The Wednesday Post – 11/18/20

11/18/20

            I have a story for you, which, I think, really is full of hope.

            My wife and I went out for a hike in the very southern end of the Delaware Water Gap National Park in Pennsylvania.  There is a road called National Park Road that goes along the southern edge of the National Park.  When we went up there, we found the road ended less than a mile in due to a bridge that was washed out.  So we looked around for a nearby trail.  There didn’t seem to be much there but my wife found what looked like a trail going down a steep hill to what is called the Slateford Creek.

            We began looking for a trail and found some indications of a trail, but it had not been cleared for a long time and was covered with leaves, and had a pretty steep section.  Beyond that area we really couldn’t make out if the trail continued so we decided to forego any further hiking.  As we were coming up the hill a couple of young men with large child-carrier backpacks approached and asked us if we had been down the trail.  We told them it didn’t look open to us.  They invited us to join their families.  They told us about the waterfalls in the Slateford Creek and about one especially large waterfall where they were headed.  They encouraged us to join them, so we did.

            I told my wife that anyone looking at us would have assumed we were the grandparents of some of the children who were bravely climbing over smaller logs on the trail. 

            I was impressed with the enthusiasm the families expressed about where we were going and their desire to share in their joyful experiences that had at the waterfall. 

            When we got to the waterfall we were impressed.  Likely over 50 feet high, streaming down the edge of a very narrow gorge, the falls were very impressive.  There were other people at the base, and even some folks tightrope walking over the top of the gorge.

            When we had our fill of the view and taking pictures, we thanked the two families who had lead us to the site.  The wanted to make sure we were comfortable knowing how to get back up to the road.  I felt they really wanted to care for us.  It reminded me about some of the sermons I had preached about loving our neighbors.  Here was God’s love being extended to us, both the excitement about one small part of creation, but also about the care they gave us wanting to make sure we could safely get back up.

            Sometimes I ask “where have you seen God today?”  That day I saw God in the care and the enthusiasm of these two young families.

Blessings!

Pastor Peter  

The Wednesday Post – 11/11/20

11/11/20

            Today is Veteran’s Day, a National holiday.

            I always need to be reminded that Veteran’s Day is a day where we thank all who have served in the armed forces of our country, not focusing on those who gave their lives during times of war.  Memorial Day is the day we focus on those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

            Over the years I have seen different attitudes presented when citizens of the US talk about our military.  The years after the Vietnam War was a time when many people derided veterans because of their participation in the war.  I never really understood that perspective.  I wasn’t a fan of the Vietnam War.  I was in college when the fighting became so intense.  There were continuous protests against the war. 

            I actually tried to join the Navy, which seemed to be a much safer place to be during a ground war.  My father had been in the navy, and I was initially accepted into the Navy Reserve Officer Candidate program.  But, I was married in 1968, and in January 1969, the rules were changed.  No one who was married would be permitted into the ROC program.  So I was out.

            I didn’t know anyone who was drafted and sent to Vietnam.  A good friend went to West Point and made a career of the Army, but he never saw any combat during his entire career. 

            What I do remember is the treatment of our veterans after the Vietnam War.  It was much safer to avoid even mentioning that you were a Vet, and certainly much safer if you never wore a uniform in public.  People seemed to have taken out their frustration about the policies that lead us into the war on the Veterans who fought the war.

            The Gulf War seems to have shifted public perspectives.  I can remember when some GIs returned from the Gulf War and were applauded when they arrived state-side.  The American people thanking them for their service.

            Recently there have been stories about people going up to service personnel in uniform and simply thanking them for their service.  That seems to me to be something we should always do. 

            Thank our Veterans.

            Whether we agree with the policies that result in war, we should always thank those who have served their nation, whether it was for just a few years, or for an entire career.

            If you are a Veteran, Thank You!!

Blessings!

Pastor Peter  

The Wednesday Post – 11/4/20

11/4/20

            I am retired, but it seems that I am doing more ministry and having less time for work around the house than I had when I wasn’t retired.

