Prayer Partners with God

Last week I invited you to think about why we worship. This week, I’m asking you to think about prayer, specifically, how it is that we are “prayer partners” with God. We’ll hear a scripture lesson of selected verses from Romans 8, where the Apostle Paul writes about the new life that is ours through God’s Spirit. Because Paul’s writing can be dense at times, we’ll listen to Eugene Peterson’s translation and paraphrase of Paul. Here’s a couple of sample sentences: “Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle, but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them–living and breathing God.” And what does Paul tell us about the Spirit’s role in our prayers? “God’s Spirit is right alongside, helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. The Spirit does our praying in us and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.” Alongside that passage from Romans, we’ll hear Luke’s words describing Jesus’ very human agony while at prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night he was arrested, and we’ll reflect on the meaning of his prayer for us.

Jane Vennard, a United Church of Christ pastor and spiritual director, led a week-long seminar that I attended based on her book “The Praying Congregation.” On Sunday, we’ll consider her words about how God partners with us in prayer: “Praying with God is simply honoring the presence of God in every aspect of my life. I pray with God, and God prays with me. I pray in God, and God prays in me. We are one, and we honor that reality. I pray with God when I dance with joy, when I weep in despair, and when I speak out for justice. I pray in God, when I sit, silently gazing out the window at winter’s first snowfall, enveloped in the silence of creation. God prays in me when I feel a longing to be still in the presence of God, when I am moved to reach out to someone in need, or when I am filled with love that I cannot keep from overflowing into the world. God is simply about presence–my presence in God and God’s presence in me.”

Praying isn’t just for the spiritual giants among us. It’s for all of us who can probably relate to what Paul said: If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter–the Spirit does our praying in us and for us. So, bring your wordless sighs and your aching groans to worship as we all enter into God’s presence.

Why Worship?

What brings you to worship? What keeps you coming back. Most important of all, why are you there in the first place? The Presbyterian Book of Order, in its Directory for Worship, provides the “official Presbyterian” reason  for worship: “Christian worship joyfully ascribes all praise and honor, glory and power, to the triune God. In worship, the people of God acknowledge God present in their world and in their lives. As they respond to God’s claim and redemptive action in Jesus Christ, believers are transformed and renewed. In worship, the faithful offer themselves to God and are equipped for God’s service in the world.” Notice that in worship we respond (to God) but we are also transformed and renewed (by God). We offer ourselves (to God) but we are then equipped. The 19th century Danish Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (SK) spoke of the ‘theater of worship, believing that many Christians saw themselves as the “audience” for worship: passive recipients of the choir music, and prayers. SK turned that idea around and proposed that it is God who is the true audience for worship. Pastor Anthony Robinson explains it this way: “In one way of looking at worship, the actors are the preacher, the choirs, the liturgists and musicians. The audience is then the congregation, which settles into its place to be touched, badgered (!), inspired or entertained by the actors…..but where is God…nowhere to be found. But re-frame the theater of worship this way: the actors in the worship drama are members of the congregation. Worship leaders are just that-leaders and prompters of the congregation’s worship of God. . .God is the audience for the church’s worship. God has become the object and focus of our worship, not ourselves.” Our scriptures for Sunday are Acts 17:22-29 and Revelation 7: 9-17. Read them before Sunday and think about what worship means to you.

Now we’ve caught up!

The Hospitality of Ananias

George Shuba is best remembered for a simple act of welcome that he extended to his teammate Jackie Robinson. He shook Robinson’s hand after a home run, which the third base coach and the two runners who scored ahead of Robinson had not done. The obituary notes, “The handshake was seen as a gesture of acceptance, perhaps the first time on a professional baseball diamond that white and black teammates joined hands in solidarity.” From our perspective in 2014, it may seem to be a minor gesture, but it was a profound gesture of hospitality. In her book Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, Christine D. Pohl writes, “When we offer hospitality to strangers, we welcome them into a place to which we are somehow connected–a space that has meaning and value to us. In hospitality, the stranger is welcomed into a safe, personal, and comfortable place, a place of respect and acceptance and friendship. Even if only briefly, the stranger is included in a life giving and life sustaining network of relations. Such welcome involves active listening and a mutual sharing of life and life stories.” Sunday’s scripture is Acts 9: 10-19, which tells us of Saul’s welcome into the Christian Church after his conversion experience. God had to step in and do some one on one persuasion with Ananias to convince him to extend hospitality to Saul. Ananias welcomes Saul, and the rest is history.

