I came to Fredonia Presbyterian Church after serving as an associate pastor in Fanwood New Jersey for 7 years. I found myself with a friendly congregation that was aware that the world was changing rapidly and was ready to discern how God was calling us to be faithful in different circumstances.
Over the next 5 years we explored our call to serve our community. Through a process of discernment, we identified an interest in our congregation, and a need in our community, to explore food justice issues. We strengthened our response to community hunger needs, explored local food production and organic food availability in our area. One of our members has been an organic farmer for over 50 years. This eventually led to our participation in the Fredonia Farmers’ Market selling fair trade, organic coffee, tea and chocolate. Another program we chose to support was the COMPEER program which works people facing mental health challenges. We also continued to strengthen our relationship with the Rural Ministry program of Northern Chautauqua county in its outreach to those most in need in our area.
As the world seemed to struggle with issues of acceptance and inclusivity, as a church we determined that we needed to make it clear that we were open and accepting of all people no matter their sexual orientation, just as we know God is.
In a recent congregational study, we named several things that we were passionate about including: being inclusive and welcoming, serving our community, growing spiritually and celebrating God with humor and joy. We are always exploring new ways to serve God in this place and beyond while honoring those programs we currently support. The newest programs we have adopted is the Fredonia Food Pantry and the Feeding Fredonia Challenge. (see our Mission page). In addition we have pursued certification by our national denomination as an earth care congregation and have received that certification for three years running. We are finding all of this an exciting journey of change and new ideas in the midst of a world that is calling us into service for God’s sake.
It is an honor to serve this congregation. This is an exciting time to be involved in our church. I have grown both spiritually and intellectually through my journey with this congregation which has challenged me as I have sought to challenge them. I look forward to exploring where God is calling us to go in the future.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor’s letter July/August 2017
It was over 25 years ago that I preached my first sermon on the Trinity. The sermon was so confusing that it became an on-going source of amusement for my fellow staff members at the church. I don’t know that anyone in the congregation remembered it, because it was far from helpful, but the staff certainly did.
Since then I hope that my understanding of the Trinity has grown and clarified, but I still find that for most of us, even if we feel we can explain it, we may not find it very helpful. It is just something we accept or ignore, but never find particularly useful.
So I was intrigued to recently read Frederick Buechner’s discussion of the Trinity in his devotional. Now the first sentence may not seem very helpful at first: “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit mean that the mystery beyond us, the mystery among us, and the mystery within us are all the same mystery.” And as I read that I came to a realization. The challenge of the concept of the Trinity is that human beings are trying to describe and define God. While it is okay to try to describe God, when we think that we have really done it, then there is trouble. How can we humans think that God is actually ultimately and completely knowable? What kind of ego would one need to have to think that one could fully describe God? So we may use the Trinity to understand God a little better, the fullness and richness of God and all God is to us, but if it doesn’t seem to quite work, that’s okay, because we will never be able to fully describe God, we are only human.
Buechner summarizes this by saying that the “Trinity is a way of saying something about us and the way we experience God.” Not everything about God, but something to help us explore all the ways we relate to God. There is God the loving parent and creator who takes care of us, provides for us, guides us and more. There is God with us in Jesus Christ who lived with us, the very embodiment of God’s love, and took on suffering for our sakes to give us new life, teaching us how we can live rich meaningful lives. And then there is the Holy Spirit, which is God’s active presence with us, filling us with hope, encouraging us, empowering us.
So if we don’t quite understand how all of that works, we don’t need to get too hung up on it, because when we think we can understand God fully, God is no longer God but just our creation. God is a mystery that we glimpse in the mirror darkly as Paul said, but we can find comfort that we see the evidence of God everywhere, when we look.
But if you still want some more clarity about it all, I share Buechner’s suggestion. Look in the mirror. There is the exterior life you lead (The Son) which reveals some of who you are, but not all. There is the interior life (The Father) which has a depth and range that few fully understand just by meeting you even though much of who you are is revealed by the actions of your exterior self. Then there is the power you have to affect the world, to help others, to transform lives (The Spirit). Yet there is just one person in the mirror.
So why would any of this matter? It matters to me to remember that the fullness of God is ultimately unknowable. I can grow in understanding of God, and be in relationship with God seeking God’s purpose for me while I rest in the comfort of God’s love. But I cannot confine God in my limited understanding which for me is good news. Because then I just make God into whatever is convenient to me. God is much more than I can imagine, and therefore I can trust in God’s wisdom and power because it is greater than mine.
But it also matters because it reminds me that God is an active presence in the world: creating all the time, giving new life and new beginnings. God is also truly present with me in whatever I deal with, because God understands me since God has dwelt with me. And God has not challenged me to follow God’s teachings and then left me to figure out what that means. God is an active power in my life, right now through the Spirit.
