September 2018

The tongue has the power of life and death,

and those who love it will eat its fruit.  Proverbs 18:21

 

A gentle answer turns away wrath,

but a harsh word stirs up anger.  Proverbs 15:1

 

The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life,

but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.   Proverbs 15:4

 

Pleasant words are a honeycomb,

sweet to the soul, healing to the bones.  Proverbs 16:24 

 

These are only a few of many, many instances in the Old and New Testaments where we are taught the power of our words, for good or for evil.  Psalm 34, the text of several sermons in August, exhorts us to encourage and to teach “the fear (awe) of the LORD.”  According to Psalm 34 we live that awe of the LORD first of all in our use of words:

 

I will teach you the fear of the LORD . . .

Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.

Turn from evil and do good;

Seek peace and pursue it.   Psalm 34:11, 13

 

One of the most powerful ways that each of us may use words for peace and healing is through letter-writing.  I know . . . in this age of tech and texting, it's almost a lost art to put pen to paper and actually write a letter.

 

Clair Hill, one of our church members now living in Wellsboro, is a prolific note/letter-writer.  She faithfully writes to Annie and me at least once a month.  No matter how often she writes us, every time we are deeply touched by her encouraging words and by the fact that she remembers us and takes time and energy to write her thoughts to us.  I am sure you know the warm feeling, too, of checking your mail and finding a card, note, or letter addressed to YOU!  And many of you are also very faithful in this ministry of writing and sending cards and letters.  Our Prayer Breakfast tradition of signing cards each month which are sent to people on our prayer list is another example of this positive use of our words.  Repeatedly we hear how touched people are to receive those signed cards.

 

In this spirit, allow me to share a meditation I recently read called “The Beauty of Letter Writing.”  Written by Henri J. M. Nouwen, it appears in his book  The Road to Daybreak.  Here he so richly expresses the profound power of the written word in the personal letter:

 

As I was writing letters today, I realized that writing letters is a much more intimate way of communicating than making phone calls.  It may sound strange, but I often feel closer to friends I write than to friends I speak with by phone.

 

When I write I think deeply about my friends, I pray for them, I tell them my emotions and feelings.  I reflect on our relationship, and I dwell with them in a very personal way.  Over the past few months I have come to enjoy letter writing more and more.  In the beginning it seemed like a heavy burden, but now it is a relaxing time of the day.  It feels like interrupting work for a conversation with a friend.

 

The beauty of letter writing is that it deepens friendships and makes them more real.  I have also discovered that letter writing makes me pray more concretely for  my friends.  Early in the morning I spend a little time praying for each person to whom I have written and promised my prayers.

 

Today I feel surrounded by the friends I am writing to and praying for.  Our love for each other is very concrete and life giving.  Thank God for letters, for those who send them, and for those who receive them.

 

Is it any wonder that most of our New Testament Scriptures are letters between Christians?

 

I challenge you this month to think of just one person, someone whose life you could easily brighten merely by taking a few minutes to write them your thoughts.  Why not do it?  You might change a life!

 

Remember . . . “Pleasant words are a honeycomb,

                         sweet to the soul, healing to the bones.”

 

See you on Sunday! 

Pastor Lee

 

 

August 2018

In all the activity of summer months you may not be aware of recent and ongoing church ministries so I'd like to highlight a few of the last month:

