Tag Archive | The Faith Connection

Pastor’s Post for April

Pastor’s Post: Our Connectional Church, Part 1

As I have often said, there are a great many advantages to being part of a “connectional” church such as the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Sadly, we often don’t think about this dimension of our church experience except when we read headlines about controversial decisions made by our General Assembly, which meets every other summer. If we can put that thought aside for a moment, I’d like to share some of the real positives we gain from our relationship to the PCUSA nationally and regionally. This is a big topic, and I will spread my comments over the next several newsletters.

During our recent stewardship drive, we shared information about the “per capita” donation (currently about $37 for each member) that we are obligated to send to fund the work of the church regionally and nationally. We learned that most of this money is utilized by the Presbytery of Long Island to support the life and work of congregations in our area. Presbytery is the body that maintains the standards for education, skills and conduct for our professional clergy. It also oversees a variety of educational and training resources for church members in things like how to be an elder, how to serve as a deacon, how to manage finances, and so forth. Presbytery has a variety of ways it can help local churches when they encounter challenges and difficulties. It also organizes support for many different forms of local mission and manages relations with other denominations and faith groups. The Presbytery board of trustees exercises stewardship of Presbytery’s funds and interacts with local congregations in matters of property and financial management.

Presbytery is composed of all active PCUSA clergy on Long Island and lay representatives of all congregations. The Presbytery meets five or six times a year to conduct business. The Massapequa session appoints a person as “commissioner” or representative for each meeting of presbytery. Clerk Joan Tischner has been a frequent representative. Levittown session elects a representative each year, and Maria Studer is the current commissioner with Marilyn Rodahan serving as alternate. Presbytery meetings are held in different churches, so sooner or later it meets near us. The next meeting of Presbytery will take place on Tuesday, April 17 at Bellmore Presbyterian Church, beginning at 12:30 p.m. and will last several hours. If you would like to visit Presbytery and witness it at work, please feel free to do so. If you let me know your plans, I will arrange to introduce you, so the commissioners are aware of your presence and interest. I should add that not all Presbytery meetings are held on week days. It meets, frequently on a Saturday, to allow for greater participation from lay Presbyterians.

Beyond our local area, we are connected with the Synod of the Northeast, which keeps offices in upstate New York and covers New England and the greater New York area. Then, of course, we are part of the General Assembly which includes representation from all parts of the United States. Next month, I will give you a report on the activities of Synod, and then, as we move toward the meeting of General Assembly in St. Louis in June, I will brief you on the activities of the national church and what important issues will be brought up at GA this year.

 

-Pastor Lou

Pastor’s Post for December

Pastor’s Post:

Here we are, once again at the beginning of the liturgical year. I suppose it was the rhythm of the agricultural world in the northern hemisphere, the world that most of our ancestors inhabited until the last one or two centuries, that dictated that the drama of salvation would be played out in our worship during the winter months. For it is between now and Easter in the spring, that the lectionary takes us through the scriptures of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection. In the old days, people had more time during the winter for the special holidays and feasts associated with the readings, while the earth slept and there was no sowing, growing and reaping.

It has become something of a tradition for pastors to sermonize against the materialism of modern Christmas. We all must admit that things have certainly gotten way out of hand in terms of the “getting and spending” that characterizes our Decembers. Our domestic economy is more or less built around the business that this special holiday generates. Long ago, Christmas became “secularized” so that millions of people who don’t worship or respect Christ celebrate it for all kinds of reasons. The beloved story, “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens was, in fact, a powerful statement of how Christmas can be viewed as a moment in which the innate charitable impulse that lies within most humans is brought to the fore and celebrated, all with no reference to Christ himself, or even God.

Maybe a way we can salvage the original meaning of Christmas this year is to start Advent with a reflection on the other man who is featured in this Scriptural story, that being John the Baptist. Now, we know far less about John than we do about Jesus, but what we are told suggests that he was about as anti-materialist as you can get.

He was the son of a priest, and early in his life he took to an ascetic existence, residing for extended periods in the wilderness, learning to live like an ancient “hunter-gatherer,” a way of life that had more or less disappeared long before the time of Christ. So far as we can tell, his ministry was similar to that of a Baptist country preacher in the U.S. a century or so ago. He preached fire and brimstone, he called people to repent, and he baptized. The Bible does not attribute miracles to John—he wasn’t a healer so much as a disturber. You could say that he prepared the way for Christ by disturbing the complacency of the people, opening them to the possibility of a new way of understanding their relationship to God and to each other. That new relationship would be based on forgiveness and love, and we continue to celebrate it with the generosity of Christmas.

Maybe our time needs a new generation of disturbers, so that we might better appreciate the love in which God holds us in spite of our sinfulness. Old complacencies need to be challenged before the amazing news of God’s grace can be fully appreciated. “We should think of Advent as a time to disturb as well as to celebrate.”

