Sunday Supper at Six April 28th. 6-8pm at the Massapequa Campus in the fellowship hall.
All Members, friends and family of our congregations are invited to attend. We will enjoy dinner by candlelight and music. Please bring your favorite CD as well as covered dish of your choice. Setup.
Sharon Slade and Keith Holman will provide the setup, beverages and desserts for this dinner. Please RSVP to Sharon Slade.
Stewardship resources from the national PCUSA
Along with Maria Studer, Marilyn Rodahan, Carol Teta, Stella LaMassa, Phil Machmer, and Sharon Slade, I attended a second lunch at Sweet Hollow Presbyterian Church on March 26 with a representative of the Presbyterian Foundation. The lunch was also attended by people from several other PCUSA congregations on Long Island. We received information about the “life cycle” of congregations and trends in giving among Presbyterians and church people in general. The leader shared many ideas and strategies for improved stewardship programs.
One idea I liked: to present the annual budget to the congregation as a “narrative” explaining which mission goals were supported by which line item expenses. For example: meeting space for x number of “anonymous” groups, playing space for y number of athletic teams, z number of boy scouts, x number of pre-school children, and weekly worship will be supported by $_____ in heating costs.
The next lunch, third in a series of four, will take place on May 28, also at Sweet Hollow Church. For those of you who can get away for a Tuesday lunch, these are good chances to see what resources of knowledge and techniques the Presbyterian Foundation can offer to us. For example, they provide a service that could equip us to accept on-line gifts through the Foundation. They can also be helpful in setting up a wills and bequests initiative.
Moral support for those who worship
The right to worship as each individual and every religious body sees fit is a founding principle of our great nation. In recent years, acts of violence motivated by insanity and/or political extremism have been directed at worshippers of many faiths, including our own. Such incidents have created an atmosphere of unease and fear that must be addressed by active expressions of solidarity and caring.
In response to the recent terrible shooting incident at a mosque in New Zealand, I received an invitation from Rabbi Howard Nacht of Temple B’nai Torah to join the “Wantagh Interfaith Clergy Council” in a show of support and concern for Muslim worshipers at the Islamic Center in Westbury. I accepted the invitation and a small delegation from Wantagh joined a crowd of maybe 70 or 80 people who gathered outside the Center before their 1 p.m. worship service on Friday March 22. The crowd was made up mostly of people from Long Island Jewish congregations, but also included Episcopalian priests, Lutheran pastors and other clergy and laity. Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and County District Attorney Madeline Singas were also present. The Nassau police provided security. We carried signs with sentiments such as “We Stand Together with the Muslim Community.” We greeted worshippers as they arrived and some people made statements to the press.
Let us pray for an end to the long series of violent incidents, and when called on, let us show our support for those who seek only to worship in peace.
I have been serving as your pastor since the summer of 2015, now almost four years ago. This time has been a pleasure for me as well as a special challenge, as we have gone through a gradual process of uniting our two historic congregations into one new church. During my service here, I have learned a lot about Long Island, its beauty as well as its challenges, and I have also been schooled in church governance and administration—a subject there is always more to learn about. I gained an overview of Presbyterian activity on the island through serving on the Presbytery Committee on Ministry.
It has been wonderful getting to know you all and making many friends that I hope to stay in touch with for the rest of my life. Now, I must announce my retirement from the active ministry as of June 30, 2019. I am making this decision mostly for personal reasons such as my age (way beyond traditional retirement age), but also because with your new church now in place, you deserve a younger pastor who can lead you with energy and creativity for many years to come. Guadalupe and I have arranged for a home in Albuquerque, New Mexico and we will be moving there this summer in time for Velma and Louis E. to start public school in August.
This is a time for you to dwell not on the downside of things but on the positive potential that still can be found in your congregational future. It is easy to be consumed by worry, since the congregation has only gotten smaller in recent years and decades. However, you are a church still blessed with many active, thoughtful and virtuous members, and you are together responsible for millions of dollars in assets (mostly now in the form of buildings and grounds) that can continue to be put to good use in Kingdom work even if the nature of that work changes over time as your understanding of mission changes. You have many friends within the bounds of the Presbytery of Long Island who can stand with you through the difficult times as well as celebrating the high points. Because you are a congregation in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, you have a pathway to international mission and to a national network of like-minded Christians who have a vast treasury of wisdom and spiritual insight to share with you.
