What does peace mean to you?

When I describe what peace means to me, two descriptions come immediately to mind. The first is riding with my family in our boat at the lake, and how beautiful the views are around us – the colors of the sky, the clear water, and the endless mountains. The second would be sitting on the beach, feet in the sand, late afternoon, with the sound of the waves and good music in the background.

Yet this is such a different description of peace than what Paul or John describe when they talk about Biblical peace.

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”  Romans 12:18

In my morning devotion, Lysa TerKeurst, Proverbs 31 Ministries, explains Paul’s a very different description of peace. She said “Paul didn’t write what became the book of Romans while on a peaceful vacation with peaceful people and peaceful circumstances. He wrote this instruction in the midst of people opposing him and situations filled with hardship…one of the reasons he wrote this letter to the Romans is that peace would not have been easy for them. It would have felt as unnatural to them as it does for us in the midst of constant hardships, never-ending opposition and relational differences…The Greeks thought of peace as the absence of hostility. But Paul taught that peace is the atmosphere we can bring into hostility. This peace is a wholeness we have because of our relationship with God.

The peace we bring. That I should bring – that I am called to bring – because I have it inside of me. God fills us up and provides us with peace that is always there if we look for it. And we are called to share it and let it grow.

In John 14:27, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Lysa explains, “Peace is a gift that God gives believers, and that gift is evidence to the world that we are different because of our union with Christ. Our union with Christ makes this peace possible…To live peaceably with all seems like such a ridiculous impossibility. And yet, when the impossible is made possible because of Jesus in us, there’s no greater testimony that can be shared.”

For several years, I was manager of a complex that held large events and meetings, and the staff I worked with included inmate labor and prisoners. It was truly a highlight of my life. One of the guys I hired was a really hard worker, super intense and focused. When he wasn’t working he was always reading his Bible. The problem was that in spite of that, he had a terrible attitude and had a hard time getting along with just about everybody. One day I called him into my office and shut the door. We talked a while but I finally pointed out that the other guys saw him walk around with a Bible in his hand constantly and never miss an opportunity to read it. They expected more from him because of that. Yet he was allowing himself to be less. I reminded him that the Bible gives us strength, love, courage, and peace that we should all try to embrace and share. While reading the Bible certainly won’t make any of us perfect, if we are truly taking the words and lessons to heart, then we should change for the better. We should be someone that others want to be more like. He thought about it for a long time and we had several more conversations, but I saw a change in him almost overnight.

Lysa points out that Paul doesn’t say, “As far as it depends on other people bringing peace.” Nor does he say, “As long as the conflicts end in a peaceful way.” No – he says “So far as it depends on you.”

And on me.

“…Peace in my life isn’t being prevented by other people’s choices. It’s made possible by my choices.”

Paul reminds us that if we have experienced the undeserved grace of Christ, we should share it and extend it lovingly to others, so that we can “live peaceably with all.” This doesn’t mean we excuse the behavior of others or agree with their choices or reactions, it means we see them as our Brothers and Sisters in Christ. We recognize them, forgive them, love them, just as Christ has done for us.

Dear Lord Jesus, show me how to be a peacemaker. Help me to hear your voice and to mirror your calming spirit so that I can be the person you would have me be in every relationship and with every person I come into contact with today. Help me to see others with your eyes, and help me to share your strength, love, and peace so that I can be the peaceful presence you call us to be.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

LeAnne White, Foothills Presbytery Communications Coordinator/Assistant Office Administrator

Easter Hope is Blooming

Flowering crosses point to a new day

By Donna Frischknecht Jackson | Presbyterians Today

Used with permission from: https://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/pt-0321-easter/

The Rev. Audrey Reese of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Westminster, S.C., greets Easter’s new day with the backdrop of the church’s 12-foot flowering cross.

Last Easter, I drove by the church I once served and slowed down. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The wooden cross my father had made was standing on the weathered stairs bursting with colorful flowers. They had never placed the cross outside before, but now there it was, and it made me smile. In my time there as pastor, I had wanted the chicken wire-wrapped cross so that I could introduce the congregation to the tradition known as the “flowering of the cross.”

It’s a tradition where on Easter morning, a barren wooden cross is transformed into a symbol of new life by the adorning of flowers, thus the chicken wire to hold the stems in place. The exact origins of the flowering of the cross cannot be pinpointed to any one denomination nor any specific time in history, except that references to flowering crosses began appearing in art as early as the sixth century. Some say, too, that perhaps the flowering of the cross has its genesis in a legend where it is said that the tears Mary shed at the foot of Jesus’ cross miraculously turned into flowers. I learned about the flowering of the cross while working for an Episcopal diocesan newspaper. After Easter Sunday, I discovered my editor’s inbox flooded with pictures of flowering crosses submitted by pastors and church secretaries. I was curious and captivated — and committed to bringing this tradition to my someday congregation.

