Dear Members and Friends:
Thank you to everyone who made Holy Week a special time of inspiration and communion with each other. It is clear to me that we have a talented congregation that has much to offer to enrich our worship experience. And this is not to mention the joyful Easter vigil hosted by Sweet Hollow Presbyterian Church on Saturday evening. For the past two years we have benefited from the musical and liturgical gifts of our friends and neighbors in many Long Island congregations who come together for this special event. It is a joyful experience to discover our fellowship in Christ extends to so many fine people all over the area.
The life of faith is intimately related to the means of communication that are available to us. When Jesus lived, communication was so much slower than it is now, that it is hard for us to imagine how the Gospel spread from town to town. Jesus did a lot of walking, and speaking to crowds, and preaching in synagogues. After his death and resurrection and ascension to heaven, his disciples followed in his footsteps, walking out of Jerusalem and Galilee, travelling the roads to neighboring countries, boarding sailing vessels to reach all corners of the known world. When they reached a new town or city, they would begin preaching in the town square and in the synagogues, if such existed there. The missionaries, most notably Paul, then began to write letters to churches they had organized. These letters probably traveled in the luggage of trusted members of the Christian community. One can imagine that it would take at least several weeks for a letter to travel from Jerusalem to Ephesus or Rome. Given these realities of communications, it took about four centuries for Christianity to become the dominant religion of the Empire.
Fast forward to the Protestant Reformation, almost exactly 500 years ago, and 1,500 years after the life of Christ. The news of the Reformed faith was transmitted much more quickly than would have been possible in the ancient world through a new system of information sharing based on the printing press. It took less than one century for Luther and Calvin’s form of Christianity to take root in every corner of western civilization. Of course, it did not become the dominant faith in many areas which remained in the grip of Catholicism, but the genie was out of the bottle in terms of the spread of information throughout the populace. More and more people learned to read, and out of the rich soil of literate Protestant populations sprang the modern realities of representative democracy and an informed and self-determining laity and citizenry.
Today, we can look back on the last 100 years in which communications technology has increased the speed and the reach of information sharing at a breathtaking pace. And now, it seems as though every year brings a new form of communication into our hands. We have broken loose from centralized systems such as radio and TV networks. Everybody has a chance to be a media phenomenon. Reputations can be made or destroyed overnight. National leaders can put their messages directly into our in-boxes without the media filter we are used to. In turn, in a matter of seconds, we the people can flood them with thousands or millions of individual messages on any given topic.
So far as communicating the Gospel is concerned, media technology is neutral. The Good News can travel by word of mouth, by the printed word on paper, by preaching to an assembled audience, but it can also travel by e-mail, Facebook, You Tube, and Twitter. Our worship is currently conducted using the printed word on paper, the spoken word using electronic microphones and speakers, and music using electronic instruments and our assembled voices. We also use our bodies a little bit by shaking hands or embracing when we “pass the peace.”
As we build our new congregation, we have an important opportunity to experiment with all the new forms of communication that are available. Money is, of course, an important limiting factor for us. Yet, we will be doing the best we can with what we have. As we proceed with these efforts, that started some time ago with the creation of web sites for the two congregations and Facebook pages, along with limited use of visual aids in worship, I hope you will find your experience of the Christian life being expanded in a positive direction. Be sure to let me and the session know what you think about various innovations.
Three things that will be unfolding in coming months:
1) Elder Scott Newsam is guiding us into the world of “Google for nonprofits” which promises to be a great platform for communication and work sharing within our fellowship. 2) It seems likely that we will be purchasing the digital version of the new PCUSA hymnal, Glory to God. Using projectors and screens, we will be able to enhance our music in worship with hundreds of new hymns and songs, many of which have been written in the past two decades. 3) We will be using projected images in worship on a regular basis. Getting the set up to work well may take some time and effort.