  • On Saturday, July 21 the Prayer Breakfast group gathered to sign cards prepared by our faithful Stampers. We send out 60-70 cards each month to people whom we pray for. This month we were also treated to a highly informative presentation from Katherine Niles, one of our special focus American Baptist missionaries of many years. Katherine and her husband Wayne were also here several years ago during a previous deputation. The Niles family has served God in Haiti and presently serves in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) where Katherine grew up with her American Baptist missionary parents. Like her parents (the nursing school in Vanga, Congo is named after her mother, Miriam Fountain), Katherine ministers health care as a PA and health educator. According to Bob Santilli's May 30, 2018 post on the ABC International Ministries website, “Wayne serves as a seconded missionary to Interchurch Medical Assistance in Democratic Republic of Congo. He is involved in full-time service with IMA/ECC affiliated health and development activities in Congo. Katherine is working with a group of Congolese Christian professionals in training community leaders, urban and rural, to be promoters of health in their communities. The staff of a church-related health center in Kinshasa is also using her expertise to make their medical ministry more holistic as they care for urban poor people.” Katherine's presentation was eye-opening for us as she explained and displayed the challenges of Congolese health care without the advanced technology and infrastructure with which we are blessed here. Yet Congo-lese doctors and nurses are learning and practicing surgery and medicine for their villages and cities because missionaries like Wayne and Katherine serve so ably and devotedly there. Their college-age son is even on board writing the specialized software needed to computerize digital records for use in their hospitals there! Three generations of missionaries! 
  • On Tuesday, July 17 our great volunteer team of Outreach visitors (Peggy and Sally, Anna and Lois, Eileen and Thelma, Jean and Dolores, Doris and Esther, Sue and Faith, Joanne and Brenda) called on 9 home-bound members/friends of our congregation (Shirley Clapp, Betty Penman, Joan George, Anne Williams, Daisy Karnes, Charlie Brooking, Dottie Brooking, Myra Johnson, and Jim Rupert). I know that all these folks deeply appreciate the face-to-face interaction; it is as much a blessing to the visitor and the visitee! And the visitors gather for lunch together afterward to share their experience. If you should like to participate in the future, please let Joanne Pilesky know. You may be unaware that several community groups use our building on a regular basis. We consider this part of our outreach and ministry to the neighborhood. 
  • For several years now a small Meditation Group has met weekly and includes church and community members. More recently FEBC started hosting a weekly yoga class taught by Maureen Alderfer on Monday evenings to which anyone interested is welcome. 
  • Jan Davis leads a Kindermusik class for babies, toddlers, and caregivers on Tuesday evenings. 
  • Silke Wittig, BA, Certified Professional Dog Trainer of HeRo Canine Consulting LLC rents time outside our building for various canine and trainer classes. 
  • Many children take advantage of summer vacation to experience summer camps. This year our own Faith Gray attended two weeks of a local Bible summer camp and LOVED it! She returned home inspired and energized; Her parents said she “sparkled.” 
  • In addition to Sunday morning worship, fellowship, and Sunday School, these are only a few of the ministries that happened in July with FEBC. 


Thank you for all you do to make our church vibrant and welcoming!

See you on Sunday!

Pastor Lee


July 2018

Shipwrecked VBS: Rescued by Jesus


If you weren't there to participate in or to witness our 2018 Vacation Bible School, then you probably missed the highlight of our church's year!


Over 40 children ages 4 through 6th grade just concluded a GREAT week of Vacation Bible School. Our intrepid VBS Shipwrecked Captain Kristina Culver and her able castaway crew of adults and teens led a five-evening offering which included: Castaway Worship Songs and skit (featuring Madison Culver and Paul the Coconut!), Imagination Station, Ship Rec Games, Bible Discovery, KidVid™ Cinema, Tropical Treats, and a Sail. Away Sendoff. Each evening children and adults could contribute to a special World Vision service project to purchase crop seeds for children in Haiti—we raised nearly $200! (Every $10 gift will purchase enough seeds to provide a Haitian child with food for one year!!)


The overall theme of the VBS, “Rescued by Jesus,” focused on ways in which our children may be anxious in these troubled times and always provided reassurance that “JESUS RESCUES!” from every test and trauma of life: 

Saturday evening: When you're lonely . . . JESUS RESCUES! 

Sunday evening: When you worry . . . JESUS RESCUES! 

Monday evening: When you struggle . . . JESUS RESCUES! 

Tuesday evening: When you do wrong . . . JESUS RESCUES! 

Wednesday evening: When you are powerless . . . JESUS RESCUES! 


Annie and I taught the Bible Discovery for the older children. We read and then acted out the parables of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son; Martha and Mary hosting Jesus in their home; Jesus calming the storm of the Sea of Galilee; Peter and John healing the man born lame. 

The kids had a lot of fun, made new friends, exercised their bodies and their imaginations, witnessed true stories of actual children whom Jesus had specially rescued, enjoyed delicious treats, and learned new worship songs and Bible stories that emphasized Jesus' love for all people in distress and trouble. 


