June 2019

Ruth Dorothy “Dottie” Brooking

September 10, 1929-May 12, 2019

In honor and memory of a wonderful member of our church, Dottie Brooking, I thought I might use this space to share with you some of my words from the Memorial Service of Friday, May 17. 

What words can I find to describe a woman like Dottie Brooking? Loving, strong, courageous, hard-working . . . Determined, dedicated, strong-willed . . . Independent, brave, giving. Most all of you here have known Dottie far longer than I, so I'm sure you would have many more words—but somehow I'm at a loss to capture fully in any words my experience of Dot Brooking. And it is hard to talk about Dot without also talking about Charlie because there was rarely one without the other for me, and they just belong together in my mind. 

They were engaged 5 or 6 times before sealing the deal, but 71 years later, it was clearly a good choice! 

Their devotion to each other has been an inspiration to me and, I'm sure, to many of you. Not only did Dot and Charlie raise Chuck together and give him a loving home and family, but they also ran two restaurants together, worked auto races and demolition derbies together. Dot learned to love hunting and fishing because Charlie loves to hunt and fish, and she wanted to share that enthusiasm and time

with him. 

They are both totally dedicated to First English Baptist Church. They were married by Rev. Whitney in the (then) church parsonage on 3rd Street by the meeting house. In recent years their health and more limited mobility have made regular church participation a challenge, but with Christina's help they have been present many Sundays recently—even the Sunday before Dot died! And remember, she had been on dialysis for the past 3 years! Still she came.  Dot and Charlie both were always a pleasure to visit with! 

Always warm, kind, gracious, and friendly.  And not once have I ever heard Dot, or Charlie, complain or gripe about anyone or anything. They have not been spared great life challenges either. Charlie is a PT Boat, World War II veteran, as you all know. Charlie later sustained a very serious back injury. Dottie endured a terrible accident with a lawn tractor. 

Last Saturday, as our Prayer Breakfast speaker, Charlie offered one of the most personal and moving testimonials about the power of prayer and God's faithfulness in his life—and his and Dot's life together —and he was very open about many personal challenges and obstacles he and Dot have faced. I wish the entire church had heard his witness! 

So many times the easy choice would have been to blame or complain or give up—and they chose to pray, to trust God, and to keep going and refuse to collapse into cynicism or bitterness. They are both an inspiration to me and I hope I can be like them in their positive attitude toward life and living. 

Dottie was a fighter. One of the toughest persons I think I have ever known. She would not give up. She loved life. She loved Charlie and Chuck and Christina and Amanda and Ashley and Jayden and Denise and all the people around her. 

But these bodies of ours here on earth are physical and mortal. They simply do not last forever. That's what the apostle Paul meant when he called his body a “tent,” a kind of temporary and impermanent shelter that lasts only for a brief time. 

As we age, we recognize how right he is and, if we are blessed with long life, as Dot was, the tent of our body simple wears out. Dot Brooking lived a very full mortal life—she wanted more but the body could not accommodate her desire. 

In our loss we grieve. And losing one so dear is a tremendous pain and hardship; nothing anyone can say or do can remove or lessen that pain, because it is the pain of love. But we know that Dot is no longer suffering and is safe and secure in the Lord's care now. As Paul reminds us, “We grieve, but not as thosewho have no hope.” 

We are always in Christ Jesus, whether in this world or the next. “Because He Lives,” we live too. We hold on to that assurance in faith, because we know God is faithful, and we know Jesus lives, because He lives within us even now. 

Charlie requested that we might sing together one of their favorite hymns, “Because He Lives”--but first, I'd like to call on Charlie to come up and share a few words and a special prayer with us. (At this point in the service, Charlie came forward and shared very personal words which I will not attempt to paraphrase here, but after these, he read a written prayer of great importance to him called “The Unafraid Prayer,” author unknown, which appears below.) 

The Unafraid Prayer

Lord, I know that when I feel afraid you

want to calm my heart. Yet at this very

moment, I'm not at peace about my

condition. The enemy wants me to be

consumed by fear. But Your word reminds me, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, 

for Thou art with me”—My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God

remains the strength of my heart; He is mine for-ever. Thank you, my Lord God, that I can face my fears unafraid, knowing You are

always and forever with me. Amen. 

