Now Thank We All Our God

This Sunday is Christ the King in the Liturgical calendar. That is New Years Eve for those of us who are liturgy nerds, because the following weekend, with Advent I, we will usher in a brand new year in the church calendar.

Though we will have liturgy and some music that will certainly celebrate Christ’s role as the King of Heaven, much of our music this weekend will be focusing on giving thanks to our God for the myriad of blessings that are consistently showered upon us.

One of the songs is a personal favorite of mine. So, let me tell you a bit more about its origin:

In 1637, in the town of Eilenburg, Saxony, there lived a pastor named Martin Rinkart. Eilenburg was one of the walled cities that housed refugees of the Thirty Years’ War and became overcrowded, leading to an outbreak of plague. By 1637, Rinkart was the only pastor left standing. He performed more than fifty funerals in a day. And overall he performed more than 4000 funerals that year, including for his own wife. When at last the gates of the city were opened, he penned these hymn lyrics for his people to sing: Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices, who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices…

If there was ever a year for us to sing this hymn that we often sing during the season of Thanksgiving, I would suggest it is 2020. Which is probably why Walt and I both shared this same thought and put it in the service three different times.

We are also going to be practicing for Advent with our first hymn, which will be Now Thank We All Our God. Everyone who would like to sing is invited to place their things in their pew inside and meet us on the Walnut Street Lawn at 5 minutes until 10 a.m. We will be caroling outside, with our masks on, and then processing into the church singing Rinkart’s enduring hymn of praise to God. (This is something we’ll be doing every weekend in Advent, so we’re doing a trial run).

We look forward to seeing everyone in worship, either in person or on-line, as we celebrate Christ the King and all we have to thank our God for!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Spread the Good Word

These first few weeks of November, we are seeing all of our committees meet as we prepare for the holiday season ahead. We are working very diligently to ensure that we have a special celebration no matter what may be happening in the world around us.

In the midst of our conversations, something occurred to me. We have been so focused of late on all the things we cannot do that many of us have lost sight of all the things that we are actually doing.

For example, did you know that First Presbyterian of Hollidaysburg has opened our doors to a whole bunch of groups from our community who need a safe place to meet when they couldn’t find another?

How about that a big portion of our Peace & Global Witness offering from World Communion Sunday is going to an organization helping local foster children in our own Blair County?

Or that yes, we are one of the churches that is absolutely still taking part in ARW’s Christmas4Kids, providing gifts for children in our community, because there is no virus or tragedy that will prevent us from helping to ensure that children get toys at Christmas?

Or that the money from our poinsettia sales this year will support one of our local florists and that the remainder will go to help people recovering from recent all the fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance?

How about that we will be having Christmas Eve worship with candlelight at multiple times, a children’s nativity the last Sunday in Advent, and are working on safe singing for the Advent & Christmas season?

Or maybe you could tell people that we are actively praying for them, for our community, our country, and our world?

And never forget, you are walking with your pastor as she faces a devastating loss in her own family. That together you know you will get through the coming months and into the years ahead to the bright future where God is already leading us.

If nothing else, tell them that.

Yes, there are many things we can’t do. And I miss them as much as anyone.

But we are the church of Jesus Christ. Our work continues no matter how we have to adapt. And we have never stopped.

So start spreading the good word. FPCH is alive and well. We are open for worship, even if it looks a little different. And, most importantly, if anyone is looking for a home for Christmas Eve, we will certainly have a space for them.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

New Things

This weekend we will begin a new mini-sermon-series as our year with the Gospel of Matthew comes to a close. Over the next few weeks we will be looking at some of Jesus’ sayings in the final few days of his life on earth.

Liturgy nerds call this period before Christ the King “baby Advent.” The wise people putting together the biblical passages we use each week decided it would be fun to put in a whole bunch of ominous verses right at the end of the church year. They start the slow build to turn our eyes toward the Bethlehem sky, just as our culture is already turning our heads towards the North Pole.

This weekend’s passage looks at the importance of the old saying “walk the talk.” That’s all I’ll say for now.

In addition to our new sermon series, we are going to begin a season of prayer as a church family. There are so many places within our world that need God’s love, God’s presence, God’s justice, God’s healing.

We are going to engage in a prayer ribbon ministry for the remainder of this month – ribbons filled with our prayers that will adorn our ancient lampposts. It is a practice being used by churches around the country to make visibly present our prayers to God in our community.