We hosted many children who had little or no prior relationship with our church, which was a delight to see. We also were served by a very loyal and dedicated group of teen and adult volunteers who prepared sets, games, and lessons, served as crew leaders, purchased, prepared and served edible goodies, cleaned up afterward, and generally loved those children in direct and indirect ways all week long. THANK YOU!! YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!! Hopefully, you attended church on June 24th and/or July 1st and were able to see the Shipwrecked set and decorations. A special, heartfelt thank you to Kristina for her energy, enthusiasm, dedication, loyalty, and organizational skills! And thank you, Lord, for bringing the children. 

See you on Sunday! 

Pastor Lee

June 2018

Memorial Day 2018 has come and gone but any day, any season is good to remember loved ones who have passed to the Lord. I have assembled below a list of all the church members who, since I started my pastorate here in September 2000, have died, as well as relatives/friends and community people for whom I have had the honor of officiating last services,. Some people you will know well; others, perhaps not.


I invite you to take a quiet, unhurried moment to read these names thoughtfully and give thanks to God for the life of each of these special people. Let God lead your thoughts, reflections, pauses, and memories. Perhaps others dear to you will also come to your mind.

Let us give thanks for the dear people whom God has woven into the fabric of our lives and of our church. We are here, not only for the Lord, but also for each other. Just like these beloved named here, you too are a bless-ing in someone else's life. You matter!


See you on Sunday!