On a cold and gray New England Easter morning, that someday congregation was introduced to the flowering cross, also referred to as “the living cross.” With the first soaring notes of “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” the black fabric draping the cross on Good Friday was removed. Children then clambered to the front of the sanctuary and proceeded to decorate every inch of the cross with the flowers that were placed in baskets. By the time the congregation finished singing, the cross — the emblem of suffering and shame, as the old hymn tells us — was now the emblem of redemption and hope.

I looked at the flowering cross now standing on the steps of the church that, like many others, had to forgo Easter worship as they knew it because of a coronavirus that had begun sweeping the country as the 2020 Lenten season began. I had wondered if they still used the cross as part of their Easter proclamation. They did. And now, in a time of COVID-19, someone had the idea of bringing the flowering cross outdoors so that the community could see and be touched with the Easter message: All is not lost.

This little church in upstate New York was not the only one with a flowering cross sitting on its lawn. In Owensboro, Kentucky, First Presbyterian Church erected its first flowering cross in 2020. According to Jeff Moles, director of Christian education and mission, offering the flowering cross was “a meaningful way for people to engage” with people driving by the church to drop off flowers that were added by church members. Other churches like Park Hill Presbyterian Church in North Little Rock, Arkansas, adapted the flowering of the cross to a paper flowering instead, said the Rev. Marie Mainard O’Connell. “We asked the congregation to color two or three different flowers and mail them to us. We then used them to build a flowered cross in our great window that faces the street,” she said.

The message of hope being alive and well is an Easter message still needed in 2021 as congregations face many uncertainties. And while worshiping in person in a sanctuary this year is still questionable, many churches will be returning to the tradition of the flowering of the cross as a way to not only share the good news of the resurrection, but as a way to connect with one another and the community.

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Mere Grasshoppers

By: Mary Kathleen Duncan February 7, 2021

Isaiah 40:21-31/Mark 1:29-39

Isaiah 40:21-31
21Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? 22It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; 23who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. 24Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble. 25To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One. 26Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.
27Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? 28Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. 30Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 31but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Mark 1:29-39
29As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

When the movie “Remember the Titans” came out in the fall of 2000, I was in the 9th grade. For some of you, this will prove how young I am, a mere grasshopper. For many of the youth I work with, this will make me seem old. For some reason, I remember, in great detail, many of the movies that came out that year. Probably because as a 9th grader I had this newfound freedom of doing things on my own, without my parents, and with my friends. But it is “Remember the Titans” that sticks with me the most. Many of you are probably familiar with this movie, but for those who aren’t, it tells the story of Coach Herman Boone and the T.C. Williams High School football team of Alexandria, VA during the fall of 1971. It was the first year that the school and team were integrated, and they also had their first black head football coach. The team had to work through a lot of racial tension and tough training sessions to become a united and well-oiled team over the course of summer training and throughout the season that ended in a state championship. Because of my deep affinity for this movie, I can’t hear the passage from Isaiah that Davis read for us this morning without thinking of a particular scene in “Remember the Titans”. Do you know the scene to which I am referring? It’s the scene when the character known as Rev., who is the starting quarterback, quotes that passage to his teammates. And then later, a teammate quotes it back to him, well, actually sings it back to him, as the teams strives to further unite and hone their skills?

“Even youths will faint and be weary…but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles…like eagles, y’all!”

I wasn’t raised to see color. I went to schools with a healthy mix of black and white. I got along with my classmates who had a different color skin than me. I ran track with kids of all shapes, sizes, and skin colors and we were a team. Coming of age in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, I was under the illusion that we lived in a post-racial society. That the events of the 60’s and 70’s that we see portrayed in movies like “Remember the Titans” solved things. That racism no longer existed. That violence and aggression and oppression against Black people was no longer a reality in the great United States of America. I was wrong.

As I went through high school, I began to notice cracks, disparities, widening divides. And when I went to college, I delved more into the history of our country and learned about the Lost Cause for the first time.

And then I moved to Atlanta to attend seminary where my eyes were opened to a whole new view of Black culture. A culture that was vibrant, active, and had something unique to offer society and important things to say. In the midst of these various realizations, I found myself wondering, Had I not known? Had I not heard? Had it not been told to me? Had I not understood? I felt like those Israelites in the time of Isaiah whose view of life had been skewed…distorted…misaligned.