            I am involved in Warren County NJ Habitat for Humanity, working on their construction site where two homes are currently being built.  I also attend Board meetings and made a suggestion about a fundraiser involving some of the studs that will be used on the second house.

            All that takes time.

            I am starting a pastor’s group to help all of us focus on Spiritual Disciplines and Spiritual Practices.  I talked to a couple of my colleagues who told me they just didn’t have the time to focus on something new, like spiritual practices.

            It all boils down to priorities.

            What do we think is most important in our lives?

            For me, as a pastor, working on spiritual practices is one of the most important things I can do.  After all, without a good base of Spiritual belief, how effective a pastor can I be?  I think it vital for all clergy to spend time with God, doing spiritual exercises and spiritual practices. 

            Yet so many clergy really don’t spend that much time trying to connect with God.  If we don’t do it, why would we expect anyone else to do it?

            Taking time.

            Deciding what is important.

            I think we often allow others to decide that for us.  We are under pressure to get things done.  Those everyday demands of family, ministry, conference and church leave little time for a pastor to spend in meditation or prayer. 

            We need to enable pastors to spend the time.  Whether we are clergy or laity, the idea that it is important to enable pastors to literally “sit and do nothing” is vitally important.  Because in the end, they may look like they aren’t doing anything, but they really are.  Connecting with God.

            That is something we all need to do.  Not just once in a while, but every day.  Take the time.  Make the effort.  It will make a significant difference in you!

Blessings!

Pastor Peter  

The Wednesday Post – 10/28/20

10/28/20

              It is “that” time of year.  The trees are pretty much at full color, either that, or the leaves are already gone.  Driving up a short portion of the Delaware River near Belvidere, NJ is still colorful, but there are a number of trees that are now bare.  The trees along the river seem to turn quicker than trees a ways away from the river.

            The colors are beautiful, but soon most of our trees will be bare, maybe with the exception of some oak trees, which try to cling to their brown leaves.

            It is also a time to turn back the clocks.

            I have gotten into a routine of walking my dog in the late afternoon, usually after 4:30, sometimes after 5:30.  I can’t really do that anymore.  By Sunday the sun will be setting about 5:00 and by 5:30 it will be pretty dark.

            Where I live we have some bears.  It really isn’t a good idea to go walking in the dark with bears in the neighborhood. 

            Oh, I forgot.  They will soon be in their dens, sleeping the winter away.

            Do they know when we switch to Eastern Standard Time?  It would really be helpful if they got into their dens by the time we turn the clocks back, wouldn’t it?!

            For me the time change means more time spent inside.  More time reading or maybe doing some work on the house, but not exterior work.  There is too little precious light to get things done.  And the temperature will continue to dip to the point where working outside really doesn’t make sense.  Unfortunately, I don’t have heat in my barn where I now keep my woodworking tools.

            This can all be a little depressing.

            For the ancient Celts it was more than depressing.  It was downright scary.  There was the concern that the light wouldn’t return.  Anxiety about whether the weather would warm up again in the spring.  Those aren’t things we worry about, but there is a sense of loss for some of us.  Losing our ability to be outside and working with our hands.

            But all is not lost.  The time indoors can be used constructively.  We have tons of apples to deal with!!  And there is always hope.  Hope that the light will return and the days will again warm up and we can again get our hand dirty in the good earth.  In the meantime, maybe it is time to enjoy the cooling temperatures.  Time to get out on crisp Autumn days and enjoy God’s creation and look forward to the first snowfalls and the beauty they bring.

            There is always a positive way to look at things.  The more we are able to do that, I think the more we are able to appreciate all the things we have, and maybe even all the blessings we receive.

            Thank God for the blessings! Pastor Peter

The Wednesday Post – 10/21/20

10/21/20

              I rarely look back at previous weeks Posts to see what I had talked about, but I was wondering about my continuing discussions about COVID-19.  I discovered that in the past 6 weeks, I have talked about the virus in 4 of those posts.  So, now for something completely different…

            If any of you are a friend of mine on Facebook, you might be aware that this year at our home in Harmony, NJ, we are getting a lot of apples.