If you want to give Charlie a call, he can be reached at 570-387-1254 or send a greeting to 330 W. 3rd St., Apt. 314, Bloomsburg,  PA 17815. He would be grateful to hear

from you. 

See you on Sunday! 

Pastor Lee

May 2019

“April showers bring May flowers, so what do May flowers bring?” 

“PILGRIMS, of course!” - sorry!! Couldn’t resist… :) 

May also brings a gorgeous change of weather in the beautiful state of Pennsylvania. Finally, no snow or ice!! And, among other special occasions, May brings Graduations and Memorial Day and Mother’s Day. I want to share with you a poem for the occasion of Mother’s Day. You’ll see why… 

To My Mother

Wendell Berry

I was your rebellious son, 

do you remember? Sometimes

I wonder if you do remember, 

so complete has your forgiveness been. 

So complete has you forgiveness been

I wonder sometimes if it did not

precede my wrong, and I erred, 

safe found, within your love, 

prepared ahead of me, the way home, 

or my a bed at night, so that almost

I should forgive you, who perhaps

foresaw the worst that I might do, 

and forgave before I could act, 

causing me to smile now, looking back, 

to see how paltry was my worst

compared to forgiveness of it

already given. And this, then, 

is the vision of that Heaven of which

we have heard, where those who love

each other have forgiven each other, 

where, for that, the leaves are green, 

the light a music in the air, 

and all is unentangled, 

and all is undismayed. 

Happy May! 

See you on Sunday! 

Pastor Lee

April 2019

As I write this article for the April 2019 Family Times, today is the day before two moving trucks pull up my parents' driveway to “extract” them from their home of more than 50 years. Both healthy and well in their 86th year, Mom and Dad are (thankfully!) completely in charge of this whole process. After pondering and planning for many years, they decided that the time is now to downsize from a spacious but isolated 4-bedroom house on five acres of the North Carolina mountainside, to a 4-room corner apartment in a planned retirement community and surrounded by other senior adults, many of whom are already their friends. In March, Annie and I traveled to NC to offer emotional encouragement and as much sorting and packing as we could all tolerate. 

I am extremely proud of my parents in following through on a most difficult life change. They have spared my two sisters and me many difficult decisions by making their own tough choices and executing them. No one

I know wants nor welcomes leaving their home for good. Places and spaces carry so many memories. 

And familiarity, routines, predictability ease the rough edges of life's daily disruptions and deeper traumas. My parents have been blessed with relative life stability; the last move they made was in 1968. They have never had nearby neighbors, and have always treasured their privacy and independence. . . . 

And now life changes. 

But of course, life is a constant current of change, is it not? Some change, like the coming of spring, is

obvious and predictable, but much change happens while we are watching something else, maybe taking years, decades, centuries to become obvious. And change, in my experience, always includes losses and gains. Sometimes, the losses are much more prominent than the gains. 

This liturgical season of Lent highlights change. In Lent we remember how the disciples cope with the sudden changes of Holy Week when their friend and teacher Jesus is tragically and violently taken from them, only to return even better than before—as Lord and Savior. Their lives are never the same afterward. 

What will the remembrance in 2019 of the Crucifixion and Resurrection bring to you and me, where and who we are today? Only God knows but I hope you will choose to be with your church family in these days of change to find out. 

See you on Sunday, 

Pastor Lee

March 2019

March 6, 2019 is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the 40-day liturgical (church) season called Lent,  (from the Anglo-Saxon word “lencten,” for spring). Traditionally, Lent is the season of self-reflection, repentance, and preparation for the celebration of the resurrection of Christ at Easter. The symbol of 40 days mirrors the 40 days of testing which Jesus endured in the wilderness after his baptism by John. 