I pray that God will richly bless you and that our final quarter year together will be productive and memorable.
Dear Members of United Presbyterian Church:
What a joy it is to address you in this new way! We have traveled a long way over the past three years, we have gotten to know each other well, and we have learned to worship and work as one body of Christ’s followers. Now, our shared experience is being validated in official unification of the two historic churches.
I am thankful that the ecclesiastic and legal processes of unification have synchronized, so that we can move in coming weeks to consolidate our legal and financial management even as our new, unified session will begin to make decisions. We need to work on creating a new system of committees, being clear about the tasks each committee is assigned, and appointing chairs.
Most important, I believe, is that during the next several months, we need to systematically think about the nature of our life together and our mission in this new era. In 2016, almost three years ago, a joint committee wrote a “Plumbline Report” to assess the community we serve and the direction we wished to take in congregational life and mission. The Report was accepted by both sessions. Now, we need to re-visit that report, and see if we can develop a more specific set of goals as we consider where we are now.
To assist with this new process of discernment and planning, I am organizing the Gathering sessions for the Lenten season Sundays of March 17, 24, and 31 and April 7. We will meet in Miles Hall (4/7 will be held in the Massapequa Social hall) following a brief coffee hour.
March 17 How we worship
March 24 How we govern ourselves
March 31 What is the future of our buildings? Issues and ideas.
April 7 What is our Mission both local and global? How do we achieve It?
These sessions will be planned and led by me with input from elders and other members.
I will create a summary of points made and ideas brought forward. This will become a background paper for a one-day member planning retreat I hope to organize sometime in May. (I should add that this plan of mine will be discussed at the first meeting of the unified session, so it is subject to change. Stay tuned.)
A few days ago, members of Session and I attended a lunch with representatives of a new program of the Presbyterian Foundation called “Project Regeneration.” Along with people from several other Long Island congregations, we listened to a presentation that provided information about congregations around the country much like ours: that is, established churches that once had hundreds of members and now are much smaller and struggling to maintain their ministry. This lunch was designed to be the first of four gatherings to be held over the next year on Long Island to explore ways churches are responding to their situation, especially financial strategies.
Although it was not said in so many words, the theme of this first lunch seemed to be: “You are not alone in your experience of decline.” Here are just a few of the facts that were shared with us:
The national Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA) has lost over a third of its membership in the last fifteen years and has 13% fewer congregations.
A “typical” Presbyterian is 63 years old. The average American is 38 years old.
The median Presbyterian congregation has 81 members.
85% of mainline Protestant churches (Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian etc) have plateaued in membership or are declining.
If the sanctuary is less than 40% full for worship, visitors are much less likely to return.
Congregational mergers are rare. (Nice to know that we here are special!)
In the face of these sobering facts, churches around the country have found ways to re-define their mission and to maintain their financial viability. I am hoping that over the course of the next three lunches, we will learn about creative and inspiring examples that will help us to think “outside the box” in terms of continuing ministry in these difficult times. Our guests from the Foundation provided this helpful thought: “The situation you and your church find yourself in is not your fault, but it is your problem.” I would only add: “It is our problem but also our opportunity.” Although our situation may not always feel hopeful, I believe we have the resources to fashion a new way of being a Christian church here and now. God is challenging us to use our creativity and to gather our courage.
Please let me know if you would like to be included in the next lunch, which will take place on Tuesday, March 26 also at Sweet Hollow.
Boy Scout Sunday Worship Service, February 3rd.
Please join us for Boy Scout Sunday Worship Service at 10am at the First Presbyterian Church of Levittown.
Levittown’s Charter Boy Scout Troop 323 will serve a Pancake Brunch to our United Congregations following worship!
