The Empty Cross

From the Pastor:

In a Lenten devotion for Sojourners Magazine, Kari Jo Verhurst shared this story: “A friend from college, soon after arriving at Notre Dame for graduate school, removed the corpus (Christ’s body) from the crucifix that hung in his dorm room. Unsure of what to do with that body, he put it in his bureau drawer. Raised a good Protestant, he was used to crosses that symbolize resurrection, not crucifixion.”

A disclaimer: Don’t do this at home, kids! I’m not recommending or condoning the graduate student’s behavior. If you choose to attend Notre Dame, you don’t have to give up your Protestant heritage, but you probably ought to respect the Roman Catholic beliefs of your hosts. But the student’s action does identify a clear difference between two major streams of Christianity. The empty cross of Protestantism represents victory over death while the crucifix of Catholicism emphasizes the depths of his suffering. For those of us who follow Christ, is it an either/or decision? I don’t think so.

I’m a lifelong Presbyterian. I was confirmed at a Maundy Thursday service, where the focus was on the Last Supper. Looking back, I think my experience was very much like most Presbyterians: historically, we Presbyterians have moved too easily from Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the joy of Easter, without entering deeply into the mystery of his suffering and death. Growing up, I attended only one Maundy Thursday service, and that was primarily because I was being confirmed and receiving communion for the first time. Growing up, I never experienced any focus on the depths of Jesus’ suffering.

My arrival at Princeton Seminary coincided with a liturgical renewal movement in the Presbyterian Church. At seminary, I experienced worship services on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday along with a Saturday night Easter vigil that touched my heart and soul very deeply and gave me a much richer understanding of the meaning of Holy Week.

Don’t worry; I’m still an empty cross kind of guy. We worship a risen Lord. For communion, we gather around a table—a symbol of fellowship—rather than around an altar—a symbol of sacrifice. Still, we need to remember and honor the suffering that Jesus Christ endured for us. The empty cross vs. the crucifix is not simply an either/or decision—it is a “both/and” decision. A complete understanding of the events of Holy Week requires both: meditation on Christ’s suffering as well as the incredible joy of Jesus’ victory over death.

That’s why what we used to call Palm Sunday is now called Palm/Passion Sunday. In our service on March 29, our children are going to help us raise the roof with “Hosannas” at the beginning of worship, but as the service continues, the focus will shift to the meaning of Christ’s passion for us. I hope you can be there not only on Palm/Passion Sunday but also on Maundy Thursday (7:30 p.m.) and Good Friday (7:30 p.m.) On Good Friday, we will leave the sanctuary in darkness, with only the Christ Candle lighted, symbolizing that “the light shines in the darkness” as we anticipate the joy of Resurrection. This Holy Week and Easter, I hope that each one of us can, to borrow a phrase from the late scholar Marcus Borg, “hear the Story again for the first time”.

The Peace of the Lord be with you,

Mike

Winter as the Ninth Circle of Hell

From the Pastor:

In reflecting one day on the horrible snow, ice, ice dams, mountains of snow and sub-zero temperatures we have endured this winter, I concluded that this might be what Hell is like. I was taken back to a literature class I took in college. I remembered learning about Dante’s Inferno and how, in the final circles of hell, the worst of the damned—traitors who had betrayed benefactors—were not burning in the fires of hell. Here’s what SparkNotes.com (kind of a Cliff’s Notes for poetry) tells us in their summary:

Still journeying toward the center of the Ninth Circle of Hell, Dante becomes aware of a great shape in the distance, hidden by the fog. Right under his feet, however, he notices sinners completely covered in ice, sometimes several feet deep, contorted into various positions. These souls constitute the most evil of all sinners—the Traitors to their Benefactors. Their part of Hell, the Fourth Ring of the Ninth Circle, is called Judecca.(named after Judas Iscariot)

Dante and Virgil advance toward the giant, mist-shrouded shape. As they approach through the fog, they behold its true form. The sight unnerves Dante to such an extent that he knows not whether he is alive or dead. The figure is Lucifer, Dis, Satan—no one name does justice to his terrible nature. The size of his arms alone exceeds all of the giants of the Eighth Circle of Hell put together. He stands in the icy lake, his torso rising above the surface. Gazing upward, Dante sees that Lucifer has three horrible faces, one looking straight ahead and the others looking back over his shoulders. Beneath each head rises a set of wings, which wave back and forth, creating the icy winds that keep Cocytus frozen.