As we have considered during the Sundays of Epiphany, that wilderness testing represents Jesus' internal struggle to understand how he was to be as Son of God on earth—what would be his project, his people, and his power. As a human, Jesus had choices as all humans do and during the 40 days, he chose for himself the trajectory of his life and ministry—preaching/teaching/healing/releasing, primarily the people of Israel but also all who would hear, and always in the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Over many centuries until today, Christian congregations have observed Lent as a season for entering into a similar time of reflection, repentance (turning back to God), and anticipation of the promised redemption and new life in Christ, initiated in Jesus' death and resurrection. In the midst of Lent are six Sundays which are actually “time-outs” from Lent. These six Sundays (in 2019 they are March 10, 17, 24, and 31; April 7 and 14) are not part of Lent because Sunday is always a “mini-Easter,” a weekly celebration of the resurrec-tion of Christ. 

One of my favorite Christian authors and teachers, Frederick Buechner, has written a thought-provoking meditation on Lent, which I offer for your consideration here as we enter this new season together: (from his book Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, pp. 74-75.) 

In many cultures there is an ancient custom of giving a tenth of each year's income to some holy use. For Christians, to observe the forty days of Lent is to do the same thing with roughly a tenth of each year's days. After being baptized by John in the river Jordan, Jesus went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus. 

During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves. 

  • If you had to bet everything you have on whether there is a God or whether there isn't, which side would get your money and why? 
  • When you look at your face in the mirror, what do you see in it that you most like and what do you see in it that you most deplore? 
  • If you had only one last message to leave to the handful of people who are most important to you, what would it be in twenty-five words or less? 
  • Of all the things you have done in your life, which is the one you would most like to undo? 
  • Which is the one that makes you happiest to remember? 
  • Is there any person in the world, or any cause, that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for? 
  • If this were the last day of your life, what would you do with it? 
  • To hear yourself try to answer questions like these is to begin to hear something not only of who you are but of both what you are becoming and what you are failing to become. It can be a pretty depressing business all in all, but if sackcloth and ashes are at the start of it, something like Easter may be at the end. 

The seasons of life are not really intended to be experienced in isolation. Jesus was alone in the desert but you do not need to be alone. Come join in during Lent. Maybe we can help each other. 

I hope we see you on Sunday!! 

Pastor Lee

February 2019

With Valentine's Day falling in the center of this month, February is the season of Love. What is Love

to you?? Here are a few messages of Love from our Bible (all quotations are from the New International

Version). What do these words say to you today? . . . 

Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 

--Deuteronomy 6:5 (also quoted in Mark 12:30 by Jesus) 

Love your neighbor as yourself. 

--Leviticus 19:18 (quoted by Jesus also in Mark 12:31) 

A new commandment I give you (says Jesus): Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All people will know that you are my disciples if you love one another. 

--John 13:34-35

Whoever has my commands and obeys them (says Jesus)j, that one loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them. 

--John 14:21

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down one's life for one's friends. 

--John 15:12-13

How great is the love the Father has lavished upon us, that we should be called children of God! 

And that is what we are! 

--1 John 3:1

Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with

actions and in truth. 

--1 John 3:18

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for you who love your neighbor have fulfilled the law . . . . Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law. 

--Romans 13:8, 10

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

--Galatians 5:22

If you keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 

--James 2:8-9

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 

--1 Peter 4:8

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered; it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. . . . Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. 

--1 Corinthians 13:4-8. 13

May your February be filled with Love, coming in and going out! 

See you on Sunday! 

Pastor Lee

January 2019

2018 comes to its conclusion . . . .

Thank you for the privilege of serving as your pastor under Christ this past year. Honestly, I'm never quite sure what to include in my “Annual Report.” Trying to condense and present an entire year of my life in a few paragraphs is impossible. In one previous year's report I thanked by name numerous people in our church for the various ministries they had executed that year. I thought that would be received positively but the only feedback I received was from one older, well intentioned member (now deceased) who told me my report was a bad idea because surely I had overlooked at least one person who also deserved to be thanked publicly and he/she would be unhappy about being overlooked. Okay then . . . 

