A Word from the Pastor – December 2019

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.

2 Timothy 1:5

Dear Friends,

Happy New Year!! (no, I didn’t send Jeannie my January article by mistake, the church calendar year starts on the first Sunday in Advent). It is starting to feel like new beginnings here at EPC. After a year of behind the scenes interim work, the fruits are starting to show. We have a Pastor Nominating Committee on the job, we have a new slate of Elders and a whole bunch of new Deacons ready to go, we have a set of new policies working their way through the Personnel Committee, we have some new ideas being processed by Generosity and Stewardship with an eye to the farther horizon, we are trying new things in worship, we even have the seeds of a vision for the future.

It’s interesting to note that the new year (whether by the church calendar or by the secular calendar) comes during the darkest, coldest (relatively speaking) time of year. I believe this tells us something about how God makes things new. First, it seems, before new life can be born, a kind of a death has to happen. In nature, this is literal—the leaves fall from trees, covering the ground, enriching the soil with nutrients that will feed the next generation of trees. But in our emotional and spiritual lives, this “death” is metaphorical: we let go of old ways of doing things (sometimes with a sense of grief) and make room for something new. But, just as the leaves feed the new trees, the past is a fundamental building block for the future. The wise person takes from the past the resources that will enable the next generation to thrive.

Those remnants from the past are everywhere at EPC. They live in the shared experiences that I hear all the time from the people in this church. At every committee meeting I attend at least once or twice someone will say “remember when (random church member) use to (sing something amazing, bake something delicious, say something hilarious, do something incredibly kind). That was a special moment for me.” These shared memories describe the nutrients in the soil here at EPC that the future will spring out of.

To continue the metaphor, the nutrients that make up the soil here at EPC (the shared memories) are rich in acts of kindness, fellowship, concern for those in need, and humor. So, when you are trying to imagine what the future of this church will be, think about all the things that would thrive in that kind of soil. When we can do that, what is coming will begin to come into focus.

Blessings, Pastor Jen

A Word From the Pastor – November 2019

If we ask for money, it means that we offer a new fellowship, a new brotherhood, a new sisterhood, a new way of belonging. We have something to offer— friendship, prayer, peace, love, fidelity, affection, ministry with those in need—and these things are so valuable that people are willing to make their resources available to sustain them.

Henri Nouwen, A Spirituality of Fundraising

Elma Shugg, the chair of EPC’s Generosity and Stewardship committee, has been writing about stewardship for the past few months as we prepare for pledge season. Elma has done a great job of framing stewardship as a spiritual discipline and the blessings we receive (all that we have) as a gift from God. This month, I want to add my voice to hers by writing about fundraising, which is an aspect of stewardship, though not necessarily a popular one.

During stewardship season, we go out of our way to avoid talking exclusively about financial giving—for very good reasons. First, as the church, our primary focus is not money and we don’t want to get so caught up in watching our bank account that we forget about the gospel. Secondly, if we only give our money, but hold back giving our time and talents, much less our bodies, souls and passions, then we can be assured that our gifts will not bear good fruit.

Nevertheless, it is also true that Stewardship Sunday (November 17) in which we bring forward our pledges for the coming year, is a financial offering. That means that the talk leading up to it is a form of fundraising. We should not be ashamed that we need to raise money to keep the church running. But we should be sensitive to the fact that asking for money can raise people’s defenses.

We have all heard stories about televangelists who get rich because they know how to equate financial giving with faith, which will be rewarded with prosperity or a miracle of healing. Some of you may have been guilted into giving to the church in the past. Others may have given only to find that the money they gave was mismanaged. Money is a sensitive topic and, if not treated thoughtfully, it can cause way more problems than it can solve.

So, how can we talk about money without making people feel guilty or pressured or abused? I believe the answer is to acknowledge that financial giving is a ministry that we are all called too. And it doesn’t matter if we can give large sums or only the smallest amount. What matters is that when we give what we can, we are investing in a community. When we give our resources to a church, we are fully joining in what the church is doing because we believe it makes a difference. We don’t give out of guilt or in response to social pressure or in order to make our way into heaven. We give to the church financially out of our faith in the ministry here. We give because we believe that God is active here and, therefore, this is the most valuable investment we can make. That is the kind of giving that bears much fruit.