Just another day in Massachusetts!

On a more serious note, we are in the season of Lent, a time of repentance, reflection, and self-examination. For some people, it is a time to “give up” something, but increasingly churches are suggesting that it is a perfect time to “take on” something to give one’s life focus as we journey with Jesus to Jerusalem and the cross.

The word Lent is said to come from an older word meaning “lengthen”, referring to the lengthening of the sunlight as Easter (and Spring) draw closer. Although it has no relation to Lent, for me, the fact that Daylight Savings Time begins on March 8 and we will have an extra hour of daylight will be especially welcome after this winter.

The Forty Days of Lent ask us to recall how the number 40 appears in the Bible (both Hebrew Bible and New Testament) at times when God is preparing to do something new. Think Noah’s Ark, the Israelites in the wilderness, Moses on the mountaintop for 40 days before coming down with the Law, the prophet Elijah also on a mountain until he finally hears the “still, small voice”, and of course Jesus’ Temptation, and the 40 days between his Resurrection and Ascension. In every case, God is powerfully at work.

Interestingly, the 40 days of Lent do not include the Sundays in Lent. Christian tradition is that we worship on “The Lord’s Day”, the day of resurrection, and so each Sunday becomes a “little Easter” for us.

Let’s hope that as Lent continues through the month of March, we will be able to gather for worship each Sunday and commit ourselves to journeying to Jerusalem with Jesus. And ultimately, not even the icy Hell of Massachusetts can prevent us from welcoming the light, warmth, joy and hope that will come once again with the church’s cry: “Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed.”

The Peace of the Lord be with you, Mike

Mike’s Meditations on Snow

Dear BPC members and friends,

As I write this, I’m sitting in the dining room area of our apartment in Braintree, watching the snow fall, following small birds flitting back and forth in the wooded area outside our windows, listening to quiet music from the TV, enjoying the Nativity scenes lining the window sills around me and the Christmas tree in the corner of the living room. Sure, it’s January 24th, and next week we’ll think about (maybe) taking the tree down, but it’s an important part of our celebration, our tradition, and our “routine” for Christmas and the month following.

“Routines” are important for us, as they give structure and provide a sense of security for many of us. One of my routines is to pick up a copy of the Boston Globe every day, because I’m “old school” and I need an actual paper in my hands. It’s just not the same if I read the paper on-line on my computer or iPhone.

Embedded in the word “routine” is another word: rut. You’ve all probably heard the saying that a rut is “a grave that’s been kicked open at both ends”. Like that old story about putting frogs in a pot of water and slowly increasing the temperature until it’s too late for the frogs to know what’s happening, we don’t always know that we’re in a rut until it hits us in the face.

As I’m preparing for the sermon that I’m preaching tomorrow (January 25), I’m looking at Jesus’ call to his first disciples. Good fishermen all, they certainly had a routine that they needed to follow each and every day to maintain their nets, boats, and other equipment, not to mention catching the fish and then preparing them for market. Along comes Jesus saying “Follow me” and their lifelong routine is broken and they are off on an adventure which wasn’t routine in any sense of the word.

I recently shared with the children and the congregation the framed poster that hangs on the wall in my office, as it has hung in all of the pastor’s offices I have occupied. It shows two big footprints and a quote from the Christian writer Louis Evely: “A sign of God is that we will be led where we did not plan to go.” I’ve experienced the truth of that saying in some very dramatic ways in my life. Let me quote from a sermon I preached a couple of years ago at the Church of the Pilgrimage in Plymouth where Pam and I worshipped while I was serving as a hospice chaplain:

“I went to college believing I was meant to be a history teacher, but during college that changed and I was headed for a journalism career, but the next thing you know I was in seminary. I considered chaplaincy, but was led to parish ministry for over 30 years. Several years ago, I began to feel that there was something else God wanted me to do. I thought about it, prayed about it, did a spiritual retreat, and talked to friends and colleagues and a small group of trusted members of the congregation I was serving at the time. The next thing you know, we had sold our house in Silver Spring, MD and moved to a garage apartment on 20 acres in the Sierra Nevada foothills in California where friends welcomed us to live. We heated with a wood stove, split wood, cut down trees, drove our friends’ tractor, saw lots of wildlife and birds, and in Pam’s case, she helped them build two stone pillars and learned how to weld as part of the process of putting snow chains on the tractor. I commuted 104 miles round trip each day to Sacramento for a whole year of Chaplaincy training as we lived off a “stipend” that was dramatically less than what I had been earning at the church. Pam couldn’t find a job in the midst of California’s 12% unemployment. Crazy, right? Well, it was one of the best years of our lives, with incredible learning professionally and personally. It was a combination of work, education, sabbatical and vacation. And when it was over, God brought us to Massachusetts where I serve as a hospice chaplain, and Pam is fully employed in her true calling, as a special education assistant.”