 

Pastor Lou

Pastor’s Post for April

From the Pastor

Dear Members and Friends: 

 The Lenten home communions have been a delightful and meaningful experience for those who have participated.  The hour and a half that we have spent together on a week day evening has provided time to get to know each other in a way that is hard to do on busy Sunday mornings.  I want every member of both our churches to have the opportunity to attend a home communion, so we will continue to hold them in coming months, until everyone has been invited at least once.  I urge you to make time to attend, so that you can gain a deeper understanding of the congregation to which you belong.   

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 This year we are adding an early morning service to our observance of Easter.  At 7:30 Easter morning (April 16) we will gather on the lawn at Levittown Church (Miles Hall if it’s raining) to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. We will be featuring the musical and dramatic talent of our young people. Rod Sklar is organizing a sumptuous Easter breakfast that will follow the early service.  Come early! Stay late!  Attend the traditional 10 a.m. service to make a morning of it. 

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 A recent presentation and discussion at the Gathering laid on our hearts the challenge of including and supporting children and adults with special needs.  There is an active conversation continuing about how our church might be more involved in this important ministry.  This topic brings to mind the life and writings of the Rev Henri Nouwen who was a major figure in Christian spiritualty in the second half of the twentieth century. He taught at different times at both Yale and Harvard Divinity School.  In the last part of his life in the 1980’s and 1990’s he answered God’s call to live and work in the “L’Arche” community in Canada. This organization was launched in France to provide a supportive residential community for people with severe disabilities.  “L’Arche” emphasizes the spiritual life of both its residents and their caregivers.   Allow me to share two paragraphs from Rev Nouwen’s reflections on his experiences with L’Arche.  Here he is reflecting on the difference between human glory and

 God’s glory: 

 “. . .human glory is always connected with some form of competition.  Human glory is the result of being considered better, faster, more beautiful, more powerful, or more successful than others.  Glory conferred by people is glory which results from being favorably compared to other people.  The better our scores on the scoreboard of life, the more glory we receive.  This glory comes with upward mobility.  The higher we climb on the ladder of success, the more glory we collect.  But the same glory also creates our darkness.  Human glory, based on competition, leads to rivalry; rivalry carries within it the beginning of violence; and violence is the way to death.  Human glory proves to be vain glory, false glory, mortal glory. 

How then do we come to see and receive God’s glory?  In his Gospel, John shows that God chose to reveal his glory to us in his humiliation.  That is the good, but also disturbing, news. God, in his infinite wisdom, chose to reveal his dignity to us not through competition, but through compassion, that is, through suffering with us.  God chose the way of downward mobility.  Every time Jesus speaks about being glorified and giving glory, he always refers to his humiliation and death. It is through the way of the cross that Jesus gives glory to God, receives glory from God, and makes God’s glory known to us.  The glory of the resurrection can never be separated from the glory of the cross.  The risen Lord always shows us his wounds.

 Thus, the glory of God stands in contrast to the glory of people.  People seek glory by moving upward.  God reveals his glory by moving downward.  If we truly want to see the glory of God, we must move downward with Jesus.  This is the deepest reason for living in solidarity with poor, oppressed, and handicapped people.  They are the ones through whom God’s glory can manifest itself to us.  They show us the way to God, the way of salvation.”

 

Pastor’s Post – November 2016

From-the-Pastor-2

Dear friends:

This is the season we celebrate the bounty of God’s blessings in our lives.  The iconic Norman Rockwell painting of the American family gathered around the table on Thanksgiving Day lives in my memory as an image of peace and plenty.  There are certain ideals in that image that are under threat today.  Most important is the picture of a unified, multi-generational family gathered in one place.  Fewer of us each year have that experience.  Now, we are coming to understand with the guidance of the Holy Spirit that family can come in a wide variety of forms — the group gathered around the table often looks very different now than   in Rockwell’s time.  The important thing for us as followers of Jesus Christ is to recognize, affirm and support the ties of love that bind families together, whatever combination of people are involved.

The other important part of Rockwell’s image of the traditional Thanksgiving that is under threat is that enormous turkey on the table which symbolizes the wealth of food and other basic necessities that we Americans have enjoyed for a long time.  Sadly, Newsday reported in a recent edition that the number of children on Long Island living in poverty in the last nine years has gone from 6.1 percent to 9.9 percent, an increase that is considerably larger than that for the entire state of New York.  There are many things that contribute to these grim statistics, which add up to many empty tables at dinner time in our neighborhoods.

In our draft Plumbline Study of our congregation(s) we renew the commitment of our Christian fellowship to respond to these concerns by being a family for those who have lost their family and to do this by being alert and responsive to people’s needs for fellowship.  We also call for a continuation and expansion of our mission commitment to hungry children.  I would hope that we can enhance our commitment to Long Island’s children by both continuing our charita le giving and by becoming advocates for increased public support for the poorest children.

Yes, the Norman Rockwell image of thanksgiving is changing, but the vision of family unity and prosperity continues to inspire us.  I pray that the Holy Spirit will lead us to a new level of commitment this holiday season to each other and to our community.

_Pastor Lou