Dear Members & Friends,
You are invited to join The First Presbyterian Church of Levittown & the Presbyterian Church of Massapequa for Joint Worship Services, Sundays at 10:00a.m. The Levittown Church will hold worship on the first & third Sunday of the month. The Massapequa Church will hold worship on the second & fourth Sunday of the month. Months that have five weeks will alternate between the two churches. Below please find the worship schedule from June through December 31, 2016. All are Welcome to attend worship service with Pastor Louis Knowles and the congregations from Levittown & Massapequa as we continue on a journey of friendship, fellowship and worship. We hope you come to Meet God & Friends Here.
What I Did on Spring Vacation. . .
My family spent a lovely week in a beautiful place: Portland, Oregon. Both my wife and I have close relatives living there, and Louis and Velma found a lot of cousins to play with, on both sides of the family.
Portland is a study in contrasts: on the one hand, it is a self-consciously beautiful city with wonderful plantings, attractive and user friendly public transportation, plentiful benches and resting stops for pedestrians, laid-back coffee houses (not all Starbucks!) and striking views of the Willamette River and the great volcanic mountains to the east and north. Much of the waterfront has been transformed in recent years from a dismal commercial wilderness into a lovely public park. On the other hand, the poor and homeless are omnipresent, often asking for a handout. Recently, the mayor declared that the homeless could legally camp on any public green space, and this has led to small tent settlements springing up in many neighborhoods. Permanent residents near these areas are not amused, and political trouble is brewing. In addition, I learned from a college friend who is now a prominent attorney in the city that Portland’s high school graduation rate is abysmal. And this in an area that is now heavily dependent on tech industries that demand a highly skilled and highly trained workforce.
On Sunday morning, I visited a local Presbyterian congregation in a suburban area about 15 miles from city center. The Oak Hills Presbyterian Church has a membership of about 140 but a remarkably high attendance record, averaging over 100 each Sunday morning. The congregation seems about evenly divided between an early “contemporary” service and a later traditional service. The annual budget runs close to $250,000. The church’s modern building sits on an attractive site with some open space around it. The Rev. Jeremy Sanderson, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and a man in his early thirties, gave an inspirational sermon based on the life of David. I attended the 11 a.m. traditional service, which is preceded by the 9:30 “contemporary” service. Although labeled traditional, the service I attended featured liberal use of visual aids—a computer-based use of projected images during the service included lyrics for all hymns sung as well as pictures and outlines to supplement the words of the pastor and to advertise congregational activities. The worship space uses a lot of natural light and movable chairs that allowed for a variety of seating arrangements. I was not able to attend the contemporary service at 9:30, but judging from a large drum set that is a permanent feature in the sanctuary, I would guess it uses modern, youth-oriented music.
Should anyone be interested, I have a copy of Oak Hills’ 2015 annual report. I could not help but imagine how a church such as this one might serve as a model for what our two churches might be able to build—in terms of modern facilities–if we are successful in our merger efforts and can begin to re-build our ministry as one congregation.
On Easter Sunday, our combined congregations engaged in a renewal of our covenant with God. We modeled this event on the great gathering of the people of God at Shechem under the leadership of Joshua, as it is described in the 24th chapter of the book of Joshua. The first part of our covenant renewal process was a recitation of the many blessings we have received from God, both as individuals as churches. The second part was a statement of what we are promising to God as we proceed into the future. I have re-printed this second part below, so that we can all re-read it and consider what we are promising. I will welcome any thoughts or reflections you may have.
Our Pledge to God:
We will follow You into the future as one people, keeping Christ always at the center of our common life.
We will reach out to get to know the members of both congregations that we do not know now, we will work to blend our cultures and our ways of doing things, so that a new and dynamic ministry will emerge.
We will treat each other as beloved sisters and brothers in Christ, seeking always a common understanding and a unity of purpose.
We will not be afraid to share the Good News with others but will speak with joy and welcome to all.
We will give generously of our material resources and will share our time with the community as family and work commitments allow.
We will not horde our earthly and spiritual treasures, but will share with all, so that like the loaves and fishes of the little boy, like the jar of oil and the bin of flour of the Sidonian widow, like the manna in the wilderness, they will never be used up but will be an ever-flowing stream giving life to all.
This we solemnly promise, knowing that we are weak and prone to wander from Your way. Pour out Your mercy and forgiveness upon us, we pray, that we may endure and gain the prize and at last enter into Your Kingdom of peace and plenty.