In order to facilitate that kind of faith in Emmanuel church it helps to articulate what the ministry and vision of Emmanuel church is. It’s also helpful to talk about how the money is being used and managed. What are our long-term goals as a church and what are the steps that we would like to take to get to that goal? These are all critical aspects of the fundraising part of stewardship as well. It seems clear that people will give financially to something they think is meaningful. Is Emmanuel church doing the kind of ministry that is worth pouring your resources into? Do you have questions about how the money is being spent? If you have concerns in these areas, let’s not be afraid to talk about it.

These are some of the questions we will make room for at the Congregational Luncheon after worship on November 3. We will probably only get to touch the surface of the topic. But it’s a conversation that should continue well into the years ahead.

Blessings, Pastor Jen

A Word from the Pastor – Oct 2019

This is what God says, the God who builds a road right through the ocean, who carves a path through pounding waves, the God who summons horses and chariots and armies—they lie down and then can’t get up; they’re snuffed out like so many candles: “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?

Isaiah 43:16-19 The Message

This passage from Isaiah appears at the front of a publication by the General Assembly titled “On Calling a Pastor.” I think it captures the energy that church members feel as they begin to turn toward the unknown—some with trepidation, some with excitement. The unknown future is a road marked by risk and reward. But there are a few things that can be affirmed and relied upon:

  1.  Emmanuel Presbyterian Church has a future! This church is alive with relationships and energy. Yes, the North American Christian church overall is in a state of decline but that doesn’t mean that we are dying. It does mean that we are being transformed into something new.
  2. This is a time for using your imagination! Have you been sitting in the pews wondering about new things that you would like to try or old things you would like to bring back? This is the moment for sharing those ideas. So attend a committee meeting and share your perspective. Yes, most new ideas will not come to fruition, but that is not the point. The point is developing the courage to dream.
  3. This is a time for new leadership to emerge! In order for the future to be freed from the limits of the past, new energy and input must flow in. If you have been on the sidelines, prayerfully consider stepping up to the plate. The door is opening; now is the time.
  4.  There is nothing to fear. Notice I didn’t say everything is going to be okay, just that there is no reason to be afraid. Having worked with churches that have lots of difficulties, I can witness to the fact that churches are resilient and survive hardship. Therefore, armed with the assurance that you can overcome obstacles, move ahead with confidence.

Searching for a new pastor is not just about who is going to be your next pastor. Actually, it’s hardly about that at all. It’s far more about who you are becoming as a church. So, don’t sit back passively hoping that the future will treat you well. Engage the future with courage, imagination, openness and trust. God is about to do something brand new here at Emmanuel. It’s bursting out. Don’t you see it?

Blessings, Pastor Jen

A Word from the Pastor – Sept 2019

The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion. Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve.

John Stott

Over the past several weeks the sermon has been focused on Godly leadership as seen through the story of the prophet Samuel. At the beginning of each worship service during this series, I have chosen for the prelude slides several quotes on leadership that I thought captured the particular theme of the week. The quote above by John Stott has elicited the most interest from people. I agree…it’s a good one. I like it because, like most of Stott’s great quotes, it is simple and direct. It names the

problem and it proposes the solution so succinctly that it leaves little doubt in its truth. So, what is the problem that Stott names? The problem is that when we human beings ascend to leadership the temptation to abuse the power entrusted to us often proves to be too much, and we succumb. The intoxication of power can lead to everything from seemingly harmless unilateral decision making to overtly taking control of an enterprise.

Our ecclesiastical forefathers were also very concerned with power. As a result, our Presbyterian form of government is designed to curb the individual’s power in decision making and distribute that power equally among the elected leadership. Our

church is governed by “Elders gathered in councils.” That phrase is critical and should be the mantra of every Presbyterian as they go about the business of the church. Why? Because it is not just that we share decision making power but we are granted permission to exercise that power only when we are officially gathered as councils of the church. For example, when two members of Christian Education committee meet in the parking lot after church and discuss the best curriculum for summer adult education, they can come up with a lot of great ideas, but they cannot officially decide which curriculum to purchase until they bring the idea back to their “gathered council” (the CE committee’s meeting) who would then vote on the final decision.