Pastor Lee

2000

Clarence Ray Cronover, 83

Anne N. Oliver, 48

Mary E. Millard, 73

Elva M. Franklin, 88


2001

Harold L. Beitz, 80

Helen Lee Welliver, 75

Stanley Levan, 72

Joann E. Diltz, 41

H. Glyn Sees, Jr., 76

Anna Savits, 90

Jack Roberts

Sylvia Smith


2002

Vonda M. Dove, 69

Ruth Moyer, 94

Delbert D. Myers, 81

Nevada L. McLaughlen, 85

Phyllis R. Rupert, 79

Phillip M. Irey, 83


2003

Mary Ann Blewett, 50

Carl C. Levan, 74

James E. Newsome, 30

Clayton S. “Clayt” Polk, 83

Hervey R. Thomas, 82

Helen E. Price, 94

Joseph W. Craig, 76

Martin D. Cain, Sr., 74


2004

Vernon H. “Pete” Musselman, 75

Francis McCaffrey, 74

Lester Lee

David A. Shultz, 39

Charles Shultz, 73


2005

Iona R. Jones, 67

William J. George, Sr., 70

Donna C. Levan, 55

William F. Tucker, 87

Lucille E. “Lucy” Brooking, 86

Francis Rinker

Betty P. Sweeney, 85

Thomas J. Crilly, 45


2006

Robert W. Eifert, Sr., 85

Charles H. “Chip” Coffman III, 58

Patricia A. Crilly, 46

Pauline M. Margita, 90

Harold Casey Rinker, 66

Mary R. Shaffer, 85

Elva M. Belles, 81

Mary C. Karnes, 45

Helen Rinker


2007

Imogene Drum, 87

Marjorie K. VanNess, 90

Thelma Drum, 87

Elizabeth M. “Betty” Pursel, 63

Colleen Jean Kirchner, 26


2008

Katherine R. Irey, 87

William F. Johnson, 53

William H. Lowthert III, 59

John W. Brooking, Jr., 88

Anne M. Fry, 84

Floyd L. Fry, 88

Donald C. Shoemaker, 98

Margaret B. Koch, 83


2009

Arden Ray Polk, 61

Dolores E. Berlin, 76

Emma L. Beitz, 86

Robert G. Steward, 52


2010

Edward C. Keller, Jr., 77

Eileen N. McWilliams, 91

Alice J. Tucker, 90

Donald D. Dove, 81

Nan Lynn Pursel, 66

Christian F. “Chris” Wolff, 85

Barbara A. Mills, 71


2011

Eric Parr, 67

Marylou F. John, 86

Robert C. “Bob” Williams, 88

A. Dale Franklin, 72

Beverly J. Aungst, 70

Mary Audrey Crawford, 84

Betty Musselman, 78


2012

Bertha B. Eifert, 89

Ronald G. Rabuck, Sr., 80

Ralph A. “Bud” Lindenmuth, 77

Mabel I. Polk, 85

Jan Parcell

Wanda Hack

Paul Hack


2013

Ella Mae Shoemaker, 90

Lenchen J. “Leni” Hauser, 73

Joseph C. Stauder, 88

Clair R. Swisher, 72

W. Ann Stokes, 75


2014

M. Eugene Morrison, 82

Elmer L. Hartzell, 88

William C. Blewett, Sr., 91

Mary Ruth Shultz, 82

Dorothy V. Arnold, 94

Mikel B. Strickland, 23


2015

Wilma D. Naus, 89

Donald N. Rishe, 96

Vincent R. “Vince” Siciliano, 78

Gelsomina V. Collins, 81

Mary K. “Mickey” Dietterick, 82

William R. “Bill” Hoffman, 83

Wayne W. Naus, 89

Betty L. Fisher, 92


2016

Helene M. Salada, 86

Robert L. Talanca, 55

Pearl E. Derr, 96

Robert S. Levan, 89

Mary N. Swisher, 72

Robert D. Robbins, 79

Beverly E. George, 89

Beverly J. Alley, 76

Deanna R. Stauffer, 71

Christine M. Krum, 84

Betty Lou Moyer, 78

Victoria A. “Vicki” Rupert, 62

Scott Kingston

Nancy Kingston, 72

Leon Salada, 92


2017

Daniel R. Reichard, 67

Maudell Laubach, 98

William R. “Bill” Crawford, 65

Louise G. Craig, 89

Isaiah L. “Ike” McCloskey, 84

Marilyn I. Blewett, 88

Martha R. Parr, 97


2018

Sharon K. Heydenreich, 65

Charles R. Spraggins, Jr., 54

Nancy C. Eves, 82

Larue W. Penman, 91

May 2018

Prayer is a spiritual activity we usually associate with a specific ritual—behaviors like bowing our heads, closing our eyes, clasping our hands together, saying or thinking holy words—and specific times and places—church services, Board meetings, meals, bedtime. These are good and valid. But my life experience also tells me prayer can, even should, happen all the time. That is, prayer becomes a state of mind and presence that integrates and impacts every moment of living.


In this spirit I found the following excerpt from Henri J. M. Nouwen's book, With Open Hands, to be very inspirational and true. I quote it here hoping you will find it so, too.


To pray means to open your hands before God. It means slowly relaxing the tension that squeezes your hands together and [it means] accepting your existence with an increasing readiness, not as a possession to defend, but as a gift to receive. Above all, prayer is a way of life that allows you to find stillness in the midst of the world where you open your hands to God's promises and find hope for yourself, your neighbor, and your world. In prayer, you encounter God not only in the small voice and the soft breeze, but also in the midst of the turmoil of the world, in the distress and joy of your neighbor, and in the loneliness of your own heart.


Prayer leads you to see new paths and to hear new melodies in the air. Prayer is the breath of your life that gives you freedom to go and to stay where you wish, to find the many signs that point out the way to a new land. Praying is not simply some necessary compartment in the daily schedule of a Christian or a source of support in a time of need, nor is it restricted to Sunday mornings or mealtimes. Praying is living. It is eating and drinking, acting and resting, teaching and learning, playing and working. Praying pervades every aspect of our lives. It is the unceasing recognition that God is wherever we are, always inviting us to come closer and to celebrate the divine gift of being alive.


In the end, a life of prayer is a life with open hands—a life where we need not be ashamed of our weaknesses but realize that it is more perfect for us to be led by the Other than to try to hold everything in our own hands.



To me prayer is a constant giving over of my life and activity (and rest) to God. I strive to be aware of God's presence everywhere and at all times, even when God seems to me to be absent. There ceases to be a sharp boundary between what is sacred and what is secular. All of life becomes sacred, because God is present in all of it. Sunday is a “prep” day, not only a time for specific worship but also a time to remind me to make every day sacred.


See you on Sunday!!

Pastor Lee

April 2018

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

--2 Corinthians 3:17


Recently I was in conversation with some church members, talking about how our “Baptist” church may be misunderstood in the larger community. I thought then that maybe a review of what “Baptist” is and means would be valuable this month.