It was truly God’s doing, and in “breaking the routine” of the kind of ministry I had been doing for over 30 years, God led me in a new direction. In the same way, after several years of hospice chaplaincy, God has led me to Burlington to accompany you during this interim time of transition.

Which leads me to think about how we can make sure that as a group we don’t fall into a routine that keeps us from different ways of expressing the faith that binds us together in worship, fellowship and mission. Worship is really the most important thing that we do, so this month I’m going to try a couple of things that will break our routine. In place of the Gloria Patri as a response of praise after the assurance of pardon, we’re going to sing a verse of a familiar hymn tune. The Gloria Patri isn’t disappearing, but it will take its place in a rotation of a number of ways we can express our thanks for God’s forgiveness. We’ll do the same with the Doxology, another song of praise, and use other words and tunes as we present our gifts to God. Part of the reason is that the words that many of us have routinely sung all our lives aren’t necessarily known by the growing number of unchurched folks who don’t have the same history as we do. But part of it is also that some elements of worship can become too routine and it doesn’t hurt to explore some fresh words and tunes.

To round out this “Trinity” of different words, we’ll also put into our rotation the “Ecumenical” version of the Lord’s Prayer, which is distinguished by its use of the words “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”, and “save us from the time of trial” instead of “lead us not into temptation”. It also omits the words “thy” and “thine”, which is actually usage that dates back to 17th century English, and is not from the original biblical text, which the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible translates as “you”, as in “your kingdom come, your will be done”.

So, some words and tunes are changing. As we continue on the church’s transition to its next installed pastor, there will certainly be other changes that will be made. There may be things we need to let go of and there may be new mission directions that we pursue. This coming week I’m off to a seminar sponsored by the Interim Ministry Network. On the third page of a book I’m required to read in preparation for the seminar the author makes a distinction between change and transition. Let me quote what author William Bridges writes: “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions. They aren’t the same thing. Change is situational: the move to a new site, the retirement of the founder, the reorganization of the roles on the team, the revisions to the pension plan. Transition, on the other hand, is psychological; it is a three-phase process that people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the details of the new situation that the change brings about.”

I think of a dear church member from New Jersey named Mabel Cox. She was our oldest member and a plain-speaking soul from Maine, where she knew L.L. Bean (not the store, the person!). I always walked baptized babies back to Mabel’s last row seat so she could see them. She was poor and lived very simply, but she always graciously welcomed the newcomers moving into the big houses on what used to be farmland. When the church had outgrown a very small building, the members voted to buy 10 acres down the road and build a new church. A couple of months after we moved into the new church, Mabel was giving a “testimony” during the Stewardship campaign. In her very direct way, she looked out at the congregation and said, “You know, when we moved to this new church, I wasn’t really sure I liked it. But then I looked around me and I saw all the people I loved, and everything was all right.”
May it be so.

The Peace of the Lord be with you,

Mike O’Brien

Manse updates

Dear BPC members and friends,

If you weren’t at the Dec. 21 worship service, you may not have heard the news that Mark Wells shared on behalf of the Session and the Trustees concerning the future of the church’s manse. As part of a joint meeting with the Trustees and after much discussion, the Session voted to begin the process of recommending to the congregation that the manse be sold. Proceeds of the sale would be retained by the Presbyterian Church in Burlington for its ministry and mission, likely providing supplemental salary/housing allowance support for the next installed Pastor of the church over a period of many years.

The proposed sale can only take place with a congregational vote AND a Presbytery vote. In good Presbyterian tradition, this will take place “decently and in order” and “if the way be clear”, which is Presbyterian-speak for “there are rules and regulations for how to do this, so nothing is going to happen very soon.” We Presbyterians are not very nimble in matters such as these! A small group from the Session and Trustees will first meet with the Trustees of Boston Presbytery who will review the process, discuss the reasons why Session is recommending the sale, learn how the funds would be used, and verify that this benefits the mission and ministry of the congregation.