This way of making decisions is definitely much slower than the two-step process of 1) make the decision, 2) buy the curriculum. For this reason, there are people in the church who have a very hard time serving on committees. Action-oriented people find the group decision making process to be excruciatingly painful and slow (and it is). So why do we do it? Well there are a lot of reasons, but the main one is this: the church belongs to God and not us. We believe that God rules the church through God’s Spirit, which is expressed through many voices and not just one. That is what sets Presbyterians apart from many of our Christian brothers and sisters from other denominations. And yes, it does slow us down, but it also keeps us all accountable to each other. In addition, it tethers us to humility and that, according to John Stott, is what makes Godly leadership Godly.

Blessings, Pastor Jen

“I heard a SNAP at EPC. What is SNAP?”

SNAP stands for Sustainability, Nature, Animal Projects at Emmanuel Presbyterian Church. The mission committee has many wonderful programs going on this year. The group feels there is a need to engage in ecology mission aspects for the Emmanuel congregation to be better stewards of the environment and appreciate all of the awesome creatures and resources God provides. The projects will be varied and will involve all facets of the church. This includes facilities and grounds, worship, education and of course, missions. SNAP will occur on the church campus and through mission, fellowship, and outreach off church grounds in our local community. SNAP will be specifically designed to offer a variety of one time or short-term objectives in order to give each parishioner opportunities to be involved as they choose. More SNAP news will be coming out in the near future. If you want more information, have ideas, or would like to assist in this exciting mission opportunity, contact John Fedyna who will be the main SNAP contact from the mission committee.

A Word from the Pastor – Eternal Life

What is happening in your life right now? Are you in a happy routine of family, work and friends? Are you experiencing a period of upheaval, such as new health crisis or a major job transition? Are you in the exciting initial stages of a new relationship? Or are you in a period of grief because someone you loved has died? Life is not static. As cliché as it may sound, life is full of ups and downs as well as plateaus. One thing we can always count on is that no matter where we are, for good or bad, it won’t always be that way.

The cycle of life is part of what it means to be a human being. Just as the flowers in our backyard will spout buds, bloom and then die, we all go through birth, life and death with all of the drama and joy and despair that goes along with it. That is “natural life” and it can be hard because natural life always ends in death. But resurrection life is different. When Jesus appeared to Mary

Magdalene and announced that he was “ascending to the Father” he introduced eternal life. Often, we picture eternal life as a place we go after we die, where we will live on a cushy cloud way up high, and where harps play and all our loved ones who have also died will congregate and we will do heavenly things like eating wonderful food without gaining weight or always getting to sleep in late. And maybe heaven will be like that (fingers crossed) but that is not necessarily what eternal life means.

Eternal life is life without “Death with a capital D.” Thomas Long described Death as “[a] mythic force…the enemy of all that God wills for life.” This kind of Death is all around us in the world ready to tell us that we should grab for all the money and power we can because there is no goodness in creation, only pleasure. Death tells us that relationships are disposable, selfish acts will satisfy our desires, and

that hate is a sentiment that will sustain us. Simply put, Death tells us we are not children of God but that we are gods ourselves. This is what Jesus conquered through the cross, and his victory is available for us to claim anytime and anyplace.

We are in the season of Eastertide. And while we celebrate the resurrection every Sunday, during Eastertide we remember very intently that Christ has defeated Death and so eternal life is available to us now and forever. And as we live this resurrection life, we discover glimpses of the promise of eternal life, here and now. And eternal life accompanies us no matter where we are in the cycle of life, whether we are caught up in the highs of romantic love or we have plunged into the despair of excruciating grief. Because of Jesus, eternal life is available to everyone who would receive it. Thanks be to God.

Pastor Jen

A Word From the Pastor – April 2019

“What is a Church Anyway?”