  Just remember one word: FREEDOM


In his book The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms, Dr. Walter B. Shurden names the four large areas of Baptist freedom. They are:


1. Bible Freedom, 

2. Soul Freedom, 

3. Church Freedom,

4. Religious Freedom.


Bible Freedom is the right and responsibility of every person to study and learn from the Bible. We believe the Bible to be inspired and authoritative, but it is God’s own Spirit, through the words of Scripture, which ultimately teaches and leads.


So, we recognize we have responsibility to read and study the Bible. This is why our mission statement includes “to study the Bible as our guide to faith and practice” and why we energetically promote Bible study groups and regular Sunday School participation. It is also why so much of every worship service is based on Scripture.


Baptists believe that no one can do our thinking for us. Each of us must study and question and grapple with life and God and the Bible to hear God's voice. That is why Baptists have always emphasized Christian education and higher education. We regard ourselves as “life-long learners” (the biblical word is “disciples”). This is why we love spiritual conversations, personal testimonies, the interchange of ideas, questions and creative thinking.


Soul Freedom is the conviction that each of us has direct, personal access to God. No pope, no priest, no bishop, no pastor, no creed, no government, no organized church has the authority to dictate nor to legislate what one must believe.


Soul Freedom maintains that God encounters each of us personally without deception, coercion, or force. Every human being carries the image of God. This image makes each of us competent and capable of interacting with God, of learning about God, of making our own spiritual and moral decisions.


This is why Baptists do not baptize infants or young children whose spiritual identity and maturity are still underdeveloped. Soul freedom is the freedom to choose one’s faith. Yet, in order to make our best decisions about God, Jesus, and faith, we need maturity and education.


Church Freedom is the responsibility to gather with other Christians in an intentional and voluntary community of faith and action, what we call “church.”


We choose freely to come together with each other and with other congregations. FEBC is part of the Northumberland Baptist Association of the American Baptist Churches of Pennsylvania and Delaware (ABCOPAD) and we are part of the American Baptist Churches USA (ABC-USA).


But we are also autonomous (self-governing). FEBC has no church hierarchy above us that oversees or dictates what we believe, how we operate, what property and services we shall purchase, which leaders we shall have, what worship services and ministries we will sponsor and conduct. All operational decisions for the church are made by us and only by us, the members of the church.


This means we all share with one another the privilege and responsibility of church leadership, of congregational decision-making, of funding our church income and footing the expenses. This is why we conduct monthly Board meetings and periodic Congregational meetings, including each Annual Meeting to approve a new annual budget. This is why we recruit each other to serve in various capacities in the church.


Religious freedom states that all people have the right to conduct, within the laws of the land, any or no religious life as they see fit, without persecution or penalty.


Today we are sometimes hearing “religious freedom” as the justification for not abiding by civil rights legislation, but this is a misrepresentation and misapplication of this principle. Religious freedom has always meant the freedom to conduct religious practices (prayer, baptism, worship, pacifism) free of censure or penalty or legal force.


The First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution guarantees this freedom in our country. In fact, it was John Leland and other Baptists of the early Virginia colony who were instrumental in making this the first of our Bill of Rights. At that time, Baptists were a persecuted minority in America.  


Therefore, we defend the right of religious freedom for all people and all faiths. But religious freedom is also limited by the rights and welfare of others in our community. Religious freedom is never a license to hurt others.  


Bible Freedom, Soul Freedom, Church Freedom, Religious Freedom. If you can remember those, you have a solid handle on what it means to be a Baptist.


See you on Sunday!

Pastor Lee


March 2018

I like alphabetical acrostics, where each line begins with each successive letter of the alphabet. There are several psalms written this way (though hard to tell in English translation because they follow the Hebrew alphabet of course!). In this spirit and pondering how to communicate to others who we are as a church family, I created the following alphabetical acrostic. This is how I see our church.


The ABCs of FEBC


We the members and friends of FEBC, an American Baptist Church in Bloomsburg, PA, strive and aspire to . . .