Now that Christmas, 2018 is behind us, it’s time to close the books on our poet friend, W. H. Auden and his long Christmas poem, “For the Time Being.” Here are some of his final words as he brings the story to an end:
Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes—
Some have got broken—and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week—
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted—quite unsuccessfully—
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
Sort of captures the mood of the days just after Christmas, doesn’t it? Those feelings of joy, love and warmth wear off, and we are back in the rut of everyday existence before we know it. As Auden says, “we have failed to do more than entertain it (the spirit of Christmas) as an agreeable possibility.” Auden says we are like children who can’t keep a promise for very long.
Does Christmas simply offer a momentary respite from the ordinary? Or, can we learn to live the whole year in the spirit of that special day? You may read this after January 1, but there is still time for a resolution or two. I would suggest more regular attendance at church—try to be present at least three out of four Sundays. Don’t get upset if we are worshipping in “the other” church building. All the buildings, all the meeting rooms are now “ours.” Nothing is “theirs” any more. The more time we spend together in worship and prayer, the easier will be our transformation into a united congregation.
Here are some special dates that I would like you to put in your appointment calendar:
Sunday, February 24. We are planning to hold the final annual meeting of the two historic congregations and also the first congregational meeting of the new United Presbyterian Church. The session of the new congregation will be elected that day, along with its board of deacons. This will take place immediately after the worship service.
Wednesday, March 6. Ash Wednesday. Please plan to attend the traditional evening service. This is the beginning of Lent, and this will be an important season of prayer and re-commitment for all of us as we begin the adventure of being a revitalized, unified congregation.
Thursday evenings in Lent, March 7, 14, 21 and 28 and April 4 and 11. These evenings will be dedicated to the study of our church’s mission in community—our relationship as a congregation of Christ’s followers to the social issues that affect us and those around us. We will also spend some time at each meeting in group prayer. Time and location to be announced
Sunday, April 21. Easter. We will have our third annual “sunrise” service on the lawn at Levittown and our 10 a.m. service at the Massapequa campus.
I hope you will be present for these events. Please be a part of this new enterprise of the spirit as we begin life as a new church! As poet Auden said in the closing lines of his Christmas poem:
“He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.”
Christ and the Grinch
Shortly after Thanksgiving, my family went to see the “Grinch 2” movie, in which Benedict Cumberbatch (don’t you love that British name?) takes over from Jim Carrey as the chief Christmas gremlin, determined to ruin the holiday for his neighbors in Whoville. Early in the film, before
we were even through the first bag of popcorn, there is a seen with a group of Whoville carolers. They are singing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (and Ladies, we must presume).” Here are the words to the first verse, all of which were sung in the scene:
“God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay, remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day, to save us all from Satan’s power, when we have gone astray, Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy. ”
I suddenly sat up straight (well, actually you can’t physically sit up straight in modern movie seats), startled by this unexpected appearance of religious language in the middle of a popular Christmas movie. What, one had to ask, were Christ and Satan doing in this PG rated candy cane
of a film? I immediately developed a theory that this caroling scene was a little sop given to the “put Christ back into Christmas” crowd. Why not have a bit of theology thrown in, just in case someone wanted to raise a question about the moral value of this entertainment?
Lest you think I am becoming the Grinch by raising any question about our latest sugar-plum movie for kids, I hasten to say that there wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the rest of the story. Although I’m afraid that I fell asleep before we got to the resolution, it seems that the Grinch was converted to cheeriness at last, after trying to steal all the Christmas decorations and toys in his village. The catalyst for his conversion was a kind, adorable little girl, Cindy-Lou Who, voiced by child actress Cameron Seely, who wanted to meet Santa but instead encountered the
Grinch. Cumberbatch gave an interview in which he explained that his version of the Grinch was less mean than the original Carrey version, and the audience could see that the Grinch’s behavior was rooted in his loneliness and feeling of isolation from the villagers.
Films like this can be good family fun, but our kids need to hear the real Christmas story from their parents and their church. They need to be told that Christmas began as a way of remembering God’s great gift to us, the gift of his Son, and that our seasonal giving and receiving is simply a way of reminding us of that wonderful truth. All the rest is, well, tinsel.