By Mari Graham Evans| Presbyterian News Service
Common-sense tips for congregations and individuals during the coronavirus outbreak
LOUISVILLE — In light of the global outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, more commonly known as the coronavirus, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) has released a “Preparedness for Pandemics” guide for congregations.
The guide contains valuable, common-sense tips on what congregations and individuals can do to keep themselves safe in the midst of a “severe infectious disease outbreak.”…
Greetings my friends,
God is coaxing us into a new decade! So, as we finish up week six, I can’t let another day go by without saying thank you for the opportunity to be your new Presbytery Leader and Stated Clerk. I am humbled and so honored to be in this presbytery and work along each and every one of you. I am grateful for the faithful renovation work of the last six years, and the spirit infused in the new way we live out our mission in this presbytery.
As we look toward the future of our mission and ministry together, we still have quite a few challenges before us. If you take a snapshot of every congregation in the presbytery and create a “challenge list,” there will be some common themes, and there will be some items unique to each context. I believe that the renovation and re-build process of the last six years prepared us to face those challenges. We were able to take some intentional time rumbling with the realities of Christendom, get above the fray, and are now well-poised to face the future.
So, the question is, “How do we continue to do the work we need to do to stay faithful to our polity and heritage as we adapt to new realities?”
Here are some hopeful initiatives on the horizon:
Faithful Innovation: The challenges facing the church are deeper than just institutional decline. We live in a culture where not even belief in God is assumed—let alone Jesus, let alone church participation. How might the Holy Spirit be calling us to communicate the gospel in such a context? How can we continue to develop peer-learning opportunities to create strong pastoral and church leadership?
Legacy Project: As we give thanks for the gifts we have inherited from the Great Cloud of Witnesses of the church, we ask the questions, “In this new era, what gifts do we (our communities of faith) want to hand down to our children? How can presbytery partner with churches as they assess their strengths/challenges and plan for their future?”
I am excited to share more about the nuts and bolts of these new initiatives over the next months. In the meantime, please feel free to ask questions of me, our staff, and presbytery leaders. We look forward to the ways we can all join in this work together.
I find it noteworthy that today is Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin (both in 1809), and Lydia Marie Child’s (1802) birthdays. We all know the many ways Lincoln and Darwin informed culture and change, but I imagine not many of us know much about Lydia Child. She is best known for her Thanksgiving Children’s poem, “Over the River and Through the Woods.” She was also a prolific writer and activist. She challenged white supremacy, fought for an end to slavery and supported women’s Native American rights. She used her writing to crusade for truth and justice.
Next week we have our first Presbytery meeting of the year. We will gather to rejoice in worship, commemorate Black History Month, do the business of presbytery, and welcome special guests from agencies and organizations doing good work in our state, synod, and in the broader church. As we center ourselves in God’s word and wisdom, I invite us to ask ourselves how we can use our ministry connections to crusade for truth and justice?
Grateful in Christ,
Debbie G. Foster
Presbytery Leader and Stated Clerk
Article by Taylor Allen
Photographs by Ryan Murtagh
As a new semester begins, we college students at UKIRK are already bracing ourselves for what’s to come. So as my Christmas break at home with family started to dwindle to its end, I found myself already overwhelmed by my six new classes I was about to start, how many books and articles I was going to have to find the time to read, having to get a job and balance that with schoolwork. The list goes on. As the five of us pushed these stressors to the backs of our minds and made our way up to Montreat, we found exactly the message we all needed. We found God’s gift of Sabbath, the commandment many of us forget about. Remembering the Sabbath was a perfect theme for not just college students but for everyone. I found myself excited to really dive into the topic and find out what the Lord intended for us when the Bible discusses Sabbath. Learning about Sabbath was exactly what my fellow college students and I needed as the semester began.
Our very first night began with worship and a sermon by Reverend MaryAnn McKibben Dana from Virginia. The scripture that she started us off with was Isaiah 58:11-14 which tells us that through the Lord, we are a watered garden. She told us that Sabbath is simple but it’s not easy. This rang true across all the messages of the keynote speakers and critical conversation group leaders. When asked what their own Sabbaths looked like, many of them sheepishly
admitted that they were not as strict about having a Sabbath day as they should be. I admired their honesty and their humanity. I was glad to know that I wouldn’t be “failing” if I couldn’t immediately alter my life as a college student to include an entire 24 hours of Sabbath. I think God would rather us take at least a few hours of his gift of Sabbath than nothing at all. After all, we are abandoning a spiritual gift when we abandon Sabbath altogether.