Here's an overview of what this pastor does . . . I spend many hours every week preparing for Sunday worship — planning, reading, studying, praying, discussing, pondering, writing, rehearsing. I consider preaching God's Word to be one of the most important of my duties. Even if I have preached on a Scripture text in the past, I always start with a blank sheet of paper and write a new, original sermon. (My sermons NEVER come off the internet or out of any book of sermons, etc.). If the text is New Testament, I typically write out my own translation from Greek to English. I read specific commentaries, consult Bible dictionaries, Greek tools, different English translations, and monographs and articles of biblical history and theology. 

I discuss the passage with my Wednesday morning Bible study (you all are invited any Wednesday! No Bible background/knowledge necessary!). And I listen to my Sunday School feedback group every week to hear your points of view. Fridays and Saturdays are typically sermon-prep and writing days, but also often include a meeting at church and/or a hospital or home visit. 

Early every Sunday morning, I (or Larry Bennett) unlock the front door of the church building. I check the lights and heat (or A/C) and then “preach to the pews” (they are very attentive! And quiet!), so I can practice my delivery and hear my sermon “out loud.” I go home for breakfast and to pick up Annie. Then there is choir rehearsal and band practice before worship starts. Sometimes I have a meeting before choir rehearsal (Men's Breakfast, Nominating Committee, etc.) and/or between worship and fellowship/Sunday School. 

What I haven't mentioned yet — a vital but unpredictable part of every Sunday — are all the one-to-one interactions. On Sundays, various people (I never know who ahead of time) will come to me happy, sad, upset, confused, lonely, desperate, angry, nervous, uncertain, beseeching — you name it — and I do my best to listen and help as I can. (If I sometimes seem distracted as I begin a worship service, it may be because I may have just heard a very upsetting story from someone a few moments before.) 

The first Sunday of every month is Communion Outreach to some of our home-bound members. Immediately after Sunday School dismisses (and before lunch), Annie accompanies me EVERY time for Communion Outreach, as do one or two other church volunteers. (Thank you, Shirley Kramer, for recruiting them!!).  This is very rewarding but also exhausting after a long and busy morning in church. Every second Sunday of the month I join the Board of Christian Education in its meeting immediately after Sunday School.  Every first Tuesday evening of each month is the Finance Committee meeting, immediately followed by the monthly Diaconate meeting. I participate in both. This past year I also attended several of the monthly Trustee meetings on the second Tuesday evening of the month. 

Every Wednesday morning, I have breakfast with some of the men of the choir and then Bible Study at church. Every Tuesday morning for the past two years I have participated in the community Meditation Group (which includes other church members) that has been meeting weekly in our building for many years. Immediately after Meditation each Tuesday, I go volunteer for three hours at the Food Cupboard at Winona (where I see Peggy Shrawder and Don Pursel!); I started volunteering there last July by helping Martha Sheehe and Kathy Lorelli with client registration, which is my regular job there now (where I use my limited computer skills!). Additionally, I sing with the choir and play bass with our Praise Band on Wednesday evenings and Sundays. 

Since Saturdays and Sundays are major work days for me, I try to honor Mondays and Thursdays as non-church work days, but invariably I do work on both days—meetings, visitation, hospital calls, phone calls/emails/texts, letter-writing, background reading for Bible study/sermons. (I cannot tell you how many times I am asked by a funeral director to officiate a funeral and interment on a Monday or a Thursday. I always say yes.). 

I attend the Outreach Team meetings and work their projects (cookie packing, visitation day, Red Cross Blood Drive, Esther's Closet, Bloomsburg Fair Ministry, etc.) as I am able. I attend every Prayer Breakfast, sign cards, lead the songs and offer prayer. I take major roles in Vacation Bible School every summer and lead adult membership gatherings as scheduled with the Deacons. I write a monthly Family Times cover article. 

I pray for and with people. I meet with whomever asks to talk with me. I help the Lay Moderator with Advisory Board meetings. Thanks to technology I am available as pastor virtually “24/7” and have been contacted and consulted even when away on vacation. 

I make acute hospital calls and sudden emergency contacts/visits a very high priority, even for people who are not members/friends of our church. Whenever asked, I go. That is what a pastor does. 