In the name of the risen Christ, we say, Amen.
Dear brothers and sisters:
As part of our Lenten emphasis on the Scriptures of the Old Testament, we have recently read in worship the story of the great gathering of the people of God convened by Joshua at Shechem to re-commit their national life to God. This story contains the Old Testament in a nutshell: 1) God offers the covenant of his steadfast loyalty and love to the people; 2) the people promise in return to be faithful to God and his law for their lives; 3) the people then wander away from God and forget their promises to be faithful; 4) God punishes the people through defeat and occupation by hostile forces; 5) the people repent and cry out to God for salvation; and finally, 6) God hears their cries and restores them to their lives of peace and prosperity in return for their promised faithfulness. This is the cycle of human behavior repeated several times in the Old Testament.
This Lent and Easter season, I would like us to borrow a script from Joshua and re-examine our covenant relationship with God and each other. In our worship services the next several Sundays and in our Sunday evening Bible studies, we will continue to explore the story of the people of God and their covenant relationship to God as it is told in the Old Testament. On Easter morning, we, as one people, will make our own re-commitment to the divine covenant. Let us for the moment set aside the technicalities of merger and a new identity, and assume our identity as the unified assembly of the people of God.
I want us this year during the Easter service to renew our covenant relationship with God through a litany that we all will help write. So, I would like you to write down on a sheet of paper the things that God has done for us over the years. Now, I’m going to ask you to write in two columns—one column can be for the blessings that God has bestowed on you and your family, and the other column will be for blessings that God has bestowed on us as a people, as a church—you can think of your own church, Massapequa or Levittown plus our combined effort, should you wish to mention that.
On the other side of the form will be an opportunity to say what we should include in our re-commitment—what promises we should be making as a people to our God. This one too, will have a column for your personal re-commitments, and for the re-commitments you feel should we should make as a people of God—as one church growing out of two, however you want to think about it.
I’m going to distribute the form next week in church (March 6) and give you one week to work on it, and I’ll be the editor, to turn it into a litany of thanksgiving and re-commitment. You can sign the form if you so choose, or just contribute it anonymously. On Easter morning during our 10 a.m. service we will gather as the people of God gathered at Shechem to re-commit to the Lord and to the future of his ministry in this place.
Let this liturgy of re-commitment be the beginning our goal-setting for our life together, our renewed community life that we will live in the marvelous light that shines forth from the face of the risen Savior. The apostle Paul reassures us in I Corinthians 10: 13 that God will not abandon us, that He will not let us succumb to the enticements of the devil, if we approach him with humbleness and repentance. Through his covenant, God will reward us beyond all that we ask or think, so let us turn our hearts during this special month toward God, our pillar of fire by night and cloud by day who will lead us through the wilderness of doubt and confusion into the promised land of love, justice and peace.
The New Year Brings a New Worship Opportunity
As we begin a new year of worship and work here in Levittown/Massapequa, I am looking forward especially to the re-launch of the Sunday evening service at our Massapequa campus on Sunday, January 3. This will be a less formal worship opportunity in which we will be inspired by music written in recent years and performed by local musicians. Our music leader will be Stella LaMassa, a member of Massapequa Church. Stella was instrumental in a similar service that was held last year at Massapequa for several months.
The new service will begin at 5:30 p.m. and last for about 45 minutes and will continue through June. Young people and children will be encouraged to remain in the service. Afterwards there will be an hour of youth activities and Christian Ed programs for young people. If there is sufficient interest, I will lead a Sunday School class for adults. We can do some Bible study and also discuss current issues from a Christian perspective.
This new Sunday evening service will allow families to come together for worship and to deepen their understanding of their faith in a two-hour period at a time of day that will be less likely to conflict with other activities. If you are a regular participant on Sunday morning, you may wish to attend both morning and evening worship, since each will be different, or you could continue to come to the morning service and then attend the Christian Ed hour, which will begin around 6:20.
I encourage you to think about friends and relatives who might be interested in attending this type of service at this time on the Sabbath. Let’s not hide our new candle under a bushel basket! -Pastor Knowles