Music Sunday

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into God’s presence with singing… (Psalm 100:1-2)

Unlike most people, these were the first two verses of the Psalter that I learned as a child. (Probably because my children’s pastor was also the music pastor.) In Third Grade we memorized Psalm 100 – all four verses. Upon completing that task, we were handed our very first copies of the Bible with our names in them. It was all very exciting.

From the very beginning for me, music has been tied up with my understanding of who God is and most certainly with my worship of God. That same music pastor used to take one Sunday every summer and do a “Hymn Sing,” when the congregation would call out all the songs they had not had a chance to hear lo those many months and we would sing them. From national hymns to Christmas to Thanksgiving to Easter. We did it all. And everyone had a roaring good time.

They say music is a universal language. Perhaps that is why it is so essential to worship (and why we missed it so greatly in the midst of this awful plague). Music speaks to our hearts and, I believe, connects us more fully to God’s own heart as we come into God’s presence to listen for God’s Spirit moving in our midst.

This weekend, we are pulling out all the stops on all the hymns in the book. There will be no sermon, except the joyful noise we make with the words printed in our hymnal.

So come one, come all as we sing for God’s glory and watch in wonder in the steadfast love that surrounds us.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Squeezing Camels

Well, the Fall Program Season has officially begun!

We want to give a great big thank you to everyone who made last weekend’s kick-off such a wonderful success!!!

Now it is on into October, which is our final month with any normality until January. You see, though we have a few big Sundays this month, once we hit November, everything starts getting bigger and keeps on growing until Christmas arrives. Which is perhaps the reason that electric excitement is already buzzing through the air.

However, we do have quite a few things to do in the meantime. For starters, we have a fun imagery story this weekend from Jesus (everyone gather round to start pushing camels through tight spaces) and then we are gearing up for Music Sunday the following week.

So, just for fun, I will give a challenge to all our dedicated readers out there: while it is true I have many favorite hymns, there is one hymn that is my absolute favorite. It is in the Blue Hymnal. If you can correctly guess what it is (first) on Hymn-Sing Sunday, I will guarantee that your favorite Christmas hymn (has to be in the Blue or Purple Presbyterian hymnals) will be included in Lessons & Carols this year on Christmas Eve. Happy Hunting!

And as we continue on, remember the wise words of Francis of Assisi from our sermon last weekend: Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Fall into First

Fall is finally here… well, sort of. 

While we are still waiting for the weather to finally break, the leaves are trying to begin their change and all of you are learning what I have known for most of my adult life: dressing in layers is key. When you live through at least three seasons in one day, adaptability is the name of the game.

That is true in life, too. Whether we are facing a pandemic or not, hurricane season or football season, a new school year or a new career – the future is always a bit uncertain. We can never truly know what is coming. And frankly it would be rather boring if we did.

The world is constantly and consistently changing around us. In ways we have seen and in ways that we have not. Ever evolving. Ever growing. Ever shifting. Ever moving. That is a very good thing, because if something is not moving it is dying. Perhaps very slowly, but stagnation leads down that road nonetheless.

The God of all creation, the one who made the world, whose Spirit breathes all around us, causing all the wonders that we see, the life that is teaming through every fiber of this vast and awesome cosmos, also made us. And made us to move. Made us to shift. To grow. To evolve. To change. Not to sit still. Not to stagnate. Not to die until it is our time. For while death may be a part of life (all things have an end, save God), we are not meant to stay in that end.

We are meant to live. To savor every drop of life. To step into the future with courage, even if fear is coursing through our veins at the same time.

And the greatest assets we can have as we do: adaptability and humor. Being ready for whatever may come with an open mind and heart. And being ready to find a way to see the glint in God’s eye even in the most shadow-filled moments. Those two things will keep you going, even when all seems lost or when the road gets so much longer than you ever imagined.

So, I do not know precisely what the future holds for all of us, but I do know this – God goes with us. Before us and behind us. Above us and below us. Inside us and all around us. God is here. God is present working as a ferment in our church, bringing new life in our midst even now. In our music and worship. In our children and teaching. In our committees and work. In our conversation and prayer. In all that we do – God is here. And we are very much alive.

Whatever this road ahead may bring, we will face it together: with courage, with adaptability, and with humor.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Best Practice

Since this is our #newsletterblog, let’s begin with our most important announcement: worship this Sunday, September 26th is at 9:30 a.m.

Just want to make sure we’re all on that page together…

Now, I know we are all getting very excited for so many reasons. Fall officially began yesterday. October is just around the corner next week. And our church’s Fall Kick-Off is next Sunday, October 3rd!

If you are anything like me, part of you is not only wishing for cooler weather, but you’re also already dreaming of the costumes looming in five weeks, and smelling the turkey and stuffing three weeks later, and feeling the chill of that first snowflake on your nose soon after. Fun times are certainly ahead.