For over a decade, every week I deliver the recorded worship service to WHLM for the following Sunday's radio broadcast (many thanks to the Jones family for making this ministry possible for many years!). I fre-quently hear of people listening regularly to our service on the radio before going to their own church! I make sure Becky Lowthert, our FEBC webmaster, has sermon texts and titles for the posting of sermons on our FEBC web page. (Thank you, Jen Powers and Travis Culver, our Facebook page editors, and Becky, for bringing us into the 21st Century of communication!). 

Regular physical exercise is very important to me; it helps me mentally, emotionally, and physically. I used to run hills often—I have been a runner for 40 years. But a joint problem in one toe prevents that now, so I swim, two or three times a week, a mile or more each time, at the Bloomsburg University pool. Over the last almost three years of swimming there (since March 2016), I have made many community friends; there is a whole group of regular swim-mers and most are older than I (I'm 61 this year). The oldest are north of 90 years! I have gotten to know University staff there, too, and they know I am a pastor. We have regular con-versations. My exercise program has become a community outreach for me which I did not expect but which I have come to treasure in a special way. 

What else does this pastor do? . . . 

Things I do which no one sees: set up and take down tables and chairs for groups weekly, vacuum when needed, paint (the blue meeting room beside the church office is my and Annie's handiwork), monitor and program ther-mostats (and change dead thermostat batteries), ad-just A/C and heat throughout the building, clean and organize storage spaces, “water” the piano humidi-fier, clean toilets/bathrooms when needed, lock and unlock the building for others, and turn off lights left on throughout our building when everyone else has vacated. I mop leaks and report water damage, move trash bags into the dumpster, water flower/plants from the worship service or funeral services (sometimes delivering them to others). 

I do all my own word processing/typing (like this report, which by the way, I am writing on a Thursday). Always handwritten, never typed, are the personal welcome notes I write and send to worship visitors, sometimes multiple times, to communicate our appreciation for their presence with us. (I have a complete, ongoing log of my 18 years of correspondence with church members and visitors). Many, many times do I compose, place and replace the roadside message (others do this too) on the outside church sign, though less often lately, which is why the sign, as I write, has been blank for weeks. (This is a physically difficult task that consumes at least an hour each time I do it—you are welcome to try it.) I pull weeds in the front flowerbeds and this fall, I dead-headed the new rose bushes now there; I fill the outside fountain whenever I see that the water level is too low. With Thelma I provide office coverage when Carey cannot be there. I have personally washed, dried, folded, and returned to the drawers the used kitchen hand towels. I do light cleaning in the kitchen if I ever see the need there. I have mounted a whiteboard on a classroom wall, updated bulletin boards in the hallways, repaired inoperable door knobs, weeded the outdoor fire pit, and checked the baptistery plumbing for leaks (a bit complicated). 

And I didn't just start doing these things in 2018; I have been doing such things for the past 18 years. I believe that if I see something that needs to be done for our church and I can do it, then it's my job. 

A major pastoral activity is my listening to people's complaints and unhappiness with life, with the church, with other people, with me. This is not easy. Sometimes I must bite my tongue. I pray with people and for people often. 

This year has been difficult on many levels for me as a pastor. I often feel very alone.  Thank you for your kindness and understanding. I believe we are a good, strong, faithful church and I tell people exactly that, repeatedly and emphatically, when I am about in the community. 

Please forgive my numerous errors and mistakes. Please let me know how I may serve you better. 

For Christ and Christ's kingdom, your servant

Pastor Lee

December 2018

Nothing is sweet or easy about community.  Community is a fellowship of people who do not hide their joys and sorrows but make them visible to each other as a gesture of hope.  In community we say: “Life is full of gains and losses, joys and sorrows, ups and downs—but we do not have to live it alone. We want to drink our cup together and thus celebrate the truth that the wounds of our individual lives, which seem intolerable when lived alone, become sources of healing when we live them as part of a fellowship of mutual care.”