We will provide the ribbons and markers for you to write your prayers down and then we will also make sure the ribbons take their place on Walnut Street. We hope that everyone will join in this opportunity to pray for our church family, our community, our country, and our world.

As we head into the weekend, let me say this: deep breaths. Hold tight. Be safe. Be well. And remember, God is here.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

For All the Saints…

The world has changed. Or at least my world has changed. What started as a surgery that should have been a chance for a new life ended in tragedy. And yet, the world spins madly on. More importantly, we know that for my beloved husband – his pain is ended and he has rejoined our first set of twins, his mother, my mother, my dad, my father, and all of our families who have already gone to their eternal rest in the everlasting arms.

This weekend we will celebrate All Saints on the actual day of the feast of All Saints. Our Catholic brethren hold this day in esteem only for those who have proven themselves special through miracles and other unique witness. However, for Protestants, we believe that all Christ’s followers are saints. Anyone who loves our Lord is a member of what we call the “Communion of Saints.” It is a holy presence and tangible cloud of witnesses that surrounds us during every step we take in this life. They cheer us on and guide us along the way. They watch over us and are united to us in Christ – for we are all one in him. And that is what we will celebrate on Sunday. 

In preparation for what is one of my favorite liturgical days, I invite you to recall all those who have helped you grow your faith – not only those who have gone on to the Church Triumphant, but also those still walking this world. Gather them gently in your mind so that you can give thanks on Sunday for all those saints who have been a part of the journey that God has used to make you who you are today. 
In addition, especially if you will be joining us in worship from home or afar, be sure to have a candle with you. We will provide them for everyone who comes in person on Sunday, but want to be sure that all who worship in-person or in spirit are able to participate fully.

Lastly, once we have celebrated the Communion of Saints on Sunday, and before you prepare for the big holiday season later in the month, take a moment on Monday to learn a bit more about what has become one of my favorite holidays from another part of the world: Dia De Los Muertos. Our neighbors to the south celebrate it on November 2nd and it is in no way morbid. It is about giving thanks for the ones we love who have already gone on and hoping that they will be near. For many of us, that is a celebration that is certainly worth joining in.

As we continue on this month and head towards what will prove to be a holiday season unlike any other, I encourage you to show grace, show gratitude, and show love in all ways that you are able.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

It Is Well

In 1871, Horatio Spafford lost his four-year-old son. That same year, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed most of his investments and nearly ruined him financially. Two years later, he sent his four remaining daughters and wife on ahead of him to Europe while he remained behind to finalize some business work. The ship carrying them sank, killing all four girls. His wife’s telegram to him read, “Saved alone.”

Soon after, when he himself was crossing the Atlantic, as he passed near the place where his children had drowned, he penned these words, “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say it is well, it is well with my soul.”

This weekend, I will not be with you, because in two days my husband will undergo important surgery in Pittsburgh. It is essential to his life and to his ability to flourish. It will also be one of the most painful things he will ever experience. And, as many of you know, he lost his mother two weeks ago, which means that this time he will not have her to talk to in the aftermath. We appreciate your prayers as the day approaches.

I know that I have not known you for long. And that time has been cut even shorter by the outbreak and what we have had to do to keep our community safe. So many of you may feel as though I am still an outsider. Perhaps you are still withholding judgment or trust, because you remain uncertain.

There is not much I can do about the circumstances of the world at large. We are in the middle of a world-wide pandemic that has killed over 200,000 Americans, infected over 7.5 million in this country, and continues to grow. We face political entrenchment the likes of which we have not seen in generations, if we ever have. And none of that is within my power to change, slow, or stop.

But I can share a little bit about me, so that maybe you can feel that you know me more: I may only be turning thirty-eight this month, but I have already buried all three of my parents – my father at eight, my dad (step-dad) at thirty-one, and my mother at thirty-four. I was born an only child, but am number seven of eight within my step-family, all of whom I consider my siblings. My oldest brother is seventy and my little brother is thirty-five and has been quadriplegic and on a vent for almost fifteen years. I have suffered a miscarriage and given birth to premature twins. My mother had at least ten major surgeries during my lifetime. My husband has had nearly thirty surgeries. My grandfather fought in World War I. My uncle fought in World War II and was a prisoner of war, then fought in Korea. My father was a full-bird Colonel and served in the United States Army for over twenty-five years. He was also an Eagle Scout at the ripe young age of fourteen (back in 1954). My family is of English, German, and mostly Scotch-Irish descent, having lived in Pennsylvania and the Carolinas since before the Revolution.