A Second Chance

From Rev. Mike:

This Sunday’s sermon is entitled “A Second Chance”. The scripture is Acts 15: 36-41, which describes how Paul and Barnabas get into a major disagreement about John Mark. On a previous mission trip, John Mark had suddenly left Paul and Barnabas, and he had returned home to Jerusalem. Paul has not forgiven him, so he refuses to take John Mark along on a new mission trip. Barnabas disagrees, and the result is he and Paul go their separate ways, and Barnabas takes John Mark under his wing. Paul Moots writes in his book “Becoming Barnabas: The Ministry of Encouragement, “It may seem ironic to us that Paul was so dead set against allowing the young John Mark a second chance, given his own history. When he was Saul the Pharisee rather than Paul the missionary, he had been the scourge of Christ’s church. With the possible exception of Herod, no single individual created such fear in those who followed Christ as did Saul. Yet Christ forgave him and called him. The church–with a vital assist from Barnabas–accepted Paul and commissioned him to ministry. Paul was aware of how much Jesus forgave in calling him. Yet he held the past against John Mark and refused to work with him. ” As you prepare for Sunday, think about who in your life has been “Barnabas” for you, encouraging you despite your failures and believing in your gifts.”

The Son of Encouragement

This is the first in what we hope to have as an ongoing series of sermon recordings that will be available as a podcast (we’ll post information about getting it through iTunes etc. as soon as that is ready). I’ll be posting the sermons here however, along with any commentary from the pastor that goes with it. I need to fiddle about with it a little, so be patient. – James

From Rev. Mike:

Sunday’s sermon will be the first of three looking at the role a man named Barnabas played in the early Church. His given name was Joseph of Cyprus, but his fellow workers re-named him Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement”. Some might consider him a “minor character” but he seems to turn up at some fairly critical times in the life of the Church, when his spirit of encouragement was sorely needed. On Sunday, the scripture lesson is comprised of two passages from the Acts of the Apostles: Chapter 9: 26-51 and Chapter 11: 19-26, which tell us of what happened after Saul (later to be Paul), a persecutor of Christians, had a vision from God on the Damascus Road. When he showed up in the church post-conversion, folks were pretty suspicious of his intentions. Enter Barnabas. Paul Moots, in his book Becoming Barnabas:The Ministry of Encouragement, writes, “Barnabas’ partnership with Saul really began when Barnabas spoke to the apostles on behalf of the church’s former persecutor. In that case, the church had a valid reason for fear. Saul had been enthusiastic in his pursuit and persecution of those following Christ, and the consequences of those he captured had been grave—imprisonment, forfeiture of property, even death. The problem with even this legitimate fear was that it blinded the apostles to a new reality: Saul had changed. . . .By speaking for Saul and against fear, Barnabas made it possible for this new reality to reshape the apostles’ view of Saul, allowing them to support Saul in his ministry.” More than just being a “reference” for Paul, Barnabas and Paul become partners, providing us with a real lesson on how we can partner with and serve one another.

September 2014 Crossroads

Welcome to….
Rev. Michael O’Brien and his wife Pam. Rev. Mike is our new interim pastor. He is a graduate of Gettysburg College, holds an M.Div. degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and a MSW degree from Rutgers University Graduate School of Social Work. He did his Basic Clinical Pastoral Education unit at Worcester State Hospital and completed 4 Advanced units of Clinical Pastoral Education in a Chaplaincy Residency program at Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento, CA. He has served as either Senior Pastor, Pastor, Assistant/Associate Pastor or Interim Associate Pastor at four Presbyterian churches in New Jersey and Maryland from 1977 to 2009. From July, 2010 to July, 2014, he served as Chaplain at Beacon Hospice in Plymouth, MA, having been a Chaplain resident at Sutter Medical Center for the prior year.

A big thank you to…

To the Worship Committee (especially Mark Vogel) for overseeing worship while we searched for an interim pastor; to our many guest ministers, to Kathleen for the bulletins. To everyone who helped with the children during Summer Celebration times on Sundays.

Also to the Hospitality Committee for their great work in sponsoring our hosting of the July 4 parade units for refreshment and restrooms as they prepared to step off; and for a great church picnic on July 13 at Springs Brook Park.

To the Interim Search Committee, James McIninch, Brad Morrison, Ken Dewar, Linda Roscoe and Niloo Hennings, for all the hours they put in. They worked very hard (and very secretly) to find the right interim pastor to meet our needs.

A Farewell to…
Alex Haney, as he heads into his second year as a YAV. He will be spending his next year in Little Rock, AR.