This year the topic for the Tuesday night Lent Soup Supper and Study has been “what is a church anyway?” The first week we looked at Acts and Galatians to see what the disciples were doing right after Jesus ascended and left them the Holy Spirit to guide and shape them as a church. And what did they do? They began to disagree on theology and mission (Acts 6:1-7; Galatians 2:1-23) and formed committees to resolve their differences (Acts 15:1-21) and to distribute the work of the church (Acts 15:22-33). Does this sound familiar?

The second week we considered what happened to the church as it grew and spread during the 1st and 2nd century. One of the effects of growth was that churches sprouted up all over the place (yay!!) and began their own individual practices of worship and mission

(well, that sounds reasonable) and adopted their own Gospels (uh…wait a minute) and defined Jesus in a way that made sense to them (O.K. now, hold on there…). In fact, by the late third century there were so many differences among Christians that what we believed was in danger of getting lost in all the diversity. At that point, along comes a very powerful figure named Constantine who both legalized Christianity and made it possible for a set of rules to be established that we could agree to. (Whew!)

On week 3, however, we learned there was a backlash to all the conformity and centralization that Constantine ushered in. While Bishops waged political battles against each other, some decided all the fighting seemed to contradict what Jesus taught, and so, fed up with it all, they departed into the desert to live as hermits. This

began a movement known as Monasticism, and which proved to be very fortune over the centuries as the Roman Empire collapsed. These small religious communities, dedicated to prayer, humility and work, were able to sustain the resources needed to preserve life and learning (medicine, education and farming technology). Of course, all good things have their down side, and some Monasteries–originally places where men and women could live in poverty and humility like Jesus–became very wealthy and powerful and corrupt.

Week 4 will consider what happens to the church in the Modern Age (1500 to today) as Science became the guiding light for the world. How does faith fare in a world built upon reason and proof and where technology can seem to solve all of our problems (who needs God when humans are so powerful and smart?).

Each of these historical periods tells the story of a church challenged by what is happening in the world around it. When viewed from the comfortable distance that time allows, we can see that God used each of these challenges in ways that could not have been predicted. Not only did the church survive, but it was used to help protect and save. And yet at the same time it become an incubator for elements that ushered in the next collapse.

During week 5, our concluding week, we will use our imaginations. What is the church now that we are beginning to suspect that science and technology may create as many problems as they solve, that economic prosperity cannot protect us against evil, and that human beings can be very smart but not necessarily wise. What are the seeds being sown in our time that might bear good fruit for God? In other words, can we imagine what God is doing here and now among us with all of our challenges and gifts?

Who knows what we’ll discover!

Pastor Jen

A Word from the Pastor: March 2019

In case you missed the congregational potluck kicking off the interim process, here is the reader’s digest version

*The church (the overall church, not Emmanuel specifically) is facing tough times.

*The church belongs to God, and God’s mission doesn’t fail.

*Therefore, this is an exciting time to be a part of the church.

Emmanuel, as a church in transition (all churches are in transition by the way) is moving into uncharted waters and what we need at this moment is a 10,000-foot view. How do we get that view? Through taking some time out for reflection—seeking insight into who God is calling us to be, here and now. That is what the questionnaire is all about and what the small groups will be focused on.

Some of us love reflecting. Some of us can spend all day and night reflecting on this or that, pontificating on potential futures. Then there are those who like action; who can’t stand sitting around gazing into a future that may never arrive while the rest of the world goes to pot. Action people want to DO something!

The church needs both. The church needs people who have the patience to think through questions like “what we are doing and why are we doing it” so that we aren’t just reacting to a bad situation and making it worse, or spinning our wheels in unproductive activity that gets us nowhere just for the sake of taking action. The church also needs people who can call a timeout on all the talking and processing, and insist that it have a real impact.

So, who are you? Are you inclined to action? Do you get frustrated with

talk and yearn to get on with making things in the real world that have real meaning? Or are you someone who wants to build the vision before you build the reality. Whichever you are, Emmanuel needs you.

For now, we need input for insight and vision. We will continue in the small groups for more “thinking and listening.” So, to all our action-oriented members I’d say, be patient, but be ready to call a timeout and insist that all vision and insight is meaningless if it doesn’t result in action.