In the Presbyterian system, congregations hold property “in trust for” the Presbyterian Church (USA). What does that mean? In practical terms, it means if a congregation goes out of existence, the property ultimately belongs to the Presbytery which must then decide to sell it and use the proceeds for the mission and ministry of the Presbytery. Likewise, if a congregation decides to sell property, such as a manse, Presbytery will want to be sure that the proceeds of the sale are used for the mission and ministry of the particular church.

Why sell the manse? There are a number of reasons, but here’s a primary one: a Presbyterian Board of Pensions study in 2010 showed that 11% of pastors rent; 77% own their houses (with or without a mortgage) and only 10% live in congregation–owned housing (if you’ve been adding this up, yes, there are 2% of pastors who live in “Other” arrangements, which are not specified). In the 1960’s, when Burlington’s manse was purchased, 6% of pastors rented, 26% owned their own homes (with or without mortgage) and 64% of pastors lived in church owned housing (and 4% “Other”). The desire for equity has driven the dramatic change in pastor-owned housing.

Why not rent the manse? One reason not to: if a clergyperson is not living in the manse, it goes back on the tax rolls. It also places the Trustees in the position of being landlords, and I’m just guessing here, but I don’t think those Trustees joined the church so that they could be landlords, with all the attendant headaches.

As a pastor who has lived in a manse at my first two churches, owned houses at the next two, and who is now renting, I can attest that living in a manse can be a tricky emotional “negotiation” between pastor, spouse, and congregation. Pastors can feel that they are placed in a very “dependent” situation. They may hold back in making requests, lest they be seen as demanding (but making a spouse unhappy), or what they feel is a reasonable request might be interpreted by some as being “pushy”. Put another way, how many of you have to ask your boss at work about having repairs done at your house or apartment?

Moving forward, the whole process will be transparent, and the congregation will be fully informed. The final decision will be the congregation’s in collaboration with the Presbytery. Time can be set aside for some questions and answers at this month’s Annual Meeting of the congregation, remembering that we are very early in a lengthy process.

I’m looking forward to our Annual Meeting, which I have never seen done on a Saturday before. Just hoping that the Patriots’ second-round playoff game isn’t scheduled for Jan. 17 in the early afternoon!

Blessings,

Mike

Mike’s Musings

The great Lutheran preacher Edmund Steimle gives us the following bit of history (and I completely understand how it can happen, having lived in Baltimore, Maryland, where a number of locals spoke of it as Bawlmer, Merrlin):

In England at the beginning of the 15th century, the members of the Roman Catholic Order of the Star of Bethlehem began to take in some patients, and in time their efforts became the Bethlehem Hospital in London—the first lunatic asylum, as they called it back then. Over the years, Bethlehem became shortened and slurred into Bedlam and “Bedlam” became the name for any lunatic asylum and eventually it entered the language as a name for any wild uproar and confusion. From Bethlehem to Bedlam.

As I write this three days before Black Friday, and with however many shopping days until Christmas, I think you know where I’m going with this: are we going to Bethlehem—to the manger and to Jesus—or are we going to Bedlam, that is, are we going crazy? Are we going to use the season of Advent as a time of patient waiting, prayer, reflection, and family time together, or are we going to jump on the express train to Bedlam?

The concern over the nature of our Christmas celebration is not a new one; in the 1700’s, Benjamin Franklin observed: “O how many observe Christ’s birthday, how few his precepts. It’s easier to observe holidays than commandments”.

Even earlier, Puritans in America were shocked and appalled by what the holiday had become. You know H.L. Mencken’s definition of a Puritan, don’t you? A Puritan is someone who is upset that somewhere, somehow, someone else is having a good time. In the 1600’s, Puritan William Prynne thundered from the pulpit, “Into what a stupendous height of more than pagan impiety have we now degenerated. Christmas ought to be a day of mourning more than rejoicing, not a time spent in amorous mixt (sic), voluptuous, unchristian, dare I say pagan dancing, to God and Christ’s dishonour, religion’s scandal, charitie’s shipwrecke and sinne’s advantage”. Puritans struck Christmas from the church calendar, and insisted it ought to be like any other day. They wanted to avoid any appearance of celebrating a “papish” or Catholic, holiday. Puritans treated Christmas like any other day; they saw no word in the Bible that called believers to a special celebration.