            We have 5 apple trees which were more than full-grown when we purchased the property 10 years ago.  In the past couple of years something hit all the trees causing them to lose their leaves by the middle of July, so this year we had the trees sprayed.  It made a big difference.

            4 trees are next our barn.  We started getting bigger and better apples this year.  I put up some deer netting strung out on posts to try to “capture” the apples before they hit the ground.  Because the trees are so mature, most apples are more than 30 feet off the ground, and we are unable to pick them.  If we don’t get out early in the morning, the squirrels tend to take one large bite out of each apple.

            There is one older tree uphill from our barn.  This year is the first year that larger apples have formed without being hit heavily by bugs and other pests.  As the apples began to ripen on that tree, I moved most of the netting up to that one.  In the past three days we have collected over 130 apples.  And there still are lots on the tree.  We seem to have apples “coming out of our ears”!!

            Note: they are not perfect, by any means.  There are still some affected by bugs and other critters, but most are usable, especially for apple sauce or apple butter. 

            At the same time, we had two large “puffball” mushrooms sprout in our yard.  We seem to have an overabundance of “home-grown produce” coming all at once.  Last night we had “puffball mushroom parmigiana” followed by home-made apple pie.

            We are so blessed!

            At a time when things seem to be going worse for the pandemic, I can give thanks for the amazing abundance that we have.

            Blessings come in all shapes and sizes.  And blessings don’t stop during a pandemic, they just look differently.  You may need to take a few minutes to see some of them.  Others, like our abundance, kind of hit you in the face.

            I don’t want to diminish the anxiety caused by COVID-19, nor the continuing risk to our entire population, but at the same time, I think we need to “count our blessings”.  Being thankful for the abundance we have in this country is something we can all feel good about.

Blessings

Pastor Peter  

The Wednesday Post – 10/14/20

10/14/20

              Since the middle of March we have been living with a large cloud over nearly all of us.  The Pandemic has manifested itself in a variety of different ways, affecting each of us in a different way.  Some of us are not as upset or anxious as others. 

            For me, the pandemic has been pretty much limited to news stories and statistics about the state and county where I live and where I work.  But this week I found out that the Pandemic had struck close to me.  My older daughter told me that my eldest grandchild, my granddaughter came down with COVID-19.

            This is one of two grandchildren heavily involved in ice hockey.  My grandson has been to Canada, Sweden, Finland, and even Russia to play hockey.  My granddaughter has played hockey all across the US.  With COVID-19, that lifestyle has severely limited their ability to play in competitive tournaments.

            My granddaughter made the Colorado state team for her age group.  Because they are a state team, they are supposed to play other state teams, which means one of the teams has to travel.  My granddaughter’s team was supposed to play a tournament in New Hampshire, but it was canceled because of the virus.  But another tournament in Dallas TX wasn’t canceled.  About 25 people traveled to Dallas and the girls played in the tournament.  About 24 hours after returning she exhibited COVID-19 symptoms.  She was tested and it came back positive.  She was the only one of the 25 people to come down with the virus.

            The whole family was quarantined.  They took it seriously.  They quarantined themselves from each other for over 10 days.  My daughter had been caring for my granddaughter before she tested positive, but she did wear a mask because of the symptoms.

            My granddaughter recovered without and serious side effects.  No one else in the family came down with COVID-19, even with an infected person in the house.  My daughter said the primary reason no one else got sick was because they followed all of the guidelines, wearing masks, washing hands and faces after any interaction with anyone else in the family, and staying apart from each other as well as not leaving the house for the quarantine period.

            The most important thing they did – wearing masks.         

            You can’t tell if you will ever be exposed to the virus.  Be careful, take precautions, you could possibly save a life, maybe even your own!

Blessings

Pastor Peter  

The Wednesday Post – 10/7/20

10/7/20

              I keep thinking about how this Pandemic has changed our lives, and wondering if some of these changes may become permanent.

            When I was serving the Asbury UMC in Atlantic County, NJ, one of the faithful servants of that community passed away at an age over 90.  I had been visiting her occasionally and got to know her and how she really wasn’t that comfortable in her assisted living facility.  She longed for her own home and her dog.  I wasn’t that surprised when I learned she had finally passed away.  But the story I heard from her son tore at my heart.