The words before us today from the 40th chapter of Isaiah come from what’s known as Second Isaiah, written during the Babylonian Exile. We call it Second Isaiah because Isaiah is a LONG book, that, while having core themes throughout, was written over the course of many years and features three distinct voices responding to different moments in the history of Israel.

The community to whom Isaiah was writing in this section had lived in Babylon for a while and it seemed that they had forgotten some things about the God to whom they belonged. They had been conquered and taken to a new land and naturally assimilated into a new culture where there were other priorities, narratives, and “gods” to worship. Isaiah had an important, divine message to share with them, both about the otherness of their God and the closeness of their God. Have you not known that your God is the creator of the ends of the earth? Have you not heard that your God strengthens the powerless? Have you not understood that your God is so far above any earthly ruler? Has it not been told to you that your God does not tire of seeking to understand your situation?

Do you know Aesop’s Fable about the grasshopper and the ant? It was written in Ancient Greece around the time of the Babylonian exile. The collection of Aesop’s Fables is somewhat like the book of Isaiah – an extensive collection of writings that share common characteristics, but were written over many years by different people at different times. In this particular fable, a grasshopper spends his summer singing while an ant collects food for the winter. When the winter comes, the grasshopper is unprepared and begs the ant for food. The ant refuses and the grasshopper dies. Did the grasshopper not know about the seasons? Had he not been told? Did he not understand what would happen if he did not store up food?

These days, I find myself feeling a lot like a grasshopper. Like there are things I don’t know or understand. Like I am unprepared. Like there is a whole other world of experiences, perspectives, and realities waiting to be discovered. I also find myself feeling like a bit of an exile. I missed watching football with friends this fall. I long for dinner parties with friends instead of zoom happy hour. I even miss loading up a charter bus with teenagers and all of their stuff to go on a trip where we sleep 4-6 per room and share all the snacks. And, while I have led worship in this space a handful of times over the past year when some of you have been present, I have not preached in this sanctuary with you, the people of Westminster in the pews since February 26, 2020.

Can any of you relate?

I think Jesus can. In our Gospel passage today, Jesus’ ministry has really just begun. But he’s on the move. Seeking to understand and be understood. On a mission to show and tell people about the ways of God…to help them see and experience God’s transcendent and immanent love in a new way. In just ten verses, he moves from the community space of the synagogue to the more intimate space of home and finally to the private space of the wilderness. After his first time teaching in the synagogue he goes to spend the night at the home of two of his disciples – brothers named Simon and Andrew – where they find Simon’s mother-in-law in bed with a fever. The word used in this passage for fever is pyressousa, meaning to be on fire, to be ill with a fever. Cuban scholar Ofelia Ortega points out that this is a fever that literally prevents her body from working. In an act that showcases both Jesus’ divine power and his human compassion, he heals Simon’s mother-in-law. And then the whole community shows up outside the door. Seeking to understand. Seeking to be understood. After Jesus has spent the evening attending to them and gotten some rest he rises before the sun to go and pray. To spend time with the Father. To refill his cup. To center himself. To further understand and find direction.

Thinking back to that iconic movie – Remember the Titans – I now recognize that there is a lot of Hollywood glossing up the real story. But through my 2021 lenses, I also see some lessons that can have meaning for us today. There are many moments throughout the film when the team isn’t clicking. Passes are dropped, tackles are missed, anger and misunderstanding simmer under the surface.

It’s almost as if something akin to a fever has made them ill and prevented them from coming together to work as they should. The movie has several key moments key when space for understanding is created and healing occurs. One of these moments occurs during training camp when Coach Boone wakes the team before dawn for a run. Many of the players struggle as the team tromps through the woods in half dark for hours. No one has any idea where this run will end until they break through the tree line and into a cemetery. They are at Gettysburg battlefield. Coach Boone reminds his players of the brutal racial history of the United States and he implores them to come together despite differences, to end the battle that has been raging for hundreds of years, to respect one another. Another moment is the one I referenced earlier when the words of Isaiah 40 are quoted. In that moment, the team, with no prompting from the coaches, takes it upon itself to gather and work through division. A third moment occurs when white co- captain Gerry Bertier realizes that his best friend and teammate, Ray, purposely missed a tackle that led to their starting quarterback, Rev, breaking his hand. Gerry clearly sees the racism and dishonesty that is hurting the team and kicks his friend off the team.