Community is like a large mosaic.  Each little piece seems so insignificant.  One piece is bright red, another cold blue or dull green, another warm purple, another sharp yellow, another shining gold.  Some look precious, others ordinary. Some look valuable, others worthless. Some look gaudy, others delicate. We can do little with them as individual stones except compare them and judge their beauty and value.  When, however, all these little stones are brought together in one big mosaic, portraying the face of Christ, who would ever question the importance of any one of them? If one of them, even the least spectacular one, is missing, the face is incomplete.  Together in one mosaic, each little stone is indispensable and makes a unique contribution to the glory of God. That's community, a fellowship of little people who together make God visible in the world.

--Henri J. M. Nouwen, Finding My Way Home

Reading this reflection upon a multi-color mosaic makes me think of the church.  We are a group of unique individuals and families who have been brought together by an Unseen Hand.  Each of us is a gift to the rest of us. The presence or absence of any one changes the mosaic. Old friends depart; new friends arrive.  There is a constant ebb and flow. This change can be invigorating or disconcerting. As Nouwen writes, “Life is full of gains and losses, joys and sorrows, ups and downs—but we do not have to live it alone.”

I hope that this holiday season of Advent and Christmas finds you often with your church community.  We are not perfect. We make mistakes. We disappoint each other sometimes. We are not a Norman Rockwell illustration of the ideal American family.  If your need is a perfect experience every time, we cannot deliver.

That said, we have a lot to like!   I have never been blessed to be part of a more caring, energetic, devoted, loving group of people than FEBC.  Week after week we show up, we work, we pray, we serve, we forgive, we encourage, we hope for the best. I believe the face of Jesus shines through the mosaic of tiny flashes of light and color each of us contributes to the whole.

Come join us in your place this holiday season.  No one is like you. No one can take your place here.  Someone here needs you to be present too. Every absence is missed.  Every presence is an important point of light for the whole.

I hope I see you on Sunday . . . and more!

Pastor Lee

November 2018

On Communion Sundays our tradition for many years in worship has been to read together our FEBC Mission Statement.  Lately I have occasionally substituted a different reading, one I call “The ABCs of FEBC.” Let me explain my purpose in doing this . . . .

I wrote the ABCs of FEBC as an attempt to express in “un-church-y” language (yep, I just made up that word) what I believe makes our church family distinctive and valuable as a community of caring followers of Jesus Christ.  In this I deliberately avoid words that one hears mostly in church or in Christian venues (words like salvation, sin, grace, resurrection, holiness, discipleship,etc.), not because these words are unimportant to me and to us, but because they are difficult to understand, especially for people who have no experience of a church or of Christian jargon.  Also, they are largely misunderstood or so variously understood as to be unclear and confusing, even for Christians.

So, I asked myself, what are we trying to do and be here?  How do I say it in words most people understand with little or no explanation?  Since I visualize “church” as a verb more than a noun, I focus on verbs—what we do (as in, we advance, bear, create, discover, embrace, focus, etc.) as opposed to what we stand for.

All of us, young and old, know “the ABCs,” so I chose to organize these statements as an alphabetic acrostic—that is, each line begins with the successive letter of the English alphabet from A to Z.  This is a very ancient poetic form and even appears in the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament). Several poems of the Bible (Psalms 9-10, 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, 145; Proverbs 31: 10-31; Lamentations 1, 2, 3, 4) are alphabetic acrostics (following the order of ancient Hebrew letters), though this feature is lost in most English translations (one exception is the Knox translation).

Why this A to Z format?  It is easy to follow, it may allow for easier memorization (very important in the ancient world when few people could read), and it suggests a completeness,  “from A to Z” we might say.

My ABCs of FEBC are certainly not complete or exhaustive.  In fact, below is my 13th revision as I think of new variations!  I'm sure you could create a good one yourself that is very different from mine!  (Why not try it?)

Although I hope it is mostly self-explanatory, in the version below I add a few words explaining what I had in mind as I wrote.

The ABCs of FEBC

We the members and friends of FEBC strive and aspire to . . .

Advance conversation and understanding—We talk with each other, not at each other.  Our goal is not to win an argument but to understand how we are thinking. Not much else can happen without this.