            It was early in the Pandemic, April of 2020.  As she was declining, the family was not permitted in to the facility to see her.  On her last day there was an attempt by the facility staff to allow some family members in to hold her hand or speak directly to her.  But that didn’t happen.  The family could only talk into their phone while one of the facility staff held their smart phone near her ear.

            There wasn’t a funeral service at all.  There will be a memorial gathering, but that still hasn’t been scheduled. 

            Trying to deal with the death of a family member during COVID-19 is challenging. 

            Things are beginning to loosen up just a little.  A member of the faith community I now serve, Richmond UMC in Bangor, PA has a member who is on hospice and is declining. 

            This time I was able to go into the hospice facility where he is now staying to spend time with him and his wife. 

            I can’t overstate the importance of personal contact, especially at a time when a family member is declining and will soon enter into the arms of Jesus.  No matter the technology, a personal touch, and a personal presence means so much. 

            Many, many families have had to struggle through the grief of losing someone close to them without the ability to be in close contact.  My heart aches for each and every one who was not able to mourn the passing of a loved one with the physical support of the rest of the family and friends.

            Caring for each other in this time of Pandemic is even more critical to our own personal wellbeing than it has and any other time in the past decade.  Let us never forget the importance of family and friends, and the blessings of that personal touch when we are in the presence of those whom we love. 

            That is just one of the gifts of grace given to us by God.

Blessings

Pastor Peter  

The Wednesday Post – 9/30/20

9/30/20

              I think it was sometime after the first of April, this year, a few weeks into the recognition of a pandemic, that someone once talked about how we, as a society, may never again practice shaking hands.

            I thought that notion was a bit far-fetched.  But now I wonder.

            At a Bible study we were talking about how things change, and how something written 2,700 years ago might still have some application for us.  We talked about how things had changed during the pandemic and how we longed for things to return to “normal”.  I talked about what I refer to as my “COVID-19 Box” that I keep in my car.  It is an opened top box that contains masks, sanitary wipes, some hand disinfectant and a scarf to be used in place of a mask if needed.    

            That box is now a normal part of the things I carry around.  When my wife rides with me it goes in the back seat, but within reach.  After all, where ever I am going, I will need a mask! 

            So, I wondered how long I will continue to carry that “COVID-19 box” in my car.

            I have little doubt that even a year from now, it will probably still be a fixture in my car.  So, what about 2 years from now?  What about 5 years from now?

            Getting back to handshaking; I can’t find any direct information about handshaking in the 1919 pandemic, but it seems that some people had encouraged people to stop the custom.

            It has been around for centuries, and is a natural reaction of most adults when we meet other adults.  If they stopped shaking hands in 1919, it didn’t last!  So, now I wonder just what will be changed for good, and what will change for a while and then eventually revert back to the way things were.

            There really is no way to know.  I do think that restaurants will suffer because of COVID-19.  In our family, we had been doing some take-out from our favorite restaurants, but that has declined.  One of them has closed for good.  What seems to be doing well are restaurants that focused more on take-out than inside dining before the pandemic.  Typical Chinese restaurants and pizza joints seem to be weathering the storm.  But restaurants that dealt mostly with eat-in facilities are struggling.

            Churches are faced with a similar challenge.  But I see a difference.  If you can’t get a good meal to go, you can decide to just do it yourself, yes, cook at home.  But that isn’t exactly the same with church.  Some people have been trying to practice spirituality on their own, and maybe some have succeeded to a point.  But I believe that real spirituality requires a community.  That is the way it was in the first century, and likely the way it still is in the 21st Century.  The question for me is what does that community look like, and how do they gather? 

            There are still many unanswered questions about this pandemic, and that last question of mine is one of them.

            How do you see your spiritual community during and after the pandemic?