Blessings, Pastor Jen

P.S. If you haven’t already, please fill out the questionnaire available on pages 7 and 8 in this issue or in the narthex and place them in the basket in the narthex. And sign up for a small group–sign-up sheets will be in the Fireside Room this Sunday.

A Word From the Pastor: Appreciation

The longer I am here at Emmanuel, the more I have come to appreciate the staff. While I mentioned them in the Annual Report, those kinds of mentions can feel very routine and not necessarily sincere. And yet, as those who interact with Carolyn, Michael, Keith (and now) Lori know, they each inspire sincere appreciation and a sense that God is taking care of Emmanuel in a variety of ways. So, let me be specific in what I see:

Carolyn loves and appreciates thoughtful worship. She takes the time to make sure that the music she chooses fits with the themes of the season and aligns with the sermon focus. She brings the spirit of cooperation to every undertaking and is excited to bring new ideas and creativity to Sunday morning. And when the worship service comes together perfectly she radiates this joyful contentment that is contagious. I love working with Carolyn!

Michael is like the rock of Emmanuel church. Our worship service is held together by his consistently strong performances. When I lose my way, I look up toward the balcony to see what he is doing and he is always on cue. It is truly a blessing to have an organist who plays at the level that he does and there have been mornings when his piano performances have taken my breath away. Beyond his musical talent, Michael is extraordinarily kind and one of the most thoughtful gift-givers I have known. I love working with Michael!

Keith is the eyes and ears of the church. He calls and sends texts regularly to update me (and many of you too) on every aspect of the church property you can think of. He anticipates where the next problem will likely arise and how to handle it before it becomes a big problem. We are really fortunate to have a groundskeeper who provides around-the-clock service in the way that he does. Keith does the kind of work that is only noticed when it isn’t done. Nevertheless, when we arrive on Sunday morning and the grass is cut and the sanctuary is clean, it is because Keith was here long before anyone else. I love working with Keith!

Lori has only been here for a few weeks now, but she is already deep into the inner workings of the church. She has gone through the office computer files with a finetooth comb and is busy organizing a system that will keep us on track and help with our communications. She has added some visual elements to our worship slides that give them a little more life. She intuitively understands the subtle things that make church life more connected and meaningful. Lori is the kind of person who takes her time and does things well. She is conscientious and kind. I love working with Lori!

Church work is not for those who want to make a ton of money or even receive a lot of recognition. Church work is for people who are attuned to the Spirit and hear the call to serve the Lord with their unique gifts. Our staff here at Emmanuel love God sincerely and it shows in how they do their jobs. I am very grateful for each of them as I know you are too.


A Word from the Pastor: January 2019

It has been hard to get out of bed lately. Ever since the cold spell hit (well…cold for natives like myself) the warmth and coziness under the covers has seemed like a little Eden surrounded by the outer darkness of the early morning chill. But I don’t imagine everyone feels this way. For some, the cold weather energizes even as it makes others curl up in a ball and whimper.

Because I am more the whimpering type, the timing of the New Year has always seemed a little unfortunate. Part of me is excited at the prospect of a new calendar year and all the beginnings that come along with it while the other part of me cringes at having to generate energy when all I want to do is hit the snooze button and hibernate. But I am not a bear, and it’s time to get going because there are a lot of exciting new opportunities around.

Here are a few items on my to-do list:

  • Get my passport ready for AMOR (fingers crossed I’m not too late!)
  • Hold a worship arts brainstorming session in preparation for the season of Lent (any theater arts people out there?)
  • More planning for the annual Spring Women’s Retreat
  • Congregational meeting January 27th!!! (lots of interesting stuff)
  • Ordination and Installation of new church officers
  • Get to know Lori Page, our new office administrator
  • Host the Presbytery’s Healthy Transitions Workshop for Deacons and Elders OK, now I’m warming up.

Just thinking about all that is coming motivates me to get out of bed and, before I know it, I’m running at full speed. 2019 is going to be fun, creative and meaningful at Emmanuel Presbyterian Church. There is no place that I would rather be (even my own little Eden under the covers).


Pastor Jen