Small things with great love

During the season of Lent, a small group met weekly to discuss the ways in which our spirituality and relationship to food are intertwined with one another. Using the “Just Eating?” curriculum of the Presbyterian Hunger Program of PC(USA), we looked at five different areas of food, faith, and justice: The connection between food and sacrament; how food nurtures our bodies; the root causes of global hunger and our response as people of faith; the environmental impact of food production and consumption; and how we can build community through sharing meals and food with one another.

As a Hunger Action Congregation, our church is already responding in a number of different ways to the areas named above. We were a pilot host church for the Boston-area Food Justice Young Adult Volunteer program, hosting a YAV for the first three years of the program here in our Presbytery. We host Farmer Dave’s CSA pickup nearly year-round (soon to include winter shares as well in 2020!); we actively support the Burlington Food Pantry through donations and volunteering; we have a strong commitment to the annual Walk for Hunger of more than 30 years of participation; and some of us help tend the Community Garden in Burlington as well. Our gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing also help support the Presbyterian Hunger Fund, which gives grants to programs combating hunger here in the United States, as well as globally. I’m sure there are other ways we are actively involved in combating local and global hunger or working towards food justice that I have missed.

We also talked about ways our individual choices can have an impact on not only our own health and well-being, but on our spiritual practices; and by extension, on the wider community as well. As I continue my own journey toward better health, inside and out, I encourage you to also consider making small changes in your own daily life that will have a ripple effect in contributing toward positive change in the world around you. Small choices add up to big differences in the long run. Can you reduce your use of single-use plastic by using mesh produce bags and reusable shopping bags? Have you thought about composting your left-over food waste, or finding a local service that might be happy to receive it and turn it into wonderful fertilizer? Do you grow your own vegetables, and share the excess with your neighbors?

Those are just a few things to get you thinking along the lines of what we have been discussing in our study. We concluded our time together last night, with a wonderful potluck of simply prepared foods, that were both filling and delicious. We all agreed that eating together with our church family is one of our favorite ways of sharing time together, and I look forward to more opportunities to share our faith at the table with all of you.

As Mother Teresa is credited with saying: “We can do no great things; only small things, with great love.”

Peace,
Pastor Trina

Commitments and Priorities

The beginning of a new year is a good time to re-examine our commitments and priorities. Many of us do this in our personal lives, as we set goals for the year ahead, and make new commitments to our health, our relationships, our financial well-being, or any number of other things that we want to improve upon. It is also a good time to reflect on our shared life together, and the goals and priorities we want to set for the year ahead. At its heart, the church is a community of people who are called together to join in worship of God, and to grow in relationship with God, with one another, and with the world around us. As we enter the fourth year of our journey together, I am interested to hear your thoughts on the direction you feel called as a community of faith.

As a community of faith, we must continually ask ourselves the questions:
– What kind of community of faith are we called to be?
– What kinds of activities are we called to do as a people of God?

During the annual meeting, I had intended to do the following activity as a group discussion. However, we ran short on time, and decided to postpone the discussion portion to a later date. I am including the questions in the newsletter so that you might have some time to reflect on what you would most like to see us doing as a church. What do you participate in now that you would like to continue? What are some ideas of things you wish we were able to offer?

Whether you have been part of this church for forty years, or four months – or anywhere in between! – I hope you will take some time to read through the questions below and write down some of your thoughts and responses. In my attempt to categorize things a bit, I have thought of three primary areas of our life together: Service, Study, and Support/Social.

Through service, or mission, we seek to reach out to the wider community around us, whether they are our local neighbors, or participating in larger circles of service at the regional, national, or even global level. What are some areas of service in which you would like to get involved as a church?

Through study, we seek to nurture and develop our relationship with God through reading, discussing, and sharing reflections on the scriptures and other faith-related materials (books, film, devotionals, etc), with a small group. What are some topics you would be interested in studying as a faith community?

Through support or social opportunities, we seek to develop and strengthen our relationships with others in the community – whether they are part of the church or not. These may be one-time events, or long-term small groups who meet consistently over time. How can we best support you? What kinds of support groups, or social events, would you like to participate in, or do you wish we offered?

As you reflect on these three areas, if you have specific organizations or projects in mind, please list those as well. Remember, this is a judgment-free zone – no idea is too outlandish, wacky, or impossible, so use your creativity! I look forward to hearing your visions and dreams for the Presbyterian Church in Burlington!

Peace,
Pastor Trina

Stay awake, and watch

In the rush of preparations leading up to Christmas, it can be easy to lose focus on why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. While the world is full of the hustle and bustle of putting up the lights and decorations, shopping for the “perfect” gift for our loved ones, and baking, baking, baking delicious cookies and holiday treats, the church is in a different season altogether. Advent is a period of waiting, of anticipation, of looking for the coming of the Christ child into our lives once more.