This land is home to me. I come from a long line of Protestants, most of whom were Presbyterians. My family has fought and bled for this country for generations. And my life experiences include an unusual amount packed into just under four decades.

I tell you these things so that hopefully you will begin to feel that you know me a bit more.

Even before I arrived here, I already loved you. Even before I met you, I felt I had known this family of faith for a long, long time. God has brought us together for a reason – and at this time, for a reason.

Horatio Spafford’s words and story always come to my mind whenever the world seems to be spinning madly around me. It is the kind of faith I strive to have, even at the times when I fall short.

No matter what may come – in our world, in our country, in our community, in our lives – I can promise you this: it can be well with our souls because God is here with us. Walking amongst us. Working within us and through us and around us. Making sure everything will be okay. Even if we don’t know what okay is going to look like.

So be well. Stay safe. Be kind. Stay sane. And know that all will be well.

Blessings, Pastor Janie.

Our Hearts Beat As One

This weekend we will join with churches across the globe as we gather around Christ’s table for World Communion Sunday. It is a day, more than most, that reminds us that the Communion of Saints spreads far and wide across every nation and culture. We are bound together as one body, knit together as one garment, our global union sealed with Christ’s own blood – to share in life and ministry.

Several years ago now, in the summer of 2016, the community I was serving was hit with devastating flooding and multiple shootings in the same summer. The church where I was pastor was blessed to not be effected at our building by flooding, but our presbytery building was. The congregation included both first responders who were friends with police officers killed and teachers who were friends with the families of civilians killed by police. In other words, we were affected on all sides.

In the immediate aftermath of everything going on, the national media had a field day telling our city that we should be divided. Should be fighting. Should be against one another.

In those same early days, an organization of which our congregation was a part, along with many other churches, synagogues, mosques, and every other religion in the area, of all shapes, sizes, and colors – that organization gathered together to make the public statement that we would not be divided. We would stand together. We would fight for one another.

In the wake of such tragedy, the words of J.K. Rowling’s famous character, Albus Dumbledore, came to mind as the perfect sentiment: Though we may come from different places and speak in different tongues, our hearts beat as one.

Once again, there are many voices in our world telling us that we should be divided. Fighting one another. Standing against one another. This time not just in one community, but across our whole nation.

On this World Communion Sunday, may we remember that, as followers of Christ, we are tightly bound to all other children of God. Sealed in blood. Sharing in one body. Woven together into one single garment of destiny – and it is ours to be as much for one another as we are for ourselves.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Active Waiting

This weekend, we will be continuing in our #exodusseries with two important moments in the narrative.

Our main emphasis will be diving deep into the parting of the sea as the people fled from Egypt.

However, before we can get there, we will be pausing to recall the final of the ten plagues of Egypt. Even with all of the nuisances and outright terrifying events that have happened during the first nine plagues, Pharaoh will still not let the people go. So arrives the final plague – the death of the firstborn. It is only when his own family is affected that Pharaoh finally gives in.

In this midst of this story, there is the second narrative of how God works to ensure that God’s people will be safe. We see the institution of the Passover festival and meal – a time to remember two things. First, that God protected us. And second, that sometimes God pushes us to get moving.

As the old saying goes, “pray to God and then row your boat ashore.”

This practice is called active waiting. It means that even if things cannot be as they once were, and even if things are not yet back to our new normal, there are still some things we can do to fulfill God’s purposes here and now.

We, my friends, are in a long period of waiting. Of liminality. Of the already but not yet. Many of us feel as though our long night has gone on beyond what we can take and we do not know when the sun will finally rise.

But, as my grandmother used to remind me, it is always darkest just before the dawn.

Dawn will break. That is certain, even if we do not know when.

In the meantime, find every way that you can to display God’s love to all those around you, to work for peace, to bind up the brokenhearted, and seek justice for the oppressed. That is how children of God actively wait.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Where Is God?

This weekend, we are going to dive back into our study of the Exodus. The passage is none other than that famous story of the burning bush that was not consumed.

Among the many things this story does for us is to remind us that God has a tendency to show up in the places we least expect.

Moses was minding his own business and caring for his father-in-law’s flock of sheep. And then… there is a voice calling out to him from a surprising source. In the fires of creation itself.

God is there. God is working. God will not go away.