Also to the Davis Family. We will miss them…Natalie’s sweet ladylike attitude, Vanessa’s sassiness, and Eric’s beaming smiles. Best wishes to all of them as they move on in their life journey.

Deacon’s Corner

The Deacons have had a quiet summer. They will be assisting again this year for Rally Day.

Thank you to all who have been bringing George to church every Sunday.

The Food Pantry is in need of canned vegetables.

Stewardship Report

Many thanks to the Congregation for their Pentecost offering of $593.00. $335.50 was sent to General Assembly and the balance retained by PCBM.

Our Peacekeeping Offering is next on the agenda and is scheduled for Sunday, October 5, 2014. Our offering concludes A Season of Peace which encourages nonviolent solutions and provides opportunities to give witness to God’s gift of peace at the local, national and global levels. Look for further information in Sunday’s church bulletins during September.

Sing to the Lord a New Song
Choir will be starting again in September. Choir rehearses on Thursday nights from 7:30 to 9 pm and on Sunday mornings from 10:00 to 10:20 am. The first practice will be Thursday night, September 4, and the first service will be Sunday, September 7. The ability to read music is not required in order to participate, but non-readers need to come for most of the practices. However, if a person is skilled musically, they are allowed to take the music home to study, and join the Sunday morning practice. All are most welcome. The choir sings before the Word for Children, except for Communion Sundays, so teachers and students can participate, if desired. For further information, contact any choir member or Nancy Timmerman at 617-266-2595.

Musicians (of all ages) who would like to play or sing in church are encouraged to do so. Please let Nancy know if she does not already. This special music can occur during the Offertory most Sundays. In addition, the choir sometimes prepares music which uses an instrument or bells to supplement the choir. Special music with choir needs about a month of notice. Other music can be scheduled a week or two in advance. Let your light shine!

Women’s Bible Study
Women’s Bible Study will kick off their year with a brunch on Thursday, September 11. We will then begin a study, Reconciling Paul: A Contemporary Study of 2 Corinthians. All women of the church are welcome! See Marylou Lynn if you have any questions.

September 14, we will celebrate being back together after all the swimming, hiking, traveling and the fact that we now have an interim pastor in place.

Lunch will be served following worship in Fellowship Hall. The menu is soup, salad, breads, dessert and beverages.

Please find the sign-up sheet in F.H. We really need to know how many to plan for. All are welcome.

Saturday, October 18 is the date for the BPC fall retreat. Mark your calendars now and plan to come for the day from 10:00 – 3:30. The theme of the retreat is “Seeking God’s Guidance: As Individuals and In Our Community”. There will be time to focus on prayer, Bible study and discovering other spiritual practices to help us as we seek God’s guidance in our individual lives and as a community at BPC. We are planning time for a group craft and lunch will be provided!

Stay tuned for more details, but for now Save the Date!

Tony Triglione Memorial Walk
For Mission of Deeds

DATE: September 21, 2014

TIME: Registration at 11:30 am; Walk at 12 noon

LOCATION: Lake Quannapowitt, Wakefield, MA

STARTING LOCATION: Wakefield Lower Common near the Gazebo

REGISTRATION: $15 per walker / $40 per family


Complimentary appetizers from Joe’s American Bar and Grill, Radio station MIX 104.1 dishing out Ice Cream, Fabulous Music by the North Ave Band, Free Face Painting for all, Free Refreshments – popcorn, slush, granola bars, water; Raffle of Red Sox vs Tampa Bay tickets: Capitol Grille Burlington – Wine & Dinner raffle; Combined local businesses and restaurants gift cards Raffle.

Details & forms available in the office.

Introducing Our New YAV

Amanda Moak
While we are all sad to see Alex leave, he will be missed, we are also excited to continue to support the Young Adult Volunteer program with the Boston Presbytery. This year, the Boston Presbytery is sponsoring three new Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) to engage in the mission of providing healthy and sustainable food for all people by working with area churches and community groups. The goals of the YAV program are to help the young people learn to live simply, consider vocational choices, and enrich their spiritual lives. Our new YAV is Amanda Moak.

Amanda Moak is a recent graduate from Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. In school she studied history, focusing primarily on American history. It’s one of the main reasons she fell so deeply in love with Memphis and colorful past. During her time at Rhodes, Amanda enjoyed being a part of the varsity tennis team, and working for her coaches in the tennis office. She was an active member of the Kappa Delta Sorority and worked with a student run street paper, The Bridge. While leaving Memphis and Rhodes is going to be a challenge for her, she is looking forward to living in Boston and doing something new with her life.

