Pastor’s Message March 2021

I am excited and grateful to see the many ways people are engaging in our pilgrimage theme, Wandering for the Love of God, this Lenten season. We have four Soul of a Pilgrim discussion groups going, with people involved from two other states than New York and one other country. They are learning new ways to read the Bible reflectively and intentionally for what God is saying to them. They are using photography as a spiritual practice to notice and receive the beauty of the word and God’s presence. They are walking, moving, writing, and sharing their stories of experiencing God as they become more curious and creative about how to discover the sacred presence in and around them.

Many of you are also engaging in pilgrim practices by reading and reflecting on the Daily GIFT email. Written by Roger Gench, a Presbyterian minister and interim editor at the The Presbyterian Outlook, this devotional is helping us see the Bible as the “lens of faith,” as John Calvin put it, like a pair of eyeglasses that enables us to see the world with clearer vision as God’s creation. As theologian Serene Jones notes in “Inhabiting Scripture, Dreaming Bible”, this was Calvin’s way of saying that Scripture “brings clarity and focus to all aspects of our lives” and “lets us see what we otherwise would not.” In short, once we have these eyeglasses on, “there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that escapes their vision-framing power.” As a result, many of us are praying and meditating with scripture in slow and contemplative ways. We are discerning the movement of God in our personal lives and in the life of the world around us. We are journaling and writing down notes, ideas, and questions that open up and deepen our exploration. We are singing (or at least humming) with a weekly hymn. We’ve already heard how important this has been and how much it is missed when the email doesn’t arrive.

Finally, for all of us who like “to do” something, we are also wandering in the wilderness of food insecurity as we collect 40 Cans for Lent for our Pantry. Not only are we collecting food, but we are invited to put ourselves in the shoes of our neighbors who don’t have the comfort of knowing where their next meal is coming from or how they will feed their families from week to week. This practice will help us to better understand the people we seek to serve and to discern ways to alleviate the causes of hunger and food insecurity in our community and world.

I celebrate these pilgrim practices because they illustrate how we are engaging our faith as a transformational magi congregation and growing our spiritual vitality for living daily in the presence of God. We are living into our identity as disciples of Christ and pilgrims on a journey, exploring who we are, who God is, and how we continue to discern what God is doing in the world around us. That last sentence is what pilgrims do. In From Nomads to Pilgrims, Diana Butler Bass and Joseph Stewart-Sicking write, “A pilgrim’s goal is not to escape life, but to embrace it more deeply, to be transformed wholly as a person, with new ways of being in community and new hopes for the world. Being a tourist means experiencing something new; being a pilgrim means becoming someone new. Pilgrimages go somewhere—to a transformed life”

Becoming someone new and going to a transformed life speaks to our journey during Lent and our real purpose as a church. We are traveling to Easter, not only as a day to celebrate, but as a way of life that nurtures God’s new life in us and our way of life in the world. This journey is how I see us being a church and inviting new people to join us. We aren’t so much focused on what people believe as how to invite people to join us on this journey that shapes who we are and what we do. We don’t offer a set of hard and fast, unchanging beliefs, but a journey of belonging to a community where we can grow and change, believe and doubt, experience joy and share sorrow, all as part of becoming someone new and heading toward a transformed life. We don’t set aside the core of our faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Instead, his way guides our growth, change, formation, and ultimately, our transformation.

Thank you for the ways we are on the journey together. One particular thing we can all do is read about the grant we received from the Clergy Renewal Program of the Lilly Foundation. You can read the first two answers to the grant proposal and we will be sharing more each month. This grant isn’t simply for me to have four months off to rest or go on vacation. We received the grant so that we can all take a sabbatical journey and learn how we can incorporate rest and renewal into our life together as a church. To refer back to the Ten Commandments study we did last summer, it’s an intentional opportunity to practice the Fourth Commandment, “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.” As I said at the beginning, I’m both excited and grateful to be going on this journey with you. As we walk this Lenten pilgrimage of faith, may we experience God’s presence, discern God’s leading, and celebrate God’s gift of transformation and new life.

On the journey together, Chip