Something I kept coming back to when journaling and reflecting over the different sermons and keynote messages was Genesis 1:27. Genesis 1:27 says that “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” God took a Sabbath after he created the universe. God is not a workaholic. If we are created in the image of God, then we can take Sabbaths too. We are not “too good” to take a Sabbath, even a piece of one. We shouldn’t be workaholics if God wasn’t one either. If God, the creator of the universe, had time to rest and take his Sabbath day, then we have the time too despite feeling like our lives are too busy.
I had a few pre-conceived notions about the idea of Sabbath from what little I knew of it. I learned at Montreat College Conference that it was nothing like I thought it was in the best way possible. Both Reverend MaryAnn McKibben Dana who led each worship service’s sermon and the first keynote speaker Dr. Lauren Winner told us that not only is the Sabbath for resting and taking a break from work, but it is also for practicing things that bring us joy and for play so to speak. Sabbath is not just for resting but it is a time for intimacy with others, yourself, and the Lord. It is a time to dwell with God. It helps us glorify and enjoy God. It is a spiritual gift made for us. Sabbath is not resting for the sake of increasing productivity and work. It is not buying into the secular and capitalist ideas of Sabbath, of the popularized self-care movement. It is not selfish despite what society may tell us. In the case of Exodus 5:1-9, Sabbath is not resting to be prepared to make more bricks for Pharaoh. It’s about that we don’t want to make his bricks anymore. Sabbath is liberation: from Pharaoh in the verses of Exodus, from capitalism and bureaucracy in modern times, from being over-worked.
Sabbath is part of our personal relationships between us and God. And this relationship is personal, but it is not private. Sabbath helps us prepare for what’s next in God’s plan for us. According to Reverend Jimmie Hawkins, it is a time of renewal, restoration, and working on our relationships with each other and God. It gives us time to take care of the bodies God has given us. Ultimately, I was left with many new ways of thinking about Sabbath and what it meant to me. For starters, what would it change if I took the things I already enjoy and do and called it Sabbath? What would it look like if I used watercolor painting, reading, or going out with friends to glorify God? How would my life change if I started with a few hours a week of Sabbath and then tried to build it up to a full 24 hours of Sabbath keeping?
The messages preached at Montreat College Conference all left me with the conclusion that Sabbath has many purposes and forms in our relationship with God, that God would rather us take part of a Sabbath than reject his gift altogether, and that Sabbath doesn’t necessarily mean spending all day in bed and it isn’t always on Sunday either. I look forward to starting my semester with God’s commandment of Sabbath in the forefront of my mind. Taking a Sabbath day or even a few hours of Sabbath will not only help me stay rested and prepared for my semester, but it will help me grow in my relationship with God and my relationship with myself. The Sabbath is truly a gift from God that he has laid out on the table for us to take, and I couldn’t be more thankful that our God is so loving and has provided this gift for us.
Taylor is a freshman at Comverse College. She is a member of First Pres of Spartanburg. Her hometown is Moncks Corner, SC
SYNOPSIS OF TRIP TO THE US/MEXICAN BORDER
November 8-10, 2019
About 150 people (including 6 representing our Foothills Presbytery) from across the U.S. joined in this event, “Responding to an Exodus: Gospel Hospitality and Empire”, which was sponsored by the Presbyterian Border Region Outreach (PBRO) and Frontera de Cristo, part of PBRO.
We spent three days in the town of Agua Prieta, Mexico, staying just two blocks away from the port of entry to the U.S. Our time there was filled with workshops focusing on legal issues, border art, government responses, the Biblical story of Exodus, personal stories of asylum seekers, and how the faith community is meeting the needs of migrants and asylum seekers. We made a prayer walk along the colorfully painted Mexican side of the wall and planted a cross out in the desert to remember and honor a 31- year-old woman who had died trying to come into our country. There were also wonderful times of worship including Sunday morning communion on the Mexican side of the border wall. We were recipients of wonderful hospitality, both in terms of marvelous meals and assurances that our presence was a source of encouragement to them.