Now that she has graduated, Amanda has been spending time at home in Brookhaven, Mississippi. She finally has time to read for fun again and is excited about not constantly thinking about papers and tests. This summer she has become well versed in the arts of refinishing furniture; or as some people call it, upcycling. She is still playing tennis a few times a week, but on a less competitive level. But mostly, she is ready to leave home and begin this new part of her journey.

Jane McIninch will be Amanda’s supervisor. Amanda will be working full time in Burlington sharing her time between our church, the food pantry and working with the Burlington Area Chamber of Commerce Charitable Foundation. She will help clients of the pantry figure out how to better take advantage of the fresh produce coming in from Farmer Dave and from the Burlington Community Garden. She will help build some workshops to teach Burlington residents including pantry clients cooking skills, better nutrition and life style changes to prevent obesity and live healthier lives. She will also help with the community garden. Be on the look out for more movie nights and other events and plan to get involved. On Fridays all three YAVs will work together in various volunteering activities throughout the Boston area.

The three YAVs sponsored by the Boston Presbytery will live together in an apartment in Watertown. They will also be challenged to live simply and will spend the first six months restricted to only purchasing food produced locally in New England and then the last six months purchasing their food through the SNAP program (Supplemental Nutrition Food Assistance). After spending a week in the New York City area at an orientation for all the YAVs serving this year both nationally and internationally, Amanda will spend the week of August 25th in a local orientation to Boston. Her first Sunday with us will be August 31st. Please welcome her to our church family and plan at some point during the year to invite her to participate in a meal or activity with you.

Christian Education
Sunday School Classes
Sunday school classes will be beginning soon. In the coming weeks, registration forms will be distributed during announcements. The form is MANDATORY for children attending nursery through older youth Sunday School classes. One form will cover all children in the same family. The deadline to turn in the CE registration form is preferably Rally Day, Sept 7, but no later than Sept. 14.

On September 7 the Church School classes will assemble Hygiene Kits for their Rally Day Project. We will need a one-gallon plastic bag with zipper closure for each kit. So this will be much easier than making cloth bags like last year! Note the exact items in the list below.

You could bring several individual toothbrushes, a box of gallon bags, a few of the items, or all of the items. The kids will form an assembly line on Rally Day and create each kit.

Place your items in the “Hygiene Kit” box near the church entrance.

Hygiene Kit for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance
1 – hand towel (approximately 16” x 28”, no fingertip or bath towels)
1 – washcloth
1 – wide-tooth comb
1 – nail clipper
1 – bar of soap (bath size in wrapper)
1 – toothbrush (in original packaging)
6 – Band-Aids® or other adhesive bandage strips
Please do not add toothpaste. Toothpaste with an extended expiration date will
be added to Hygiene Kit shipments just prior to

BPC in the world
This article was sent out around the country in June by Church World Service.
July 31, 2014

Crayons Needed
With back to school sales already starting to pop up in stores, now is a good time to organize a CWS School Kits drive! The need for CWS School Kits is great and growing, and supplies in the warehouse are low.

Would your church or organization commit to holding a CWS School Kit drive to help our neighbors around the world? Read about the items needed to assemble school kits and then check out those sales.

One example of New England getting involved comes from the Burlington Presbyterian Church in Burlington, Mass. Congregants organized a CWS School Kit mission project last September as their children were starting back to Sunday School. The children helped fill 62 School Kit bags while learning about what Christians can do to help those in need. An assembly line was set up with the younger children at one end. Those children put smaller single items into each bag, then passed the bags to the next class, who were a little older. The middle school children added items that needed to be counted. The assembly line concluded with the older children checking each kit to ensure all items were present. We are so grateful that hands big and small aided in the effort to increase the CWS School Kit supply and help our neighbors around the world!

We also received the following letter from CWS:
Dear Friends:
Thank you for your kind donation of 62 school kits to Church World Service. Your compassion has given individuals and families touched by disaster the tangible evidence that they matter. That someone cares. And they are not alone.

Disasters can strike anywhere, anytime. And they can take many forms: tornadoes, earthquakes, civil conflict, drought, hurricanes and more. But with the support of caring people like you – who understand the urgency of responding after a disaster – people in crisis receive help when they need it, and hope for the future.

For updates on our most recent work, visit

Here at home or overseas, when tragedy strikes your donations ensure that help is never far behind.

With deepest gratitude,
Rev. John L. McCullough
President and CEO

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 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.