Yet I know that this year also holds a continued sense of foreboding thanks to the ongoing pandemic that remains ominously breathing down our necks. Plus the overwhelming exhaustion after the last eighteen months of already dealing with this scourge of plague – we are so ready to be done.

As Ron Weasley once said, “[You] can’t possibly be feeling all that at once, can [you]?”

Well, yes, Ron. Yes, we can. All of those emotions are understandable and perfectly okay.

Until we get through this storm, I am going to continue to point us to the practice that my late husband and I learned while our twin sons were in NICU for the first two and a half months of their lives: when the future is uncertain, you celebrate every chance you get.

So, get your festive fall-wear ready (perhaps the layered version in case it stays warm), because World Communion is up first on October 3rd and we have some bright, smiling little eyes who are going to be very excited to be back in our halls. As the Psalmist sang, The Lord has done great things for us, we are filled with joy!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Which Messiah…?

This weekend we are continuing in what is essentially a two-week mini-series in the gospel lectionary. The question we are looking at is “which messiah are we following?”

You see, both weekends we hear Jesus predict his shocking death to a very astounded and confused set of disciples in the gospel of Mark. They are not really sure what to do with this news that the Christ must suffer and die. That’s a very different definition of Messiah than the one they had always grown up with – so Jesus must just be off his rocker, right?

Ancient gods were known for their strength and power. Their cunning and might. The ways they smashed enemies into bits and lifted the dominant to thrones here on earth. And those who worshipped these gods well, sacrificed to them, followed their rules, and did not anger them were blessed with good fortune. The poor, the sick, the outcast – they were obviously cursed by the gods, too – at least according to the outlook in most ancient cultures.

But not the God of Israel. Never the Great I Am. As much as our God has phenomenal cosmic powers, God chooses a different mode of being. One that focuses on Love, the heart of who God is… a crimson thread you can see throughout the whole of the scriptures if you look. A Love that creates life and justice in its wake. Again, all through the scriptures.

So why would the Messiah, God’s anointed one, be any different?

We humans get so caught up in the ways of this world that we look for the Messiah in all the wrong places. We even look for the wrong Christ, an anointed one who looks like us.

In these texts Jesus asks us, “which Messiah are you following? Are you really sure it’s me?”

Just a few thoughts to ponder as we head into worship together. See you soon!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Twenty Years Later

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of a watershed event in our nation’s history.

Every so often, one seems to appear. December 7, 1941. November 22, 1963. September 11, 2001 – all are dates that live in infamy in our minds. Those of us who were alive for any such event can tell you precisely what we were doing when we heard the news. We can recount the remaining affairs of the day. What happened in the days and weeks that followed. All of those moments that linger in our minds.

September 11th especially recalls to mind the words of everyone’s favorite Presbyterian minister, Fred Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always see people helping.'”

More than anything else that I can remember about those days two decades ago, I remember the remarkable helpers. From the firefighters and police officers, as well as simple neighbors in New York City who helped in the aftermath of the twin towers, or the brave men and women of our military and the first responders at the Pentagon, or those who gave their lives on Flight 93 – there were helpers all around. And that was just the first wave. There were faith leaders in every major city, every town, every village, from all three Abrahamic faiths and every other faith opening up houses of worship to pray. There were counselors and teachers giving space for students and children of all ages to ask the hard questions. To this day, there are still people who continue to help with the perpetual aftermath and lingering effects on those whose families were involved in the immediate crises.

Twenty years later it is remarkable to look back and realize how much the world has changed. We now have an entire generation who has no knowledge of those days or their fallout. My own children have no recollection. Even my older bonus daughters were far too young to remember, being less than six months old at the time. How do we explain such a powerful moment in our common, shared story to them? And after all this time, what is the greatest take away we might hold onto?

For me, at least, I am still holding tight to the image of the way we helped one another. The way we held each other up as we cried our eyes out. Ran towards the trouble to protect our neighbors. Walked with each other through the long, hard road back from such a difficult and shadow-filled place.

As many faith leaders from a variety of traditions have noted long before me, those are the places where God was present in the midst of such a day – all those moments where we saw the very best of God’s people helping one another.

My hope is that it will not take another tragedy of so great a magnitude to see God’s children rise together to help one another again.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Have Courage, Be Kind, Hold Tight

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!

I thank God every time I remember you, as the Apostle Paul once wrote. For indeed, you, my beloved congregation are never far from my mind. 

This last year has been a remarkable one for all of us, to be sure; for me, just like the rest of you.

September marks the beginning of anniversary season for me – the months when I remember the deaths of all three of my parents, my mother-in-law, and my husband – all between September 8th and Christmas Eve. This year will be the first anniversary of my beloved husband’s October 14th death. I have been grieving, learning to be a single, full-time mom, and walking with you through an unprecedented time. We have certainly been through the wringer together, haven’t we? And I have been so very grateful for the grace and patience that every single one of you has shown me through this very unusual time, both personally and professionally.