Right now, our world feels as though it is spinning madly off its axis. Life is topsy turvy. All we want is to get back to normal. To the mundane. To life as it always was.

The truth is, though, that life was never truly what we thought. It was always a bit crazy (if not a lot crazy).

What is more, when everything seems to be spiraling out of control, that is exactly when God shows up.

So where do we look for God right now?

Well, frankly – everywhere.

God is in the hands of healthcare professionals serving our sick neighbors. God is in the compassionate eyes we see over our masks. God is in the feet that are walking to seek life and justice for all people. God is in the kind words of old friends and neighbors reaching out to check on one another. God is in the strong arms of the firefighters and disaster workers around our country, and our globe, trying to protect and help people in the tumult they now face. And God is certainly in the hearts and faces of every person with whom we come into contact (because God made us all).

God is here. God is working. God will not go away.

All we have to do is to keep our eyes, ears, and hearts open and we will find the ways that God is constantly and consistently present in the ways we live, move, and have our being.

Whatever the future may hold, God will be with us. And that is good news that we can all hold on to right now.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

At the Heart

This weekend we will be taking a little pause in our new #exodusseries to remember some of Christ’s most important words.

In all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke), when he is asked what is the greatest of all the commandments, Jesus responds with two: love God and love your neighbor. No, this is not a rhetorical trick. Instead, Christ is pointing us towards a much more important truth.

At the heart of God’s relationship with humanity is this essential understanding: you cannot love God while not loving your neighbors. To put it another way, in loving your neighbors you are loving God. In other words, it is one commandment after all.

Our neighbors are not just the literal ones two doors down. They are our family. They are our friends. Yes, they are those living right next door. But they are also those who are quite different from us.

The short version is that everyone is our neighbor. Every single other human on this planet.

In the same way, the love that Christ speaks of is not the same love that we celebrate on Valentine’s Day or some wishy-washy claim to care when it seems prudent.

Jesus speaks of God’s love.

Love that serves others, even at cost to one’s self. Love that will never intimidate, play mind games, manipulate, or belittle. Love that empowers all who touch it to change the world. Love that will not allow unkind words, shallow thoughts, or hate-filled actions to stand. Love that does all in its power to see God’s purposes fulfilled.

That is what our guest preacher this weekend, Ken Lynch, will be discussing in greater depth with us.

My prayer for all of us over this holiday weekend is that we will be safe, that we will be kind, and that we will love with all that we have and are.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Exodus Reexamined

On Sunday, we will begin a new series on Exodus. It is based in large part on the lectionary readings for the fall. So, for the next seven weeks (after a small break over Labor Day with a guest preacher), we will be studying the story of Moses in great depth.

This weekend, we begin with the very earliest portions of Moses’ story: the enslavement of the Israelite people and slaughter of the Israelite children from chapters one and two. In the midst of this narrative, God’s resistance against those wreaking havoc and destruction arises from the most surprising of corners – the women.

Then again, perhaps it is not surprising at all. There is an oft told tale of the women being the ones that make churches function through their work behind the scenes (at least that was what I noticed down south for the last two decades and the history beyond).

A lesser known tale is that it was women who made the early church possible, as well. Not only did a woman preach the first sermon, as we learn in the gospels, but it was women of wealth from among the Roman and Jewish converts that largely allowed the church to function for the first several decades (and beyond). They were not held to the same standards of being required to worship in public (in either the Roman or Jewish religions) like their husbands or fathers. They were able to work behind the scenes: to provide places for the church to meet and to give the funding that helped the church survive infancy.

In the story of the Exodus, it is Israelite and Egyptian women who stand first against the tyrant ruling Egypt. The great prophet Moses learned to protect God’s people and follow God’s calling from his mother, his adopted mother, his sister. And we learn of God’s work also through the story of the midwives. They all put everything on the line, including their lives, to help one or hundreds of Israelite infants.

There is an old Jewish saying from the Talmud that “whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.”

If you are ever getting overwhelmed at the enormity of peoples’ needs in this world or what God is asking you to do in serving others – start with one person. God has called us to care for orphans and widows, foreigners and family, the hungry, thirsty, strangers, the naked, sick, imprisoned. And there is much work to be done. But God never said you had do everything all at once. That is why God has tapped all of us to help.

So do what you can, every day, to make someone’s world better. If all of us join in, the entire world will begin to shine with God’s light.

Blessings, Pastor Janie