I think that we find ourselves in a moment right now. When there is a fever or fevers in society that are making us ill. And where a space for understanding has opened and healing can occur. There are literal fevers making us ill right now in the form of a vicious virus. And many people do not survive. There are more figurative, but very real fevers of racism, climate change, gun violence, mental illness, addiction, isolation. In Greenville specifically, we have a major affordability crisis in housing and people…children, are left without homes. Things are simmering, heating up, and we may not survive. But if. If we trust in Jesus. If we follow his example. If we take the words of Isaiah 40 to heart, we might have a chance.

Let’s take a look back at our Gospel Lesson for the day. If you have your Bible or phone handy, take a moment and pull it up – Mark 1:29-39. I’ll be highlighting language from the NRSV version.

Look at the whole passage if you can, and notice the movement. From the communal space of the synagogue in v. 29 to the home of Simon and Andrew by the end of that verse. By v. 30 Jesus is at the bedside of the woman with a fever and by v. 32 he is back at the front door with the whole community around him. In v. 35 he goes into the wilderness alone, but by v. 36 his disciples have sought him out. And in v. 39 he is traveling throughout Galilee preaching and healing, “for that is what he came to out to do.”

That is a lot in 10 verses. Just like a lot has happened to us in a little over 10 months. We’ve moved from the communal space we share here, to our homes where we lived/worked/learned simultaneously for months, to being at the actual bedside loved ones as they fought COVID (or wishing we could have been), to venturing to the safety of the outdoor air for gatherings with friends and neighbors, to maybe even retreating to the holiness of nature to save our sanity and enjoy respite. And now we’re itching to get out and about. To go throughout our community and do what we’re put on this earth to do…live our lives…be together…experience life. But I don’t want this moment to pass us by without us seizing the moment. Without us making space for understanding and healing to occur. I don’t want us, and I don’t think God wants us to, gloss over the hard, the heavy, the painful. I don’t think God wants us to be like the exiles who lost their bearings in a foreign landscape. I don’t think God wants us to be like the grasshopper, completely under-prepared for the next season. I don’t think God wants us to be those middle-class white kids of the early 2000’s, under the illusion that they lived in a post- racial society.

We can seize this moment. In a way that is holy. In a way that glorifies and follows Jesus. If we take the words of Isaiah to heart, one way is by acknowledging what we do not know and seeking to understand. By putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes, by acknowledging that dismissiveness of someone’s point of view can actually be an outright rejection of their lived experience in the world. An experience that matters. If we follow the example of Jesus, we will see how he made space for those around him and served them. But also how he took time for himself. To pray, to prepare, to quiet his heart. And that is what prepared him for the work God had in store for him. And God has that work in store for us, too. For we are his disciples in the way of Simon and Andrew, James and John. We’ve been called from our individual and specific lives to do the work of God in the world. But we’ve still got a lot to learn. Remember, we’re mere grasshoppers. But the good news is that our God is the creator of the ends of the earth. Our God is the creator of each and every human being, including you and me. Our God is one of complete otherness and utter closeness to those created in his image. Our God became human and walked this earth – healing, teaching, seeking to understand and love and calling us to do the same. Thanks be to God. Amen.


-Mary Kathleen Duncan, Associate Pastor of Westminster Presbyterian

Lenten Devotional 2-26-2021

Original Source: https://www.pts.edu/Devotional02-26-21


SCRIPTURE

John 3:22-36

22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized—24 John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison. 25 Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27 John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. 28 You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.” 31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. 33 Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. 34 He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.

DEVOTIONAL

by: The Rev. Dr. Christie Sweeny Gravely ’16 

Can’t you hear the resentment and envy in the words of John’s followers: “But John, everyone is now going to him”? To them, Jesus’ building popularity posed a threat to John’s ministry. So it was entirely natural for them to ask, “What about Jesus, Master? He is baptizing. He has taken a page from your book; he is using your method—and everyone is going to him!”

But what an astonishing reply they get back from faithful John. When other men would have found some subtle way to express their envy, John says, “It was all the Lord’s doing. The Lord called me to this ministry. But I am merely the forerunner to this Jesus. He is the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world. The age of the Messiah is dawning over the world.”

This situation, where crowds are flocking to Jesus, was only the beginning. John knew that it must continue to be like that until everyone was with Jesus and no one was left with John himself. “Jesus must increase, I must decrease.” Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior of sinners; John is not. Jesus is the Messiah who baptizes with the Holy Spirit; John is not. Put simply, if Jesus is the Son of God now come into the world to take away our sins, then it is not enough that we simply acknowledge these things to be true. Our lives must be the demonstration of our faith, a response of heart and mind. Our commitment to Jesus must put him in the position of ascendancy in our lives. He absolutely must have the first place in our hearts. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” 

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, as we draw closer to the cross in this Lenten season, we, like the disciples, seek to understand the mystery of Jesus Christ, who draws all people to himself. Though we do not deserve your mercy, we nevertheless receive it with thankful hearts. Help us to trust that you give us what we truly need, for you are the One who made us. In Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.