The season of Advent is a reminder that our time is not our own. We like to pretend that it is; that we can manage it efficiently, plan accordingly. That by our sheer determination we can will it to bend to our needs and desires. We strive to turn it back, and for so many reasons. To re-experience time with someone we love. To relive time with someone we’ve lost. To recreate a moment in time we want to remember again or that we wish we had handled differently. We wonder if we can alter time in some way, change the course of time.

The charge to keep awake during this Advent season is not just about waiting and anticipation. It is not just about getting ready or being ready because can you ever be ready for Christ’s coming? Can we ever be ready for God entering into humanity, into our sinfulness and brokenness, into our pain and loss, into our joy, into our love, into our longing?

Ultimately, God’s entering into time disrupts time, displaces time, disorients time. Not always comfortably. Not always helpfully. Not always desirably. And never how or when expectable. Why? Because divinity took on mortality, eternity entered temporality, and love eliminated death. This, my friends, is the meaning of Advent time.

May you find space and time amidst all the preparations of the season to remember that our time is not our own. That God bursts into our lives when we least expect it, even though we have been told to “stay awake, and watch.”

Blessings of the season,

Trina

Now

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

This quote is paraphrased from the teaching of the Talmud, a Jewish sacred text containing the intergenerational conversations and teachings of rabbis through the ages as they comment and expand upon the teachings contained in the Mishnah and the Torah. In the wake of the horrific mass murder at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh this past Saturday, I find myself searching for ways to grapple with this latest violent attack in a series of violent acts carried out by extremists in our country. The senseless murders of eleven Jewish people, who had gathered in their house of worship to pray and come together as a community of faith, was motivated by hatred and anti-Semitic, as well as anti-immigrant rhetoric and ideology.

This kind of language is on the rise in our country, and we cannot close our eyes to the devastating effects it is having on so many communities – be they Jewish, Muslim, Sikh; whether they are transgender, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer; if they are immigrants, refugees, or those who would give them aid; or if they are people of color, especially our Black and Latino neighbors, who may feel targeted because of the color of their skin. We are becoming isolationists, under national leadership who chooses to “go it alone” rather than work to build coalitions and partnerships between nations. We are on a dangerous path as a nation, and we stand at a crossroads. We must choose leadership that will unite and uplift all people within our country and beyond our borders. As people of faith, we are called to stand with the poor and the marginalized; to lift our voices and to put our own bodies on the line when necessary.

Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister who lived most of his life in Pittsburgh, and for a time resided in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood where the Tree of Life synagogue is located. Mr. Rogers was a believer in a God of love, a God who loves each of us “just the way you are.” He was not blind to the brokenness of the world and he sought to find ways to help children, and the rest of us, cope with the violence of the world and the violence within ourselves as well. When we find ourselves wondering where God is, in the midst of the world’s great pain, sadness, and destructiveness, Mr. Rogers advised us to look within ourselves: “Deep within each of us is a spark of the divine just waiting to be used to light up a dark place.”

He believed that we all have God within us, and that it is in all other people as well. “To be loved as God loves us is a primary way in which we encounter God, and to love as God loves is to make God real in the lives of others. When we love our neighbor, he or she really experiences God; we experience the same when our neighbor loves us. God is present, incarnate, in the sharing and exchanging of human love. Love is a sacrament.” (Michael G. Long, Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers, p.38)

Let us come together, and come alongside our neighbors in the coming weeks, to honor the divine spark within each of us; to shine some light in the dark places; to continue the work of justice, of mercy, of humbly walking with our God, and the God who loves us all.

The Fruits of the Spirit

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things… If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” Galatians 5:22-23, 25

This is always one of my favorite times of the year, when the leaves begin turning and showing their glorious shades of red, gold, and orange, and the air turns crisp and cool, and it just smells like fall. It is a time of harvest, when the fruits of the planting season are ripe and plentiful. As we enjoy the wonderful fall fruits of squash, apples, pumpkin, and yes, even kale, I am reminded that much time, energy, and care goes into producing that harvest. From carefully preparing and tilling the soil, to planting seeds or seedlings and helping them to grow – watering, weeding, pruning, preventing disease – farmers and laborers are constantly vigilant over their crops. Then there is the hard work of actually gathering the produce from the fields, cleaning it, and preparing it for transport to our CSA pickup locations, or to grocery stores and restaurants, before it actually makes it into our kitchens and onto our plates.

In our church year, it is a time when we focus more on stewardship, the giving of our resources – time, talent, and treasure – for the mission of the church and God’s kingdom. Like the farmer watches over her crops, the fruit of the Spirit takes time to develop and come to fruition. Paul’s words to the Galatians about the fruit of the Spirit remind us of the good things that we reap when we cultivate the growth of the Spirit in our lives. What does it mean to be a good steward of these gifts? How do we use them in service to the larger church and community? How have you experienced these gifts as a part of Burlington Presbyterian Church?