So this summer, in our full schedules and active lives, maybe we can focus on how God is present in this world, active in so many ways, creating, challenging, sustaining us. Let’s not confine God to Sunday morning or even just our prayer time, but look for this amazing God everywhere we go, seeking God and sharing our lives with God so that while we may never know God in God’s fullness, we can grow closer to the one that is Love. Let the adventure begin.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor’s letter June 2017
I recently ran across the following quote from Joseph Tetlow: “Those who really do know and love Jesus will see the suffering of all people whom God puts in their life and world, and strive with great effort to grieve with them and do whatever they can to alleviate their suffering.”
There seem to be more and more divisions in the Christian faith these days. Different groups claiming their priorities are the only priorities. And there seems to be little end in sight for these divisions. But this quote has become a helpful challenge for me in the midst of these debates, pointed fingers and accusations.
For me, this challenge reminds me that my focus needs to be on the suffering around me, that that is what God cares about. Christ on the cross was there not just for the salvation of the world and the gift of eternal life. Jesus was also on that cross as a witness to the world that when we fail God, suffering happens, and we must take responsibility for that. Christ suffered on the cross to witness that when people suffer, God suffers and God wants us to put a stop to it. So while we may want to spend time on verbal debate and finger-pointing, we need to focus on other things. And what we truly need to focus on is the needs of those around us who are suffering and how to relieve that suffering. We can do this through ministries of our church, through volunteering in our community, and through the sharing of our resources. We should also become responsible citizens, voicing our concerns to our representatives. People may differ on how to solve the issue of the human suffering that surrounds us, but as Christians we do not have the right to ignore it. We must be actively engaged in relieving that suffering in the best way we know how.
Tetlow went on to say: “Jesus’ passion brings us to embrace the world as it really is: full of violence and pain. When we do less, we are using our faith in Christ as a pain pill.” The good news of the gospel is supposed to be good news for all people. If we celebrate the good news for us, and ignore the needs and suffering of our neighbor, we have denied the suffering of our Savior. In these tumultuous times, let us stay focused on what Christ asks of us and be involved in the work of the kingdom that is so desperately needed in a hurting world.
Yours in Christ, Cynthia
Pastor’s letter May 2017
Easter is the season of new life and new beginnings. We are to recognize life as a before and after: what life would be like without Christ and what is life like with our Risen Lord present with us. For Easter is when God makes it clear that the incarnation at the nativity was not just a temporary thing whereby Jesus discovers what this humanity thing is all about and then leaves us to ourselves. It is a whole new beginning.
Easter means that Jesus experienced all our highs and lows, our frustrations and our joys, our challenges and our rewards and yet when He could easily have chosen to stay in the kingdom of heaven on that fateful Good Friday, Jesus chose to return to us. And as Jesus said at the end of the gospel of Matthew, “I will be with you always.”
So our lives are lived in the presence of God, through our knowledge of Christ and the life he lived, and through the power of the Holy Spirit. And we are to spend a lifetime exploring what that means through worship, study, life in Christian community, service in a world in need. Through worship we refocus ourselves on God: what God has done for us and God’s goodness and mercy. We recommit our time and our lives to serving God as we give thanks for God. Through study we learn more about God and what it means to live as a person of faith. In community, we practice what we hear and learn, we receive and give love, we fail and are forgiven, we serve and are served. In the world, we seek Jesus in those we meet, humbly recognizing each as a beloved child of God.
In the coming months there will be some new ways to live this Christ filled life in our church. First, you will find with the newsletter an Easter devotional that combines contemplation with service to the environment, in keeping with theme of rebirth in the Easter season. Then, starting on May 10th, at 2:00 p.m. and at 7:00 p.m., there will be a class on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor during the time of Hitler in Germany. He faced persecution for his faith as well as challenging moral decisions, and witnessed a deep faith through it all. Also, on the first Wednesday of the month, starting on June 7, we will have an evening prayer service which focuses on contemplation, scripture and song. This will continue through the summer. On June 4th, we will have a time for fellowship as we share a congregational lunch. Those interested may stay afterwards for a presentation on Russia with a focus on the church in Russia in the 21st century.
So celebrate this season of Easter. Find ways to bring the living Christ into your life more deeply. He came back for us. Let us make him welcome.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor’s letter March 2017
As you receive this, it will be just over two weeks to Easter. But unlike the rest of the world that is holding Easter egg hunts several weeks before Easter, we are called to continue to use this time in preparation for Easter by still marking the season of Lent. At our church, we have several special programs going on in Lent and though the 6 weeks of Lent are almost over, we are still marking this important season.