Advance conversation and understanding

Bear burdens together

Create connections in all directions

Discover unexpressed abilities and talents among us

Embrace differences

Focus faith forward

Give good generously

Humble our heads and our hearts

Include and inspire

Judge no one

Kindle kindness and compassion

Look first within

Make amends quickly

Nurture youth and maturity

Open ourselves honestly to the Holy Spirit

Pray on purpose

Quest and question for quality

Respect what we do not understand

Surrender ourselves to Jesus

Teach tenacity and tenderness

Undertake challenges with optimism

Verbalize gratitude and hope

Worship God only

eXamine our motivations honestly

Yearn to learn more

Zealously pursue only what is good.


See you on Sunday!

Pastor Lee


February 2018

During our January 2018 Annual Meeting I asked you who were present to join me in a brief exercise. I asked all to stand. Then I asked everyone born before 1943 to sit. I asked all born between 1943 and 1963 (“Baby Boomers”) to assemble in one area. I asked all born between 1964 and 1980 (Gen Xers) to stand in another area. I asked those born between 1981 and 2000 (“Gen Y” or “Millennials”) to move together to a third location. And finally I asked those born after 2000 to clump together (but there were none).


As one might expect, the Baby Boomer group was by far the largest represented there—perhaps 75% of the total attendance of 80 or so. All the other groups were much smaller, especially the Millennials—only two individuals. Seeing this visually was, I believe, an eye-opening experience for many who were there.


After everyone took their seats, I asked, “What questions do we need to be asking as a church family?” Below are listed the questions which were voiced in reply. They are not in any rank or order and we did not decide or discuss even if we like or dislike these questions. There was no opinion or evaluation of them sought or expressed at all.


How do we attract young people to sustain the church?

How do we keep young people actively involved in FEBC?

What are we doing to attract people to FEBC?

How do we involve people without burnout?


We also did not discuss any answers because of first importance is choosing the best questions. Answers are everywhere and are a dime a dozen. Everyone has an answer or two or five on almost any topic, but first we must decide which are the best questions.


So . . . what do you think? Are these questions we need to ask? Are there others?  


Before the meeting I generated and wrote down my own questions and then shared them with the group after listing those above. Here are questions I thought we might want to ask:


Where will FEBC be in 5 years? … 10 years? … 25 years?

Who will care for our home-bound members?

What is God calling us to do and to be?

Where are our Gen Xers and Millennials?

What changes do I need to make in my life to give more time and energy to the vitality of FEBC?

If I don't do it, who will?

If not now, then when?

If not I, then who?

What holds us back?

Are we focused on what is truly important?


We did not evaluate nor try to answer these questions either.


I concluded by asking for any volunteers to join me in generating questions we need to be asking and brainstorming how to go forward with them. I have a list now of 15 people who expressed interest in this venture. Very soon, probably on a Sunday after Sunday School (because people are already at church), we will meet together. If you are interested in joining in this, please let me know at 570-854-0891 and I will add your name to the list. Thank you!!


On a different topic, please notice that the Finance Committee has set up a “Giving Tree” in the narthex. This is a new project in 2018 to help us invest in our church mission. It is called “Give from Your Heart” since that is where all our giving truly comes from. On the tree are many paper hearts, each with a dollar amount: 1, 2, 5, or 10. Each heart represents an additional gift of that amount (over and above the amount one gave in 2017), to be given each week in 2018.


Over the next few weeks please prayerfully consider choosing and taking home for yourself one (or more) hearts on the Giving Tree as your private commitment to an additional investment in FEBC this year. There will be no record-keeping by anyone in the church of who chooses what amount nor if the “pledge” you make is completely fulfilled. This is a tool for your private use, but we also hope it will generate enthusiasm for all of us to see the hearts “disappear” off the tree and know that we are all part of a team effort. Thank you!


See you on Sunday!

Pastor Lee


January 2018

Let me begin with a long excerpt from Frederick Buechner's autobiography Telling Secrets. 