We will be exploring these gifts of the Spirit together as our stewardship theme this fall. If you have a story you would like to share with the congregation of how your life has been impacted by the ways you have been touched by the generosity of this church, I am looking for people who would be willing to give a Stewardship Moment during worship leading up to our Harvest of Offerings on November 18th. Please contact me and let me know if you would be willing to share a brief reflection on what being part of this church means to you. Generosity is about more than how we use our financial resources; it is about the gift of time – from giving someone a ride to the grocery store, to taking meals over when someone is sick; it is about the gift of presence – visiting people in the hospital or at home recuperating from illness or surgery; it is about the gift of talent and other resources – helping someone with a task or volunteering your specialized talents for a certain project. How have you seen the fruit of the Spirit at work in yourself, or through others, as part of the mission and ministry of our church?

Peace,
Pastor Trina

Busy times in Burlington

We have finally turned a corner and are enjoying warmer temperatures, sunny days, and cool nights here in New England! The school year is drawing to a close, and many of our regularly scheduled meetings and activities take a short hiatus over the summer months. The month of June is one that is traditionally full of milestones and celebrations, from graduations to weddings, and certainly have much to celebrate as a church this month! On June 10th, we will welcome our first confirmation class in four years into membership in the church. Eight young people have taken the confirmation class in preparation for making their own profession of faith and becoming full members of the church. It has been a privilege and a joy to meet with them over these past few months, and I am excited to witness their continued growth in their faith and discipleship, and the gifts that they bring to the life and ministry of the church!

On June 24th, we will celebrate another milestone as a church, when we honor Rev. Rod MacDonald with the title of Pastor Emeritus. Rod’s ordination anniversary falls on June 29th, and this seems a fitting tribute to 43 years of ordained ministry! Rod and Cathy dedicated many years of faithful service to this church, to the presbytery, and to the wider church and community. We encourage friends of the church from near and far to join us for this special service at the end of the month.

Nationally, the PC(USA) will hold its 223rd General Assembly gathering in St. Louis, from June 16-23rd. You can read more about GA later in the newsletter, as our Resource Presbyter, Rev. Cindy Kohlmann, is one of the candidates standing for Co-moderator of the PC(USA) for a two-year term. Please read more about Cindy and Vilmarie, and pray for them, the other moderator candidates, and all who are headed to GA this summer to do the work of the national church.

Also, I have been working with Rabbi Susan Abramson on an episode of her show “Spiritually Speaking” featuring our congregation! The series is aimed at introducing people to the various faith traditions and communities in and around the town of Burlington, in order to increase awareness and understanding and to strengthen our community ties with one another. You can check out previous episodes here: https://youtu.be/xTyFPkJf7uU, or by searching “Spiritually Speaking” on YouTube. I will share a link to our episode when it is finished! Thank you to all who shared your own reflections, and to James McIninch for providing video and camera work last Sunday.

I will be holding regular “coffee shop” hours at True North Café in Burlington, on Wednesdays from 12 – 2 pm through the summer. Anyone is welcome to stop by during this time for conversation, and to enjoy a cup of coffee or a cold beverage together!
Enjoy all that summer has to offer!
Peace, Pastor Trina

Be the church

What does it mean to “be the church”? I recently read a beautiful essay called “Church Is What We Create with Each Other” by Erin O. White that really captured the blessings of being a smaller church. In it, she describes how her church does announcements at the beginning of each service, which can be anything from the mundane to the joyful, as when an 89-year old member announced the birth of his twin granddaughters one Sunday. People share reminders about upcoming events in the life of the church and community, or ask for donations or volunteer help with something.

“For a long time announcements bothered me,” White says. “I thought they kept us from what mattered, that they were housekeeping, business best conducted somewhere else. Was now really the time to talk about pancake breakfasts and broadband networks? But I’ve since come to understand that yes, actually, now is the time. Because I’ve learned — over many, many years — that church isn’t about order or quiet or even ritual so much as it is about showing up. For yourself, for God, and for the people around you who need to feel — just as you do — that the blessings and burdens of being a human are not theirs to bear alone.”

Indeed, church is about showing up for one another, in many ways. In the small ways perhaps even more so than the big ones. Church is when someone picks you up and gives you a ride to church on Sunday mornings; or when someone brings a home-cooked meal to your house when you are sick. Church is sending cards or flowers; it is going to the memorial service for your loved one. Church is helping someone else’s child get a glass of juice at coffee hour; it is a phone call to make sure you are okay when you haven’t been at church for a while. Church is about sharing our joys and concerns, not just during prayer time in the service, but at other times as well.

“When you are part of a church you accept people’s offerings, even the ones you don’t necessarily want,” White goes on to say. “One week their announcements will bore you and the next week they will make you weep, and sometimes it will be the same announcements. And sometimes during a hymn they’ll start a harmony and you’ll join, and your voices will become a conversation, an expression of love between people who by many measures barely know each other at all.”

So, let’s keep showing up for each other, as we move into this Eastertide season filled with new life and new possibilities. Let’s create the church we want to be, together.