Photo source: https://www.easleypresbyterian.org/christie-sweeny-gravely/

Rev. Christie Gravely is Associate Pastor of Easley Presbyterian

Ash Wednesday: Blessing the Dust

Blessing the Dust © Jan Richardson

Readings for Ash Wednesday: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17Psalm 51:1-17;
2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Blessing the Dust
For Ash Wednesday

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

By Jan Richardson, Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessing for the Seasons (Oxford, Florida: Wanton Gospeller Press, 2015) p. 89-90.

…on the patio

By Ginna Lister

On January 11, 2015, Easley Presbyterian Church dedicated a new addition/renovation project. Part of that addition was a beautiful, covered patio in our big backyard.   Over the past 5 years it has been used for various programs including: a Vacation Bible school tent village and closing celebrations, children’s Christmas pageants, many youth gatherings on Wednesday afternoons, outdoor concerts and many, many informal gatherings.

Who knew that in the year 2020, it would become a place of faith formation and fellowship for EPC’s youngest members?  After closing the church in March, we re-opened on Pentecost with in-person worship only.  During the summer, I offered Virtual VBS, Zoom Sunday School, and Camp-In –a- Box to keep things going the best we could.  However, one thing was missing and that was having the children actually at the church, the place so many gathered on a weekly basis and had been abruptly cut off.

Our pastor, Bill Seel shared an idea that he had seen called “Popsicles on Porches” – where a DCE in the low-country had ventured around to homes to offer a popsicle on the porches of church members.  I thought about that and then looked out my office window one day and was reminded of our wonderful patio in the big backyard of the church.  Popsicles on the Patio was born! To do it safely, each family was given a time to come to the patio so that I could have safe, one-on-one time with them.  We played, we laughed, and we ate popsicles together! And that was the key – we did it together.  After months of not being at church, I felt it was so important to get them back here in any way possible. Almost every family with elementary and preschool children in the church came that month for our special time together.  As one little girl got out of the car and ran down the hill toward the patio, I heard her exclaim, “I remember this place!” At that moment I knew that it was worth it.  To have memory of this sacred place that has nurtured, taught, and loved those little ones for the first years of their lives.  I would be sure they wouldn’t forget.

And because I love a theme, Popsicles on the Patio in August turned into Painting on the Patio in September, Pumpkins on the Patio in October, Pinecones on the Patio in November, and Presents on the Patio in December!  Currently we are having fun with Penguins on the Patio and next month will be Pen Pals on the Patio -making Valentine cards for our shut-in members.

This ministry of presence, yes “Presence on the Patio” has strengthened my soul during these dark times.  Having a chance to re-connect monthly with each family has proven to be so valuable. While we cannot all gather at once, each child knows they are loved, they are valued, they are missed,  and that the church is still here!

In my mind, I dream of the day when we will have a Party on the Patio and all children and all families will gather safely once again in fellowship and as the body of Christ!  Until then – see you on the patio!

Presbyterian College Holds its One Hundred Thirty-Seventh Commencement in October

-Laura Smith Conrad, Class of 1993

“Presbyterians honor the life of the mind and insists that only a life of love exceeds it as a means of praise to God,” I shared with the Class of 2020.

In a pandemic year, when all life was interrupted in an effort to protect one another from the coronavirus, COVID-19, the school year at Presbyterian College sputtered to a close. Graduates were mailed a degree, and families like ours celebrated on the back porch with a photo to honor the completion of a degree. We tried to mark the milestone by making up announcements and like many, made a yard sign to share the good news with our neighbors.
The closure that a Commencement Ceremony and Baccalaureate Service brings to college graduates each year, was noticeably missing.

On October 3, on the grassy plaza facing the historic Neville Hall, hundreds of masked faculty, graduates, and families gathered to hear inspiring and comforting words, and to hear her or his name called honoring this significant step. As many of our celebrations have been of late, the mood was subdued, poignant, and, even more reverent, due to the gravity of the state of our world. In a matter of days our lives changed drastically.

Among those graduates was our son, Avery Conrad, and his friends, who still posed for the typically photo at the front sign, but noticeably missing were the parties and celebrations. Some students watched live stream from other parts of the world as they served in the military abroad or returned to their home country.

