Easter’s dawn, “He is risen!” The alleluias will erupt at Easter, but the journey to them is not an easy one – it was not easy for Jesus, and it should not be easy for us either if we are to appreciate the sacrifice he made for us. Somewhere in these coming days, we should experience a moment in which we are moved to say, “Lord, forgive me for taking your sacrifice for granted.” Because we do; for most of the year, we do!

The purpose of this Lenten time and these Holy Week remembrances is to move us to a new appreciation of God’s great love for us – love that endured the cross for us! It is in appreciating that great sacrifice, that we find greater joy in singing our alleluias! This is not a season to keep on doing what you do the rest of the year. It is a time to enter the mystery of faith that is Holy Week, and to offer that hope-filled prayer spoken by the criminal crucified beside Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” May you be so remembered! 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 27, 2023


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 about 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


A new year offers a chance for a fresh start. Isn’t that what New Year’s resolutions are all about – a chance to commit to do something in the new year that will improve on the year-gone-by? While those resolutions often center on dietary changes, exercise routines, or reading habits, I wonder: do commitments about nurturing your faith or faithfulness to God ever find their way into your resolutions? It does little good to make pie-in-the-sky resolutions that we know we will never keep and never do; how many of our resolutions are the same every year, reflecting our failure to keep them in the year gone by! So consider something simple that might take you one step along a more faithful path. Consider the following as possibilities, by resolving to:

  • come back to worship in person after months of lounging in your pajamas for worship online each week
  • pray at family meals on those rare occasions when the family can actually be together.
  • try out one new study or CE offering this year – just one!
  • begin the day with devotions using These Days or 365 or any of the others available to get the day started on the right foot
  • participate in one new Outreach project
  • read all four Gospels, or more daringly read the whole New Testament, or for the overachievers, read the whole Bible over the course of the year
  • read a book that nurtures faith (there are lots in our library to choose from)
  • reconcile with someone (family or friend) from whom you have been alienatedThis is hardly an exhaustive list; it is intended only to provoke thought about what you might resolve to do in this year that is different from this past year that might lead you along a path toward growing in faith and being more faithful. For that is what Christ calls us to do – all of us! We are works in progress, so may your work progress this year so that you may grow to be a more faithful disciple of Jesus Christ! Happy New Year! — January 2, 2023