Now, we find ourselves once again facing down another period of uncertainty; all the while desperately wanting everything to get back to normal. In some ways we will be able to. In other ways we may have to wait a while longer. Still in others, we may find that life will be forever altered.

For example, we are finally able to worship again without masks (yay!) However, our children still have not been vaccinated. So we are going to keep them and their teachers masked for Sunday School (as per their parents’ request). And the pandemic has helped to recenter many of our professionals and their workloads. With many businesses now accomplishing their work entirely (or almost entirely) from home and around their workers’ schedules… as parents… as humans in general… this is an unprecedented change as we look to the future. 

What does all this mean?

Well, more than anything, it means that we need to show kindness toward one another. Everyone is going through some sort of battle we do not know about. We need to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

With earthquakes, hurricanes, wars, and a plague in our midst, it is high time we remember that the world is already trembling for most. 

Have courage. Be kind. And hold on tight. We will get there eventually, just not quite yet. But God is with us until we get there and beyond.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Lessons Learned

This weekend we will be spending one last Sunday with the Ten Commandments. Rather than to end with number ten itself, we will look at the full body of the tablets and also look at what Jesus said about the cannon as a whole.

Why?

Well, for quite a few reasons, most of which I will name on Sunday. However, key among them is that like most things, Jesus cared far more about the heart of what they said as a whole, rather than about any one individually. (That’s not to say he didn’t do some very interesting things with some of these mandates on their own, though.)

We need to remember that for Jesus it was always about one key thing: love. Love of God. Love of ourselves. Love of others. If anything breaks that mandate, then something is wrong.

If you think back to the beginning, the commandments themselves were originally written as laws of love by God. However, they were nearly immediately twisted out of joint and that message got lost quite quickly.

Christ wanted to bring us back to the center.

So, before we move into the fall, to see all the fun sayings of Jesus that the Gospel of Mark has to offer us (and oh yeah, some of them are doozies), we are going to take one last look at what we can learn from our #summersermonseries. See you Sunday!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Fall is coming…

This weekend we will have our annual Blessing of the Backpacks, when we give thanks for all of the students, teachers, staff, and administrators in our FPCH family and beyond involved in education within our broader community, and then bless them as they begin the new school year. Because yes, this new school year begins in earnest next week.

However, I know the question everyone on everyone’s mind is what is happening at church this Fall?

Well, earlier this week, our Session met and spent the majority of its meeting discerning the answer to just that question. Five of the seven sitting members of Session, including myself, are parents of children within our Christian Education ministries. So these decisions were made not only as those who have been elected to find God’s path forward together, but also by those who have a very express interest in how we do so in joy and in safety.

It is, therefore, with great elation that I share our program outline for the Fall:

  • Mark your calendars for World Communion Sunday, October 3rd when we begin our Fall Schedule!
  • Sunday School and Worship will both be at 10:00 a.m.
  • Worship will continue as it has been in these recent months, rotating between traditional and contemporary, with no masking requirements.
  • Sunday School will be provided for Preschool – Grade 6, in three classes, and masks will be required for all students and teachers. This is at the request of both the parents and teachers.
  • Nursery Care will be provided for children 2 and under from 9:45 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
  • JAM will be back in November & December for special events.
  • Confirmation Class (Grades 7 & 8) will begin in early November.

Our hope is that this new schedule will encourage our whole FPCH family to return to our campus to be spiritually fed as we continue to see the wonderful future that God has in store for us.

Until October, we will continue in our summer worship schedule with worship at 9:30 a.m. – mainly so we can give the heat a few extra weeks to abate.

We look forward to seeing you this Sunday and in all the months that lay beyond!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Good News

This weekend we will celebrate the Ordination and Installation of our new officers!

This marks a new beginning for us as a church family. And though this fresh start comes every year, much like New Year’s Day in the secular calendar, it still offers us the opportunity to look the future with renewed hope.

Now, you may be wondering, with the world seemingly erupting into chaos around us, is all this exuberant expectation merely a pipe dream?

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I can tell you with absolute and utter assurance it is not. Whatever else may happen, our God is the same as God was yesterday, and God will be the same tomorrow. What is more is that just as God has always been with us, and is still with us, so God goes before us into the future.

I know there are many worrisome and even some very frightening things happening these days. But I also know this to be certainly true: there is nothing in all creation that will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

Good things are happening in our midst… While many other churches have had to close, we have been open nearly twelve whole months straight now, including through Christmas.

We are already scheduling special events for this coming November and December with community groups and the Presbytery coming to visit, including the Altoona Brass Collective.

And we have two new ruling elders being ordained on Sunday, both of whom have children in our Christian Education programs, and both of whom bring unique professional backgrounds that will add to our Session’s already diverse collection of expertise.

None of us can know precisely what the future will hold. Nevertheless, we can trust that dawn is on the horizon and God goes before us.

We’ll see you in worship!

Blessings, Pastor Janie