Bear Jesus in our words and deeds—Jesus is our role model for living.  Both what we say and what we do are crucially important.  We reflect Jesus's life in how we live.

Create caring connections in all directions—Human society is a network, a web of interlocking relationships.  How we connect (or disconnect) with each other determines the quality of our lives and our shared society.  Our world today requires a willingness to connect meaningfully and kindly with people different from ourselves—hence the phrase, “in all directions.”

Discover and Develop God's creativity among us—God creates and so do humans.  Perhaps this is part of the image of God intended in Genesis 1.  FEBC is a community that values creativity in serving God and others.

Embrace differences—Too often church is about conformity—everyone being the same.  Too often in churches what is different is also labeled bad, evil, or wrong, simply because it is non-conforming.  Jesus clearly embraced different kinds and styles of people. That is what we do too.

Focus faith forward—Three powerful words here—focus, faith, forward. (Yes, faith is a church-y word—sorry!)  Here I aim to emphasize hope over regret, forgiveness over hardheartedness, tomorrow over yesterday.

Give good generously—Another three powerful words: give, good, generously.  Self-explanatory.

Humble our heads and our hearts—Almost every Sunday we sing “Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord....  Head and heart means all of our being—thoughts and feelings.

Inspire courageous imitation of Christ—To live in imitation of Jesus is not an easy choice.  We all need inspiration and encouragement to do and say what is right.  We are here to help each other in this.

Judge no one—In the Bible, to judge means to condemn, to cross off, to eliminate.  That is not our job.

Kindle kindness and compassion—This IS our job! Kindle is a fire word and the Holy Spirit is associated with fire and God's abiding presence that is kind and compassionate.

Listen first and Look within—Back to “advancing conversation and understanding,” listening is a crucial and sometimes difficult act of love.  To look within applies to oneself and to others; it is our effort to understand the deeper impulses, motivations, desires, and fears that drive our attitudes, convictions, behaviors, and actions.

Make amends quickly—Repairing relationships quickly is crucial for a church to thrive and live its mission.  This is another way of emphasizing forgiveness and reconciliation (church-y words).

Nurture youth and maturity—FEBC is all ages, which is a great strength and virtue.  Our American society adores youth and scorns maturity. But here we adore all ages and promote that in our life together.

Open ourselves honestly to the Holy Spirit—God only enters by invitation.  Honest and open with God is how we want to be.

Practice prayer—Yes, prayer is a church-y word, but inescapable.  There is no word like it. I like the link of prayer with practice, which implies discipline, determination, persistence, patience, and skill-building.  We take prayer very seriously here.

Quest and question for quality—Q is an uncommon letter in English, but I like all three of these Q words: quest, question, quality.  Together they imply a journey, always looking ahead, expecting surprises, working for the best outcomes, never quite arriving . . . . sounds like church to me.

Respect what we do not understand—Another way of saying none of us knows it all; each of us can be easily mistaken.  We give each other the benefit of the doubt and the gift of respect.

Sing God's praisesOh, for a thousand tongues to sing . . . amazing grace!  We love to sing to God!

Teach tenacity and tenderness—Teaching and learning are at the center of all we do.  We focus on the Bible, but really we are building character.  Tenacity and tenderness are not words often seen side by side but I think they capture qualities of character that are necessary for people of faith.

Undertake challenges with optimism—We strive to be positive and to see opportunity at every turn.

Verbalize gratitude and hope—Thank you! and Yes! . . . Out loud.

Worship God only—For a church this should go without saying, but this is the entire point and must be said . . . and said . . . and said . . . .

eXamine our motivations honestly—I'm stretching here for an “X” word but self-examination cannot be overemphasized.  Honest self-examination can help us be our best selves with each other.

Yearn to learn more—Learning is lifelong and the desire to learn keeps us humble and fun to be around.

Zealously pursue only what is good.--A summary of everything above.

See you on Sunday!

Pastor Lee

October 2018

A meditation from Henri J. M. Nouwen in his book, Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring, 1994:

The great mystery is that all people who have lived with and in the Spirit of God participate through their deaths in the sending of the Spirit.  God's love continues to be sent to us, and Jesus' death continues to bear fruit through all whose death is like his death, a death for others.