Our services of worship are focusing on some of the spiritual disciplines that help us grow in faith and move closer to God. Practicing these disciplines (e.g. scripture reading, regular prayer, embracing humility, living in the community of the church) can help us use this time to prepare ourselves so that we are each all the more ready to welcome Jesus on Easter morning. There are resources available for these disciplines as well Prayer centers in the back of the sanctuary with material about a variety of ways to enter into prayer.
There is also the Lenten devotional with which we are traveling through Lent by reading the work of the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah does not pull punches and reminds us that God is truly concerned with what we are doing with our lives. For example, participating in worship simply to say one is doing it is not God’s purpose. Instead, God wants us to be using our lives for good purpose such as to help others. Again and again in Isaiah we are challenged to pursue justice and care for the most vulnerable. But there are also words of tremendous comfort there where we are reassured that God is waiting to welcome us when we turn to him. It is a powerful book as well as an excellent challenge and guide for our journey through Lent. Copies of the devotional are still available.
And then on Wednesday evenings we have two special services. At 7:00 p.m. we have our Taize contemplative worship service. It includes simple chanting, prayer, scripture and a period of quiet for meditation, prayer or whatever you feel called to. Then at 7:30 p.m. we have an Evening Prayer Service. It includes prayer, reading of scripture and special music or art for meditation.
During Holy Week we will hold a service on Maundy Thursday at 7:00 p.m. which will include communion. On Friday, we will have a simple service at noon. It will include the reading of the four Passion stories and prayer. Then on Sunday morning, we will gather to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord.
So, as Easter draws near, consider how you are using this Lenten time. Are there ways you could deepen your journey? Is God calling you to a new and different spiritual discipline as Easter approaches? Treasure this opportunity because the time we spend with God now, will deepen the joy we experience on Easter morning.
Blessings on the journey.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor’s Letter October 2016
I can always tell that the season has changed by looking at the little lit tree I have on my desk. Many people who come into my office ask why, in the middle of July, I have a Christmas tree on my desk. Then, I answer saying that it is not a Christmas tree because it doesn’t have ornaments. Yes, at Christmas I do put ornaments on. But for the rest of winter I have snowflakes, in the season of Easter I have decorated eggs, over the summer painted birds and then in the fall, dried leaves. So it is a tree for all seasons!
I admit that even this lengthy explanation does not stop every head from shaking, yet still the tree remains! I put it on my desk originally for the Christmas after my father died because it was the tree he had in his room at the assisted living facility. But then I kept it up because I liked having something to offer relief from all of the books and papers on my desk, particularly as they reminded me of all I had to do!
But I have come to realize that it means more to me. I like the lights. A lot. I like how these little spots of brightness shine through the branches, defying the branches to overcome them. It is the same for me with a traditional Christmas tree. My favorite part of having a tree is when at night, I turn off all the lights in the room and turn on the tree lights and just stare at the tree. And I remember the scripture passage from the gospel of John as John describes Jesus’ coming with a metaphor of light: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
These days, it feels as if we need to hear these words more than ever. Shootings in Chicago, natural disasters, famine in Somalia, divisions in our country over the election, and more are making many of us feel uneasy, if not deeply worried. Is the world worse off than it has ever been? It seems to be human nature to believe so. We forget that our history books do not usually tell the story of the suffering, worry or crises that burdened an earlier generation. The general history we learned in school too often was all about victory and success, without sharing the trouble, doubts and pain that came before us. We remember what we want to of the past and set aside the suffering that came along with it.
Some will also use these difficulties to claim there is not God, for God couldn’t allow so many bad things to occur. But we can forget that as God allows us to make our own choices, bad things will happen as well as good things because we humans can make bad choices too. The alternative is for us to be puppets that God moves around at his will and that doesn’t seem a better solution, at least not for us.
There is another solution. It means that we trust that, despite our freedom to make mistakes, God does have power, and is using it. We are given freedom yes, but not ultimate control. So we see things happen, but we trust that God is not just sitting back, but rather is involved in our world. Just like the little lights on the tree, just like Christ coming into the world as light that the darkness did not overcome. And we need to remember that, that the darkness didn’t overcome Him, for that is where we have our hope. Christ is on the cross whenever there is human suffering, but there is always a resurrection as well. We have heard people say that they don’t believe in God because God allowed innocent children to be killed in the Holocaust. But they don’t understand that our God, through Christ on the cross, felt every one of those deaths as his own.
Christian Wiman explains it this way. Scientists measuring radioactive decay have announced that after large-scale catastrophes such as September 11 and the 2003 tsunami in Indonesia they noticed something unusual. Normally the rate of radioactive decay of matter on earth is constant, unchanging. But what these scientists noticed was that after these two events, there was an inexplicable increase in the rate of decay. He says, it was “as if contingent matter echoed or shadowed or even shared our sufferings…As if creation itself cried out with us.”