(San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991, 90-92.) :


They could hardly be a more ill-assorted lot. Some are educated, and some never finished grade school. Some are on welfare, and some of them have hit the jackpot. Some are straight, and some are gay. There are senior citizens among them and also twenty-year-olds. Some groups are composed of alcoholics and some, like the ones I found my way to, of people who have no alcoholic problem themselves but come from families who did. The one thing they have in common can be easily stated. It is just that they all believe that they cannot live fully human lives without each other and without what they call their Higher Power. They avoid using the word God because some of them do not believe in God. What they all do believe in, or are searching for, is a power higher than their own which will make them well. Some of them would simply say that it is the power of the group itself.


They are apt to begin their meetings with a prayer written by my old seminary professor Reinhold Niebuhr: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” They are apt to end with the Lord's Prayer: “thy will be done . . . give us this day our daily bread . . . forgive us as we forgive . . . deliver us.” “To lend each other a hand when we're falling,” Brendan [a character in one of Buechner's novels] said. “Perhaps that's the only work that matters in the end.” As they live their lives, they try to follow a kind of spiritual rule, which consists basically not only of uncovering their own deep secrets but of making peace with the people they have hurt and been hurt by. Through prayer and meditation, through seeking help from each other and from helpful books, they try to draw near any way they can to God or to whatever they call what they have instead of God. They sometimes make serious slips. They sometimes make miraculous gains. They laugh a lot. Once in a while they cry. When the meeting is over, some of them embrace. Sometimes one of them will take special responsibility for another, agreeing to be available at any hour of day or night if the need should arise.


They also have slogans, which you can either dismiss as hopelessly simplistic or cling on to like driftwood in a stormy sea. One of them is “Let go and let God”—which is so easy to say and for people like me so far from easy to follow. Let go of the dark, which you wrap yourself in like a straitjacket, and let in the light. Stop trying to protect, to rescue, to judge, to manage the lives around you—your children's lives, the lives of your husband, your wife, your friends—because that is just what you are powerless to do. Remember that the lives of other people are not your business. They are their business. They are God's business because they all have God whether they use the word God or not. Even your own life is not [just] your business. It also is God's business. Leave it to God. It is an astonishing thought. It can become a life-transforming thought.


Buechner's point in this description of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) (and other such 12-Step programs) is two-fold: that it is one of the best examples he knows of what “the church” should be like, and that sadly, far too few churches actually focus on what is most important. I share that sentiment but am happy to say I find our church to be exceptional in this way!


As you read through this year's Annual Report, I am sure you will see evidence of what I mean: people caring for people, people serving God by serving each other and the larger community, people committed to being the hands and feet and voice of Jesus who cares for each of us, especially at our points of greatest need. These people are YOU!!  


You meet together faithfully for worship and prayer and spiritual encouragement. You send texts and encouragement cards, make phone calls, personally visit the sick and home-bound. You bring and share the Communion meal with those who cannot come to the sanctuary. You volunteer to greet and welcome everyone who ventures into our home and you welcome community groups into our family spaces. You invest your love and time and energy in the children and younger generation, to pass to them the best of your Christian faith. Your are patient and kind and generous, always ready to help anyone in need or crisis. You weep with those who weep, and then prepare delicious food for their nourishment in time of sorrow and loss. You extend your caring into community projects like AGAPE and the Women's Shelter and EOS and Brighter Christmas Fund, Scouting and BTE and the Bloomsburg Fair Ministry. You send gifts to college students and military personnel and missionaries. You bring your hearts and minds to the Scriptures and seek God's face and voice. You sing God's praises. You offer prayers for others throughout each day, not just on Sunday mornings. You maintain an inviting, warm, welcoming space, a sanctuary for worship and ministry, for laughter and tears and warm embraces. You make “strangers” feel welcome and wanted. You do not judge or condemn each other but always look for the best in someone else. You make room for someone new in your circles of friendship and caring. You forgive and accept forgiveness.


We aren't the biggest church in town. We aren't the flashiest. We aren't making headlines or generating lots of local buzz. We aren't overflowing with people. And we aren't perfect. AND . . . I love our church. I am honored to be part of your ministry and our congregation. I believe in who we are and what we do. I see God's presence and blessing all around us. We have a purpose and a place that we uniquely fill.


Thank you for your encouragement, support, prayers, and presence. Each one of you is special to me and to the rest of us! I look forward to a blessed year of worship and ministry together in 2018!


See you on Sunday!

Pastor Lee