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.

Now that our new pastor is here

“I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.” Philippians 1:3-5

Dear Church,

My mother always made sure that I wrote thank you notes in a timely manner after my birthday, or Christmas, or graduation. And, although I try very hard to carry on that practice, I do not always send out notes as quickly as I should. It is not that I am not grateful for the gift, or for the thought that has gone into it, I’m just not good about getting the notes written. So, I wanted to take this opportunity in this month’s newsletter to share my deep gratitude to all of you, for making the Installation Service such a joyful and uplifting occasion. From the first introit led by Voices of Africa, to the vibrant anthem and hymn singing, to the last notes of the bagpipes, my heart was full.

So many people played a role in making the afternoon such a wonderful celebration – bringing food, singing in the choir, setting up the fellowship hall, printing bulletins, making the sanctuary look beautiful, wearing red, and just your very presence! – that I could never thank each of you enough. I want you to know that I do not take any of it for granted, and that I feel both deeply honored and humbled by the privilege of being only the third installed pastor of this congregation.

I still smile every time I think about that day, and I do give thanks to God every time I remember you, as Paul wrote to the church at Philippi. I chuckle to myself every time I hear someone say, “Now that our new pastor is here,” since I don’t feel all that new! But it reflects the new relationship we have entered into, one which allows us the ability to explore new ways of doing ministry together both here in Burlington, and in the wider church and global community. I want to hear your thoughts, dreams, and ideas for ways we can live out our faith together. I am preparing a survey of the congregation which will seek your input in the areas of music and worship, mission, and congregational care. The more input we get, the better our collective ideas will be!

As always, I welcome your phone calls, visits, or emails to share your thoughts or concerns at any time. I look forward to continuing to build relationships with you as we move forward together, sharing the gospel in our words and actions, both near and far!

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Trina

Mission Team

We are approaching the second anniversary of the first time I came to preach at Burlington Presbyterian, and yet we are also setting out on a new phase in our journey together, as pastor and congregation. I am excited about celebrating my installation as your next called and installed pastor on February 4th! While I feel that I have gotten to know many of you individually, and as a church, I also still have much to learn. In many ways, we have been in a holding pattern over the past two years, as you grieved the loss of Pastor Mike and prepared the search process through the PNC. We have done well at keeping the basic functions of the church going strong – and have even made some changes here and there! – but we have not delved too deeply into what really makes you passionate and energized to serve Jesus Christ beyond these walls.

As a church, you have supported many missions and ministries both here in your local community, such as People Helping People, Camp Wilmot, and Elmbrook Place, and in the wider world, from Heifer Project International to special offerings for disaster relief and in many other ways. We are a small church, but we can make a significant impact on the lives of those in our pews and in the world around us when we work together. I would love to hear from you about where you think we can make a difference, whether on a local, or larger scale issue.

We will be putting together a mission team to determine where we want to focus our efforts as a church for the upcoming year, and determining some ways we can serve God together in our communities. If you know of opportunities or organizations that would benefit from a group service project, we are open to suggestions! And if you are interested in joining the mission team to help guide our focus and narrow things down, please let me know. This is a time for dreaming new dreams and seeing new visions! What new thing is God doing in the life of Burlington Presbyterian Church, even now?

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Trina

Reformation 500: More than a celebration

October 26, 2017 by Presbyterian News Service
As Presbyterians prepare to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this Sunday two prominent Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) theologians say it is an opportunity for the church to reconsider history — and how it tells the story of the past 500 years.
The Rev. Dr. David Gambrell and the Rev. Dr. Charles Wiley of the Presbyterian Mission Agency believe that while the Reformation divided us, we are now witnessing a convergence of the traditions that were separated. They say this presents an opportunity to focus on the gifts we have received from each other and to celebrate what we share.

For past five years, Gambrell participated in the eighth round of Roman Catholic-Reformed dialogue in the United States (2012–2017). This dialogue builds on the work of previous rounds — especially the 2013 Mutual Recognition of Baptism that came out of the seventh round.
“We were seeking consensus around historically divisive issues,” says Gambrell, “asking questions like ‘Who can be ordained? Can we recognize each other’s ordination? Who oversees ministry? What is the relationship between bishops and presbyteries?’”

Gambrell points out the acknowledgment of each other’s ordination already happens, informally. When there is a crisis in the community, Reformed and Catholic leaders get together and figure out to best serve their communities — which participants believe is something to celebrate and build on, as the dialogue continues.

“Instead of continuing to fight the battles of the 16th century, we have a chance to change our way of thinking,” says Gambrell, “to reconsider the gifts we’ve received from one another.”

The gifts of Protestants and Catholics will be on display at an upcoming “Commemorations of the Reformations” service at the University of Notre Dame. Wiley, along with Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Episcopal and Roman Catholicbishops, will be one of the co-presiders at the November 5 service.
“It’s an incredibly generous act by a Roman Catholic bishop to invite us to commemorate the Reformation at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart,” says Wiley. “This event would have been unthinkable decades ago, let alone centuries ago.”

According to Wiley, the service will celebrate the gifts of the Reformation and acknowledge its sin on behalf of all the participants.
In the Rite of Repentance, these are the words he will share:

As this commemoration brings joy and gratitude to expression, so must it also allow room for all Christians to experience the pain over failures and trespasses, guilt and sin in the persons and events that are being remembered. The Gospel was mixed with the political and economic interests of those in power. Failures resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Families were torn apart, people imprisoned and tortured, wars fought and faith misused. Human beings suffered and the credibility of the Gospel was undermined with consequences that still impact us today. And so, let us ask God for mercy and forgiveness.

Wiley sees Luther as a valuable and important reformer of the whole Western Church, not just the reformers. But he believes it’s also true that during the protest Protestants left behind gifts.

“We are the poorer for doing so,” he says. “Reformation 500 gives us an opportunity to treasure the good that we bring to each other.”
After the scripture reading and homily (sermon), each co-presider in the service will pray and thank God for the diverse traditions in all of the churches. One thing Wiley will give thanks for is, “Roman Catholics’ celebration of Mary as the first of Jesus’ disciples.”

“One of the most powerful parts of the service reflects a poignant irony,” says Wiley. “This thanksgiving is a prayer service because we cannot celebrate communion together. “

“Even in our thanks, this service demonstrates both hope and a reminder of a fractured church.”

Gambrell has a lasting image from his time spent with other participants in the latest round of Roman Catholic–Reformed dialogue. At their final service of worship together they were surrounded by scaffolding at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which has been under construction for 100 years.

“Being surrounded by construction materials, and yellow tape marking off the dangerous places, reminded me of the long term, painstaking process of reformation,” says Gambrell. “Still, we worship together to glorify the one God we share. One day we will enjoy full and visible unity with one another in Christ.”

by Paul Seebeck, Presbyterian News Service