            Let me know – pastorpvnjamies@gmail.com 

Blessings

Pastor Peter  

The Wednesday Post – 9/23/20

9/23/20

              This week I was part of a group of clergy and lay people called the Order of St. Luke.  The order is a group of people who commit to focusing on the sacraments as recognized by most Protestant Churches, Baptism and Holy Communion.  As part of that focus we engage in a book study each year.  This year we are reading a book about the Gospel of Mark.

            As I read the book I came across a wonderfully different example of perspective.  Many of us don’t think about our own perspectives.  They have been formed in us as we grew up and we think the way we look at things is about the only way it makes sense to see something.  Yet, our perspectives can sometimes get in the way of being able to understand people who might not entirely agree with us.

            Here is the quote from “Practicing Resurrection – The Gospel of Mark and Radical Discipleship” by Janet Wolf.

            “In the shower on the second floor of our house, there is a small high window that looks out onto the tops of trees and a slice of the sky.  When I told my husband what a wonderful job he had done planning this window so we could see sky, passing clouds and the tops of trees he laughed.  I am 5’9” and he is 6’4”.  He was quick to point out that my view is not his view, which is full of wires, telephone poles, shingle roofs, and a radio tower.  Both of us tell the truth of what we see out the window, but our truths come with dramatically different views.”

            These are two people who live together, who likely think similarly, and who likely see things pretty much the same way, but not when they look out the window of their shower.  Each sees something very different.  It is the same window, but the perspective is different.  Neither of them is “wrong” about what they see.  But they don’t see the same thing. 

            Perspective.

            If we are not able to identify our own perspective, it becomes much harder to listen to besides trying to accept a perspective that is different from our own. 

            The current climate in our country, and in the denomination to which I belong, the United Methodist Church, is strained.  People with different perspectives are actively fighting each other, not so much with weapons or physical strength as much with social media and intimidation.  Why?  Because each one believes they are “right” and anyone who might disagree is “wrong”.  We have trouble accepting a different perspective. 

            I think it would be amazing if each person were able to articulate the perspectives of people with whom they disagree.  We might find out that the basis of the perspective is often the same.  We are looking at the same thing, just from a slightly different angle. 

            Understanding that can enable us to begin to respect each other and begin to listen to each other rather than trying to fight each other.

            I think that is what Jesus would have done.

Blessings Pastor Peter

The Wednesday Post – 9/20/20

9/16/20

            It seems like only yesterday that we were in the middle of summer, with hot and humid conditions.  That was true up until a little over a week ago.  Now it seems more like early fall, with lows in the 40s and highs maybe not even reaching 70.  Tomorrow seems like the only shot at coming near 80 degrees in the next ten days. 

            Many years ago I lived in what is called north-central Massachusetts.  I lived in a small, rural town on the border of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The “locals” used to have a saying that probably isn’t unique to that area of New England: “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a couple of minutes, it’ll change!”

            Most of the time we don’t like the weather to change too much, and, I think, we really don’t want anything else to change.  It always seems safer and more comfortable when things don’t change.

            Yet, many wise people have said that the only constant in our world is change.

            Our world certainly has changed since the middle of March.  I was on a Zoom Meeting for the Slatebelt Ministerium.  People are still talking about the middle of March and how everything changed after that.

            Larger churches are struggling trying to figure out how to hold two different worship services on Sunday.  How do you clean and/or disinfect the church between services.  Smaller churches like ours are struggling with the opening of our Social Hall to outside groups like the Boy Scouts or Cub Scouts.  Those groups are important in the lives of our children and we really don’t want to prevent them from meeting, especially when the colder weather comes in.  But we struggle with how to keep everyone safe.

            Some sense of normalcy is needed.  But, when we follow Jesus, we are expected to change.  We are not to remain the same.  The notion of being born again, or born anew is important.  Making a commitment should change us.  And I believe, that isn’t a single change, but continuing change as we mature in our faith.  That means that we should be changing all the time, and that change should be noticeable.  If some of your very close friends tell you that you are exactly the way you were ten years ago, then something is missing.  Change is a part of our faith journey, and it ought to be something we do consciously and with intention.

            So, in some ways, change is a really good thing.

Blessings Pastor Peter