True to our college motto, “While I live, I serve” the commencement was a celebration of service. Allen McSween, a member of Foothills Presbytery, was honored with an Honorary Doctor of Public Service Degree for his many years of service to Presbyterian College. Allen, a Clinton native, and grandson of the 11th President of PC, served on the Board of Trustees from 2007-2016. He served on numerous committees of the college, Board of Visitors and the Board of Church Advisors.

David Taylor, PC Class of 1981, received the Dum Vivmus Servimus Award for his work with Momentum Bike Club. Established in 2010, Momentum Bike Club has grown to 16 bike clubs that serve 225 students. It has received state and national recognition as an innovative intervention that provides mentoring support to under-resourced students in Greenville and Pickens Counties of South Carolina.

I had the privilege of speaking to our son’s class at the Baccalaureate service on the theme “Rebuilding the Uncommon Good.” Our text was Nehemiah 2:1-5, 17-18 calling upon the class to be living stones who are built into a community that serves the greater good. Having a college degree places them among the top 5% of our global society. I reminded them that with great privilege comes responsibility. Jesus said, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Luke 12:48b). Recalling the destruction of Nehemiah’s world, we noted the brokenness in our world concerning the pandemic racial justice, division, and economic challenges. Instead of building walls as Nehemiah called for, we are called to build connections. In closing, I charged the class with these words and concluded with the hymn, “Here I am, Lord,” calling us to service and praying that God would take our hearts of stone, and make them hearts for love alone.

So, I challenge you tonight, commit yourselves to the common good. Actually, in a time when the ideal of the common good seems like a lost value, I challenge you to rebuild the uncommon good.

And rather than rebuild a temple like Nehemiah and the people of God did, I challenge you to rebuild with the stones that are most needed in God’s world today:
Like honesty, integrity, compassion and empathy, that have been part of your holistic education at Presbyterian College. God does not live in a Temple but is Sovereign over the whole world. This world is God’s sanctuary without walls. We have been given the gift of life. How will we return the favor and give back to God? How will we serve the world?

I pray you become living stones, sharing the most desperately needed gifts of the Holy Spirit;
faith, hope, but above all love. Christ doesn’t change minds as much as he changes hearts. And through the undying love of God, we have been created, redeemed, and sustained.
I pray that your heart will be the most important gift, or living stone, you give in return.

May it be so.

Heartwriting

By Dennis Tedder

31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,[a] says the Lord33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. -Jeremiah 31:31-34

As we cope in a rapidly changing world, communicating with others is a crucial skill.  This ability remains important while our methods of communication have changed so much in the past few generations… and are changing still.

When I entered school as a child, one early, foundational subject was handwriting.  All of us were instructed in holding a pencil & shaping letters… then forming words… then stringing words together in sentences… writing to express thoughts & ideas… Younger folks, now taught keyboarding skills, find it curious & quaint that earlier generations received a grade in handwriting.

Handwriting is still a basic skill for most & we begin learning the same way – tracing letters.  We copy a pattern to guide our hands in forming letters & words.  Some of us as children excel at clear, clean, legible handwriting, while others struggle with handwriting.  Then, my generation had to learn writing in cursive!

I remember the shock upon hearing that our sons were not learning to write or read in cursive.  I will admit, they and their generation seem to manage this age of keyboards and voice command technology fairly well.

The text from Jeremiah extols an imperative ability for coping & communicating with a broken & sinful world.  This gift, so vital in living well, is not handwriting but heartwriting. Heartwriting is how we reflect in our thoughts & actions the Way of living our creator God inscribes in our hearts.  God calls us to make our mark with our words & deeds, as we learn & relearn, guided by & patterned on the truth God prints in our hearts.

“God keeps creating things from the inside out, so they are forever yearning, developing, growing and changing for the good.”  Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation for January 1, 2019

Just as children form their letters by copying the letter guide over & over, we form our faith & lives by continually following the guide God plants deep within us.

It’s been said that the Bible is largely a record of humans breaking their promises & God keeping God’s promises.  That’s where God’s anointed prophets come in — along with divine promises, we hear human prophets, who confront a people who keep breaking their promises.  Jeremiah is such a prophet, speaking to Israel long ago and to us today in times of stress and uncertainty.

Through the prophet Jeremiah, God promises fatigued people:  The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with [my people]… this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (31:33) From God’s Way imprinted on our hearts, we will make our mark, with heartwriting that shows the world God’s Way.