Part of this trip was about the bad news: the heartbreaking experience hearing about and seeing the plight of the migrants, most seeking to escape life-threatening and unbearable conditions in their country of origin. Such conditions include gangs, cartels, killings, kidnappings, rape, and extreme poverty. The migrants’ exodus journey from these conditions includes numerous perils along the way, from the harsh environment to those who would take advantage of them. If they survive the journey and arrive at the border they are confronted by physical and policy walls that stall their request for asylum because of having to wait weeks or even months at the border. A button we were given proclaims, “To migrate is not a crime,” and yet migrants are often treated as criminals by the system and governments involved. Even once allowed inside the United States to request asylum they face weeks, months and even years of a maze of steps before their request may be granted, which may not be.
But part of our trip was definitely also the good news: the joyous celebration of 35 years of work of the Frontera de Cristo ministry, headed by Mark Adams, from Clover, SC and his co-equal Mexican partner, Jocabed Gallegos. This trip also included celebrating 17 years of Café Justo (source of coffee now for many of our churches). We were encouraged by the daily efforts and challenges of so many people and organizations seeking to be God’s presence in the midst of this suffering. Ministries include shelter, safety, food, clothing, counseling, legal assistance, drug prevention and help, a woman’s co-op – and more. We were touched and impressed by the courage and commitment of these workers, who themselves face opposition from the Mexican government and national guard.
We have been and will continue to be deeply touched by this brief but significant experience, both the plight of migrants and the ministry provided by many at the Douglas/Agua Prieta border. We are confident the impact of this trip has not yet run its course in our lives. We thank the Committee on Shared Ministry for encouragement and support in our going and for the invaluable scholarship that made this trip possible for us.
-Richard & Susan Caldwell (Seneca)
Paintbrush on the border wall
Standing beneath the shadow of the (Fourth)border wall with a paintbrush in my hand, ready to help paint a new mural, I was struck by the immense impact of this solid, barbed wire-wrapped structure. Whether it be migrants camping under tarps, waiting for days to petition for asylum, border patrol agents completing their watch, or volunteers venturing into the harsh surrounding desert to leave life-saving water, so many people feel the weight of the separation on a daily basis. As I made contact with my paintbrush on the border wall for the first time, I felt the power of that simple action – a small act of resistance inspired by hope. We spent the next few hours transforming our piece of the wall from something that represents so much pain, division, and fear into something of beauty and hope, highlighting the beautiful differences of those who encounter the wall. This collective experience of creating a mural on the border wall is an experience I’ll never forget.
There is a lot of great work being done already and so much more to be done... It’s an opportunity to help individuals grow, enterprises flourish and, most of all, communities become stronger.
God’s presence is palpable there, as well as the visible positive results when God’s children listen to Him. I have so much more to say about this experience that it’s hard to keep my heart still. Objectivity easily escapes me, and I know visceral reactions come fast to me. So much of this experience is spiritual, way beyond limitations of just one faith group.
I am planning on writing a descriptive account of how I saw things. Even suggest groups to take action and make people aware of the situation at the border.
-Christina Kraemer (Eastminister)
This past month over 200 middle school youth from all over the Presbytery came together to worship the Lord at Bonclarken Conference Center in North Carolina. The theme for the weekend was ‘Relationship Status: Loved’. Through this topic we discussed our relationships with God, each other, and ourselves. We sang, worshiped, and in small groups of about 20 youth, we talked about the topics more in depth. This event is led by the Presbyterian Youth Council (PYC), a group of around 20 high school students from our Presbytery.
PYC plans this retreat for months, carefully thinking about and praying for each youth. Our keynote speaker was Neeley Rentz Lane, and she gave us a shoestring to remind us that we are all tied to each other and God.
The weekend spent with our youth in Bonclarken was a beautiful reminder that a church is not a building, but the people, as Neeley had stated in one of her keynotes. Neeley also reminded each youth to always remember that they are children of God, and that they should start seeing themselves the way that the Lord sees them.