We are called to believe that God has not abandoned us, but that God is still very present. Feeling our pain, sharing our suffering, and working in the creation, and with us, to bring relief to the suffering. We may not see it clearly, but if we look for the light, it is there. If we believe in the light, we can trust that the darkness will not overcome it.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor’s Letter July 2016
One of the most interesting events on my trip to Russia was the lunch our group shared with the Metropolitan of Smolensk. In the Russian Orthodox tradition, a metropolitan is the religious leader for a specific region, like a bishop. The Metropolitan had agreed not only to meet with us, but to host us for a meal.
The luncheon was held in a beautiful building next to the Cathedral of the Assumption in Smolensk. We were ushered upstairs by a young priest in a long black robe and shown into a room that was so large that it dwarfed a table set for 14 people!
The Metropolitan came in and invited us to sit. We looked in awe at the food that covered the table. There was bowl after bowl of gorgeous fresh fruit, plates of various sliced meats beautifully arranged, trays of raw vegetables and pickles, and a plate of breads stuffed with cheese. Then the young priest came around with a platter of delicious fresh bread which he offered to each of us. There was not an inch of the table not covered with food. On top of all of this, in front of each of us was a large plate of salad with pieces of fresh tomato, peppers and cucumber on a bed of lettuce. We knew we were not going away hungry!
We dug in, some of us making sandwiches from the meat, cheese and bread after we finished our salads. The Metropolitan talked, answered our questions and was so gracious. We were feeling very well taken care of as we enjoyed all that was in front of us. Then we looked over at the front of the table and noticed that the young priest was clearing the salad plate of the Metropolitan and putting down another plate. It had two breaded chicken cutlets on it and about a measuring cup size serving of buckwheat, a popular alternative to rice. So, with our stomachs already rather full, we dug into our entrees. They were delicious but much more than we needed after all we had already eaten. Yet, as guests we knew we had to make the effort so we wouldn’t offend our host. So once again, we dug in hoping that the fruit on the table would be dessert.
But that was not to be! Next came blinis, similar to French crepes. There were four of them and we also each received a bowl of creamy yoghurt and fruit to eat with our blinis. Well, we all thought to ourselves, at least this is the last of it. But we should have known better. Our only comfort was that the last course was only one scoop of ice cream and not two!
While the food was a little overwhelming, it was a lovely experience. It was one blessing after another, all the more special because they were unexpected. It was a meal I will never forget for so many reasons!
Of course this was just one example of the incredible hospitality we experienced on our trip. Again and again we were made to feel welcome and valued. It is a powerful reminder of the role hospitality plays in the Christian faith. As we were welcomed to table after table, filled with a variety of wonderful foods, we truly experienced what it was to be shown the love of Christ. Also, in sharing a meal around a table, enjoying the bounty of God together, we came to a new appreciation for what it means to be a member of the larger Body of Christ.
Over the summer, many of us will be sharing special meals in addition to our daily meals, with family and friends. Let us remember to savor them, to enjoy and show hospitality to each other, and to remember the blessing it is to be part of the Body of Christ.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor’s Letter March 2016
As many of you know, here at Fredonia Presbyterian, we have committed this Lent to be a Season of Prayer. Every Saturday we have opened the church to the community so that they might come in to pray in the sanctuary, check out the prayer centers or walk the Labyrinth. We have also begun to hold weekly Taizé services on Wednesday evening. The purpose of this program is to remind ourselves, and the community, that as a church we are committed to caring for both body and spirit. While our Food Pantry is a vital ministry, we also want people to know that we can help them feed their spirits as well.
Of course, it is so easy in this day and age of excess activity and the constant barrage of information, to forget how valuable it can be to take time in quiet and silence. There is increasing evidence that those who meditate are healthier, mentally and emotionally, than those who do not take time to be in quiet and peace. But as Christians, of course, we are called to do more than just meditate. Meditation is a valuable tool for health and peace of mind but we are called to more. We are called to find a time of quiet and peace to be in communion with our God. And this does not just mean spoken prayer. Too often in spoken prayer, we do all the talking and therefore control the time without giving time for God to “speak.” The great teachers of Christian discipleship and spirituality emphasize how important it is for us to just sit in quiet and invite God to speak to us. We may not hear words, but we may sense our thoughts being moved in a particular direction. We may not receive a clear image, but we may find ourselves receiving a new idea that had not occurred to us before. It may be simply a feeling of peace and calm. Or it may be words or an image.
If we do not take this time regularly, however, it is harder for us to know God’s desires for us. Not just what God wants of us, but what God wants for us, what God desires us to have in our lives: love, blessings, opportunities. So this Lent, you are invited to renew your commitment to, or make a commitment to, finding a quiet place in which you let go and welcome God’s still, quiet voice to speak God’s Word to you in love. Blessings will abound from it.
Yours in Christ,