To paraphrase a bumper sticker posted in my office window, “Tough Season? We’re Open on Sunday”. During Advent, my sermons will be focusing on participants in the “First Christmas”: “Mary: Jesus’ First Disciple”, “Joseph: Journeyman Carpenter” and “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Shepherds.” I’ll also take a look at a later addition to the festivities: “The Real St. Nicholas”. And on Christmas Eve, we will remember the story of Jesus’ birth through the Tableaux.

I’ll see you in church!

The Peace of the Lord be with you,

Mike

Mike’s Musings………..

I don’t know how you feel, but for me one of the worst days of the year is the day that Daylight Savings Time ends, because turning the clock back on Saturday means that it will be dark around 5:00 p.m. or so on Sunday. Even more depressing, there will be a day in the future when the sun sets over Boston at 4:11p.m. Lord, have mercy.

This year we will turn our clocks back on the evening of Saturday, Nov. 1, which is All Saints’ Day, and the next day we will observe All Saints’ Sunday. We Presbyterians do not have “capital S” saints, as other churches do, meaning we don’t have faithful persons from the past who have been elevated to a higher spiritual status than “ordinary” Presbyterians. That doesn’t mean you won’t find Presbyterian Churches named “Saint Andrew Presbyterian” because you will find many of them, especially where Scottish heritage is strong. Google “St. Patrick Presbyterian Church” and you’ll get the same result. Believe it or not, you can also find “Saint Andrew Baptist Church”. While we may not revere or pray to those Saints, we often recognize their place in our larger Christian heritage.

Full disclosure: I do have some Catholic DNA, so among my favorite Saints are Patrick, Francis of Assisi, St. Jude (patron Saint of lost causes), St. Nicholas (the REAL St. Nick) and St. Joseph the Worker (my union roots are showing). I’m also partial to the sainthood candidacy of Rose Hawthorne, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s daughter, who founded the “Hawthorne Dominicans”, whose hospice gave my father such comfort and peace in his final weeks.

When Presbyterians speak of saints, we’re usually speaking of the “communion of saints”, that “great cloud of witnesses” that surrounds us especially when we celebrate Communion. When Paul wrote his letters to churches, he sometimes addresses them to individuals, but also to “all the saints”, meaning all the believers, all the Christians in a given location.

On All Saints’ Sunday, we will take some special moments to remember the “saints” in our lives who have passed away over the past year. And we will do that by lighting candles as worshipers offer the names of the “saints” dear to them who have passed on.

It will get darker each Sunday, but throughout November we’ll recall that Jesus said “I am the light of the world. The people who follow me will not walk in darkness, but they will have the light of life.” And at the end of the month, Nov. 30, we observe the First Sunday in Advent, lighting the first candle in the Advent wreath, remembering that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

The Peace of the Lord be with you,

Mike

What’s the story?

Someone—and this quote has been attributed to everyone from Dostoevsky to John Gardner—someone once said that there are only two possible stories that have ever been written: “A stranger comes to town” and “Someone goes on a journey”.

In a real way, Burlington Presbyterian Church and I are living out those stories. My wife Pam and I have arrived as strangers who are excited to be among you, and with Rod MacDonald’s retirement, BPC has embarked on another chapter in its journey. To be honest, it is probably a time of disorientation for all of us. Pam and I are adjusting to life in a new apartment in Braintree, finding stores and walking trails, but certainly we are missing our walks along the waterfront in Plymouth, checking the growth of the fledglings in the osprey nest, my four mile commute to the Beacon Hospice office and the less than 5 minute walk we made to the Church of the Pilgrimage on Sunday mornings. We are now getting oriented not only to a new home and community, but also a new church and its history, culture, traditions, and core values.

I won’t presume to know the depths of your disorientation after Rod’s retirement, a succession of pulpit supply pastors, and the necessary “radio silence” maintained by the Interim Pastor Search Committee and the Session as they did their work. I do know that you are each, in your own way, grieving (and that’s not too strong a word) your particular relationship and memories of Rod and Cathy. As with any time of grief, no one can set a timeline for moving beyond those feelings. I’m here to honor your feelings and in God’s time help you take some steps forward. I’m not here to “replace” Rod, but I am a stranger coming to town to accompany BPC on its journey, and over time we will all be able to say as Paul said in Galatians, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God”.