Howard Thurman wrote:  [We] cannot continue long to live if the dream in the heart has perished. It is then that [we] stop hoping, stop looking, &… anticipations fade away.   The dream in the heart is the outlet. It is one with the living water welling up from the very springs of Being, nourishing and sustaining all of life. Where there is no dream, the life becomes a swamp, a dreary dead place, and, deep within, a [person’s] heart begins to rot… The dream is the quiet persistence in the heart that enables [us] to ride out the storms of … churning experiences… The dream is no outward thing. It does not take its rise from the environment in which one moves or functions. It lives in the inward parts, it is deep within, where the issues of life and death are ultimately determined. Keep alive the dream; for as long as [we have] a dream in [our] heart, [we] cannot lose the significance of living.  Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart, 36-37.

The prophets know this dream in the heart as TORAH, God’s law (the way, the guidance).

Proverbs instructs:  Let not steadfast love & faithfulness forsake you… write them on the tablet of your heart. 3:3 keep my commandments and live, keep my teachings as the apple of your eye; bind them on your fingers, write them on the tablet of your heart. 7:3

 We take God’s writing within and we put in ‘out there.’ Can the world read our heartwriting?

A man writing at the post office desk was approached by an older fellow with a postcard in his hand. With shaking hand, the elderly man said, “Sir, could you please address this postcard for me?”

 The other man gladly did so, agreeing also to write a short message & sign the card for the man. Finally, the younger man asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

 The old fellow thought about it for a moment & said, “Yes, at the end could you just put, ‘P.S. Please excuse the sloppy handwriting.'”

 John Yates, Leadership XIV  Handwriting can be illegible, unreadable. 

Is our heartwriting clear in our daily words & deeds?

Our heartwriting is not cursive or some fancy font but daily Covenant living with God & one another.  Church family, we help each other, each generation, form faith by reaching deep within, holding up the pattern we can copy together.

“I think that there are a lot of broken hearts these days, broken on the left and on the right over the conditions of modern life. I think “the politics of rage” is really about heartbreak.”  Parker J. Palmer, Autumn/Winter 2010. collegevilleinstitute.org.

Beloved people of God, disciples of Jesus Christ, called & claimed by grace, God wants us to make our mark on this heartbroken world.  We are not talking about penmanship but discipleship. Do we form our lives guided by the Way, the guide God gives in Jesus Christ?

As Jeremiah and others declare, God plants & imprints God’s Covenant Way – a divine dream for how life can be — on our hearts.  Jesus promises that “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”  We profess:  JESUS CHRIST MEDIATES GOD’S NEW COVENANT & BRINGS a life-building MESSAGE STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART OF A HOLY GOD TO EVERY HUMAN HEART.  Shaped by the Way God inscribes in our hearts, our heartwriting can bless the world.

May our heartwriting be clear and readable each day, sisters & brothers in Christ.


Rev. Dennis Tedder

First Presbyterian, Anderson

November 22, 2020

Hope at the End of the Journey

Original post- used with permission from APCE- The Advocate

By: Grace Yeuell

James Tissot, “Journey of the Magi.”

Who doesn’t like a good road trip movie? Some of my personal favorites include Dorothy skipping down the yellow brick road toward Oz, Olive travelling on a mini bus to the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant, and a chain gang’s odyssey through depression-era Mississippi in O Brother, Where Art Thou. The characters on each of these road trip journeys are driven by hope for something more or something better than what their life holds at the outset.

One of the most hopeful journeys we remember during the Christmas season is one taken by three men as they followed a star in search of a new king. A crucial juncture in this journey is captured by artist James Tissot in his 1894 painting “Journey of the Magi.” At least one critic notes that Tissot’s intent was to capture the three men as their separate caravans meet up and they become travelers together on a common journey. The painter places them in the foreground of the scene, sitting astride lively camels, dressed boldly in flowing yellow robes.  With intense focus, they fearlessly move forward in search of the promised one. They ride three abreast, portrayed as equals; each committed to reaching their far-off goal together.

This Journey of the Magi moment captured by Tissot holds a special message for those of us in professional ministry today. Whenever we feel like we are going it alone, this painting encourages us to look to our left, and then to our right. Hopefully, we can each see that, like the Magi, we are not alone at all. We travel with brave others who have also committed their lives to “following the star.” We know from scripture that the Magi reach their goal together.  They find promise at the end of their journey. They find hope and peace and joy and love. They find Emmanuel, God with us . . . and they worship.

May this season be a time of reconnecting with colleagues who remain our fellow travelers in ministry. We are still on the road, travelling together toward hope. This is good news worth sharing. And who doesn’t like a good news story?