Each youth left knowing how to love God, to love others, and to love themselves. It was truly a transformative experience for all those involved. The PYC and Presbytery would love for all churches to prayerfully consider allowing their youth to become apart of this experience.
If you would like to stay updated about retreats and everything PYC please follow @foothills.pyc on Instagram.
This past July, I was given the opportunity to go to the Presbyterian Youth Triennium at Purdue University. Going into the week, I had no idea what to expect. The only thing I had heard about Triennium is that it was like Montreat, but it was bigger and better.
by: Laura S. Conrad
This past June a group of disciples from Fort Hill Church walked in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul. We traveled from Athens to Corinth, Delphi, the Greek Orthodox monasteries of Meteora, Berea, Philippi, Thessalonica, and onto the island of Crete where Paul’s ship wrecked. Our journey mostly included Paul’s second missionary journey.
The weeks leading up to the trip we devoted ourselves to studying about Paul’s life, building relationships, and preparing ourselves for the pilgrimage. We studied The Life of the Paul for Today by Vander Broek (Westminster John Knox). We asked the pilgrims what they hoped to have happen on this journey. Some were looking to build the bonds of Christian fellowship. Others were hungry for spiritual renewal. And even one said, “I want to be able to like Paul.”
One of the most special experiences for me as a pastor was to see the group practice the words of the Letter to the church at Corinth about sharing gifts in the body of Christ, and the epitome of that practicing the love Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13. When a couple’s grandson was placed in ICU in Greenville, we were able to lay hands on them and pray over them. Our motor coach became our little chapel. Another day we asked several to share where they had seen God in a special way as we traveled for many hours. The motor coach became our tabernacle on wheels!
Some of the highlights include standing on Mar’s Hill where Paul preached to the Athenians pictured here. And also we shared Sunday communion at the Bema of Berea where Paul was placed on trial. The following day, we reaffirmed our Baptism at the river where Lydia, the first convert in Europe, was baptized by Paul. Additionally, we learned about the Greek Orthodox Church tradition and enjoyed local culture, music, food. On our final night, our Tour Director, Theodore, was properly gifted with a Tiger paw pin and a Clemson t-shirt.
What a gift to see God’s word come to life and to live in the fellowship of the Body of Christ Paul teaches us about in a special way. The Word became flesh and dwelled among us. Thanks be to God!
-Laura serves as Pastor at Fort Hill Presbyterian, Clemson SC.
“We are invited to an inclusive meal that remembers…”
By The Rev. Beth Templeton
Jesus was a master at sharing meals. He was willing to break conventions which angered those who protected the conventions. He ate with all kinds of people. Indeed, every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we are invited to an inclusive meal that remembers all Jesus did for us, what he taught us, and the love and actions he still calls us to.
In our contemporary world, we strive to be inclusive at the Lord’s table as well. We invite all who worship to share the meal that has been prepared for them. Unfortunately, not everyone can share the meal. People with gluten sensitivities or intolerance cannot eat the bread. People with alcohol addictions cannot share the cup when it is filled with wine.
Congregations have addressed the alcohol addiction issue by choosing to serve juice so all can partake. However, many churches have not dealt with gluten intolerance so that every member can eat the bread. This means that people are forced to either forego sharing in the sacrament altogether or at least not eat the bread.
The solutions to this are relatively simple. A congregation can choose to serve only gluten-free bread. Therefore, no one needs worry about gluten contamination. Or a congregation may place a small tartlet pan with gluten free bread in the middle of each bread tray —an appreciated act. Just having a gluten-free option available on the communion table is awkward for those with gluten issues who want to partake without bringing attention to themselves.
Even if no member of a congregation has gluten issues, family members or guests who visit the church may have dietary issues and not be able to join in with the family of faith.
We can imitate the love of Christ for all by providing a way for all to join together in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
Beth is the Founder and CEO of Our Eyes Were Opened, Inc. is a public speaker, Presbyterian Church USA minister, and writer. For many years, she was with United Ministries, a non-profit in Greenville, South Carolina. Beth works with congregations, schools, universities, medical facilities, civic groups, and businesses in Greenville and around the country.
To learn more about Beth http://oewo.org/about-me/