There are a few thoughts I need to share with you right from the start about the role of the Interim Pastor. First of all, I want to emphasize the “Pastor” part of the title. I am going to be your Pastor, and I am fully committed to providing pastoral care to members and friends of the congregation. My cell phone and home phone are published in our crossroads, and my email is pastor@burlingtonpres.org. If there is a pastoral need, let me know. I will be taking Fridays off, but you can always reach me. And yes, I live in Braintree, but I have a car!

Now let’s visit that word “Interim”. It means what it says: I am here for the time between Rod’s retirement and the calling of a new pastor, and I will in fact probably leave before a new pastor starts. I have signed a contract with the BPC Session and the Presbytery which clearly states: “It is understood by all parties that the pastor under contract may not be considered for the installed pastoral position in this congregation.” I am not now, nor will I ever be, a candidate. Period. My work is to accompany you during this transition time, help prepare you for a new pastor, and then ride off into the sunset. My contract is initially for 12 months, but that can be and is often extended in 3, 6, or even 12 month periods, depending on circumstances.

The contract further stipulates that “It is understood that the Interim Pastor will not be involved in any way with the Pastor Nominating Committee, except to facilitate that committee’s regular reports to the Session”. I will not coach, advise, direct or otherwise interfere with the work of the Pastor Nominating Committee that you will elect.

What I do plan to do once the “program year” begins is to set up some opportunities for church members and friends to meet with me and Pam in a small group setting. I shared with the Interim Pastor Search Committee that I was intrigued by the statement on the church’s website that “we are dreamers and doubters, seekers and believers. We don’t have all the answers, but we are on a journey together trying to follow Jesus Christ. We’d be glad if you would join us.” I asked the IPNC members to share some of their dreams and I look forward to hearing yours.

I often joke with my fellow Presbyterians that “we Presbyterians are not very nimble.” We value our process and procedures, and friends from other denominations are amazed when I tell them how long it sometimes takes for a church to call a new pastor. In BPC’s case, that’s not all bad. You have been blessed with 35 years of caring, compassionate, thoughtful leadership. Presbyterian process and procedure are important, but so is attentive listening for God’s “still, small voice”. I have a poster in my office from my college days, with two large footprints on it and the words “A sign of God is that we will be led where we did not plan to go.” Let’s open our hearts and minds to God’s leading in this interim time.

Most of all, Pam and I are glad that we accepted the invitation on the website: “we’d be glad if you would come with us.”
The Peace of the Lord be with you,

Mike O’Brien

But wait, there’s more!…………….

I’m grateful to Ken Dewar for sharing his “letter of introduction” from the Interim Search Committee, printed elsewhere in the Crossroads. Let me add just a few more personal details.

Pam has worked for the last four years as a Special Education Assistant at Furnace Brook Middle School in Marshfield, having worked in a similar position at Ellicott Mills Middle School in Ellicott City, MD for seven years. She’s a lifelong Presbyterian, except for the past four years when she joined the UCC Church of the Pilgrimage in Plymouth. She’s happy to be Presbyterian again!

Pam and I have a wonderful blended family of four adult children and four granddaughters. Daughter Kelly and her husband Brian have their doctorates in clinical psychology, work for the Veteran’s Administration in Bedford, and live in Chelmsford with their dog Oscar and cat Cashmir. Daughter Katie and her husband Bryan live in Flanders, NJ with 2 year old Zoey and their boxer, Riley. Katie works as an underwriter for an insurance agency and Bryan does high level computer stuff that I can’t begin to understand. Son James and wife Nicole live in Hackettstown, NJ with daughters Isabel (Bella), 10 years old, and Ava, who will be three in November, and dogs Lady and Darby. James works for the same insurance agency that Katie does, and he is in fact her boss. Occasionally Katie acknowledges that. Son David lives in Jackson Township, OH and his daughter’s name is Riley (yes, we have a granddaughter and a granddog each named Riley!). Dave is the crime and courts reporter for the Record Courier in Kent OH, and Riley lives with her mother Brandise in Akron, OH.

I have a great Irish Catholic name: Michael John O’Brien. My father was John Joseph O’Brien and he was Catholic but not necessarily a real strong one, and he married a stubborn Scots woman named Margaret Isabel McCullough Hunt, who insisted the children be raised Presbyterian. That was that, and so I’ve been Presbyterian all my life, and I have the old Sunday School Oak Leaf with cluster and bars attesting to my good attendance for quite a number of years. My parents are deceased, but Johnny still talks to me (you know what I mean). You’ll find Johnny O’Brien popping up in my sermons from time to time.