Grace Yeuell is the Religious Education Program Director for Installation Management Command – Europe, currently serving in Vicenza, Italy. To find out more about educational ministry in the military context, visit the Army DRE Facebook page

PYC On the Road

In March of 2020, our Presbyterian Youth Council (PYC) planned, and was so excited for the upcoming Senior High Retreat at Montreat based on the theme “Joy.” One week before the retreat, the closings and shutdowns began due to Covid-19. Although disappointed, we worked hard to keep moving forward.

Jump ahead to August, when we were able to have our planning retreat outside at the presbytery office, everyone brought their own chair, socially distanced and were masked for the day. When it was clear we would be unable to hold Bonclarken this fall, we began praying and dreaming about how we could do youth ministry in a new way.

PYC on the Road was born and our amazing PYC students stepped up and planned keynotes, small groups, recreation and energizers. We hosted our first event (outside, masked, and socially distanced) on November 15 at Eastminster with youth from Fountain Inn and Eastminster for an evening of “Behind the Mask” led by PYC! It was amazing!

We would love to provide programming for you and your youth groups as well. We can do this in a variety of ways. We can come and lead a “regular youth group” evening for you; a Saturday morning gathering; an all-day retreat type of schedule or a ZOOM gathering. PYC will bring all needed supplies. We will follow your churches safety guidelines and would love to come and share with you as we seek to discover what are the things that we hide behind that keep up from living into who God has created us to be.

Please reach out to Joan Jones, PYC Adult Coordinator, at joan@eastminster.com or 205-222-3732.

 

Reflections from PYC youth

Mary Katherine Nelson (senior), John Knox Presbyterian

When I got the news that Bonclarken wasn’t happening this year, I can’t say that I was surprised. There may have been a glimmer of hope somewhere inside me, holding onto the possibility that maybe Bonclarken would be the ONE thing that wouldn’t get taken away. But in the end, it was obvious that it wasn’t going to happen.

Naturally, I was devastated. Senior year is bittersweet for everyone, pandemic or not. It’s a year full of “lasts” and savoring every minute of familiarity. As the pandemic spread, so did the number of cancelled events. Every day I woke up to a new email or text message delivering the crushing news. It was devastating. I felt like everything I had worked so hard to put together was getting pulled right out from under me. It wasn’t easy to bounce back from. I found myself spending most of my time alone, sulking about everything I had lost. But after a month-long pity party, I decided to look for the light.

Nothing was going to go as I had anticipated, but was that really a bad thing? I realized that this great misfortune was actually a blessing. The Lord knew that I was comfortable in my day to day life and that I was reliant on familiarity, so He flipped everything upside down. This was an opportunity to grow and experience things in a way I never had before. I knew it was going to be a challenge, but sometimes that’s exactly what you need to take the next steps in your life and your faith.

This is exactly what led us to creating PYC on the Road. PYC has done the same two retreats for years now, and they never fail to amaze me. It’s always so encouraging to see how all of our hard work pays off in the end, and it was never an option for us to let that potential go to waste this year. We discussed the importance of connecting with the youth during these trying times, but we knew it was going to look a lot different than normal. Thankfully, PYC was ready for the challenge. Our dedicated group of youth was eager to experience new leadership roles and have total control over the event. We worked hard to write keynotes and plan small group activities, and it all paid off in the end. PYC on the Road pushed us to new limits in leadership and in faith, and I am thankful for this opportunity to think outside the box.

Augusta Roach (senior), Easley Presbyterian

I remember the last Mini-Montreat vividly as I had realized that weekend that it was something that God was calling me to do and I could not wait to one day be in Upper Anderson leading this retreat. The next year, after a very successful Bonclarken, the year took a turn that left PYC in a jumble of confusion and disappointment when COVID canceled our completely planned retreat a week before it would have happened, and a sadness after we realized that this is how our seniors would leave PYC.

Entering into the 2020-2021 PYC season, I had been praying that God would continue to work through us, no matter how that would be. I cannot say that I was surprised when we got the news that we would not be able to hold the middle school retreat at Bonclarken, yet I was surprised on how positive we all made the situation and how we adapted to it. Each member felt that COVID had stripped us from our everyday activities and everything we put our identity into and without those things, we did not exactly know who we were without distractions.

We quickly ran with that concept and in one day, we had created “PYC On the Road” where we would take PYC to individual churches and lead mini-socially distant retreats about the masks we hide behind that keep us from being who God calls us to be. The more we planned this, the more obvious it became to me that this is exactly how God had wanted us to share our stories and faith. After our first youth group on the road and hearing stories of faith from my fellow leaders and speaking with the youth, I realized that this is just what people need to hear at this time, and I am excited to watch God lead PYC through this new journey of ours.