In this way, dying becomes a way to an everlasting fruitfulness.  We touch here the most hope-giving aspect of our death. Our death may be the end of our success, our productivity, our fame, or our importance among people, but it is not the end of our fruitfulness.  The opposite is true: the fruitfulness of our lives shows itself in its fullness only after we have died. We ourselves seldom see or experience our fruitfulness. Often we remain too preoccupied with our accomplishments and have no eye for the fruitfulness of what we live.  But the beauty of life is that it bears fruit long after life itself has come to an end. Jesus says, “In all truth I tell you, unless a wheat grain falls into the earth and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest” (John 12:24)

This is the mystery of Jesus' death and of the deaths of all who live in his Spirit.  Their lives yield fruit far beyond the limits of their short and often very localized existence.

I realize death, especially one's own, is not the most attractive nor compelling of subjects. Still, please take the time now to read Nouwen's words above for a second time, slowly and carefully. . . .

Here are some of his phrases and clauses above that draw my attention today:

“a death for others”

“dying becomes a way to an everlasting fruitfulness.”

“We touch here the most hope-giving aspect of our death.”

“the fruitfulness of our lives shows itself in its fullness only after we have died.”

“We ourselves seldom see or experience our fruitfulness.”

“the beauty of [mortal] life is that it bears fruit long after [mortal] life itself has come to an end”

I believe Nouwen wrote these words after a serious accident when he felt sure his mortal life was near its end.  No doubt such an experience triggers many new thoughts about death. We all know intellectually that death is coming but few of us, I believe, ponder much at all our individual, personal death.  What a grim and depressing subject! But if we are to believe and follow Jesus' words, our death, in many forms, should always be before us, informing our living. In fact, it seems that we are even to welcome “mini-deaths” in our personal life all the time, “mini-deaths” in the form of self-denials for the welfare of others.

Our society does not endorse self-denial.  In fact, our culture by and large abhors self-denial.  Our culture actively defends and promotes self-fulfillment, self-interest, self-defense--all as virtues, rights, and entitlements.  Yes, some professions and occupations demand much self-denial—teaching, parenting, care-giving, military and emergency duty quickly come to mind.  But self-denial as a personal and chosen lifestyle challenges our cultural values to their core.

To me self-denial includes letting go of my agendas, my preferences, my self-interests.  It means giving others room to make their own choices, even if different from my own. It means trusting God with outcomes.  This trust is what Nouwen emphasizes, alongside the paradox that good death actually promotes true life. Jesus teaches, and then demonstrates, that fruitfulness arises out of death.  We resist this truth all the time. I want to be fruitful for God now, and live too!

Maybe it doesn't work that way.

See you on Sunday . . . I hope . . .

Pastor Lee

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


Clarence Ray Cronover, 83

Anne N. Oliver, 48

Mary E. Millard, 73

Elva M. Franklin, 88


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


Vonda M. Dove, 69

Ruth Moyer, 94

Delbert D. Myers, 81

Nevada L. McLaughlen, 85

Phyllis R. Rupert, 79

Phillip M. Irey, 83


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


Vernon H. “Pete” Musselman, 75

Francis McCaffrey, 74

Lester Lee

David A. Shultz, 39

Charles Shultz, 73


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


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


Imogene Drum, 87

Marjorie K. VanNess, 90

Thelma Drum, 87

Elizabeth M. “Betty” Pursel, 63

Colleen Jean Kirchner, 26


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


Arden Ray Polk, 61

Dolores E. Berlin, 76

Emma L. Beitz, 86

Robert G. Steward, 52


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


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


Bertha B. Eifert, 89

Ronald G. Rabuck, Sr., 80

Ralph A. “Bud” Lindenmuth, 77

Mabel I. Polk, 85

Jan Parcell

Wanda Hack

Paul Hack


Ella Mae Shoemaker, 90

Lenchen J. “Leni” Hauser, 73

Joseph C. Stauder, 88

Clair R. Swisher, 72

W. Ann Stokes, 75


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


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


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


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


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