Pastor’s BLOG

Give Thanks

Dear Friends-in-Christ,
 
Thanksgiving is just about here, and for many of us it will be different. This coronavirus continues to interrupt our lives and family gatherings. With “covid-fatigue” affecting our plans and our attitudes, it is easy to be frustrated, impatient, or dare I say, cranky?! We want to be together! We want to sit down at a table, in the family room, on a church pew—together. But we can’t. At least not safely. I hope you will take the advisement of our doctors and scientists to heart and continue to follow the 3-Ws until Covid19 is no longer a threat. News of vaccines is looking more promising, so we can be hopeful.
 
In the meantime, while we still must remain masked and physically distanced, I offer you this simple remedy: Give Thanks. Take time this coming week to reflect on your life. What is most important? How have you seen the Holy Spirit move through a particular person or situation? When have you felt God’s comforting presence or leaned mightily on the strength of Jesus? Give thanks for all of these blessings. Share these moments with friends or family over the phone, on Zoom, in a Facebook post, or even written down in an old-fashioned letter. We need to hear the stories of joy amid the storms, the signs of community even when we are apart, our growing through the challenges. Approach this coming holiday with a grateful heart for all Christ has done for us.
 
You may know the story of Now Thank We All Our God. Pastor Martin Rinkart lived during the time of the Thirty Years War, 1618-1648. His little town in Germany was overwhelmed with refugees escaping war, famine, and pestilence and there was much suffering. He was the only pastor left in the city and conducted as many as 40-50 funerals a day. Rinkart’s wife even died, and yet, he kept on, selflessly offering hope, strength, and a very physical help to the people. Toward the end of the war, it is said that Rinkart wanted to give his children a song to sing at the dinner table in thanks to God. This hymn has become one that has given hope to many over the years and it reminds us to give thanks in all times and places, trusting in the grace and steadfast love of God.
 
Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things hath done, in whom this world rejoices;
who, from our mothers’ arms, hath blest us on our way
with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
 
O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
and keep us in God’s grace, and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all ills in this world and the next.
 
All praise and thanks to God, who reigns in highest heaven,
To Father and to Son, and Spirit now be given.
The one eternal God, whom heav’n and earth adore,
The God who was, and is, and shall be evermore.
 
A blessed Thanksgiving to you,
 
Pastor Nancy Jo Dederer
Transitional Pastor
 
 


On the Eve of the Election…

Dear Friends,
 
I write this on the eve of election day. I don’t know the outcome of the presidential and state elections, and it is quite possible that by the time you read this newsletter, we still won’t know who will be our president for the next four years. What we do know is that there is much unrest right now as to the future of the United States, its citizens and all who reside here. There is much divisiveness, not only across party lines, but also across church pews and family dinner tables. Anxiety and short fuses are close to the surface, and cherished relationships are being put to the test based on color: Red or Blue.
 
I pray that as we live into the decisions that are made for the nation’s governance, we keep our heart, soul, and mind focused on the One who offers salvation —Jesus Christ— our Way, our Truth, our Life. We must be careful not to misplace our allegiance. God alone is Sovereign. We must also apply ourselves to loving our neighbor the way Jesus loves. For some that might mean thinking more carefully about how to react to someone who loudly pushes a different opinion. For others, that might include stepping out of a comfort zone to really see someone’s full humanity and respond with compassion rather than judgment. How will your neighbors know you belong to Christ, regardless of whether your “ballot” wins or loses? Hint:

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.  (© Peter Scholtes, 1966)
 
While we are living in a time of extremes, we only need to turn to the Letter to the Romans to remember that we are not the first ones who have faced travail. Paul writes to the church that is worried about how God can possibly address the gravity of their situation. Paul responds,

…I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).
 
I hope you will join me in prayer for healing and restoration. I have included a prayer to draw us together. My door is open to you for conversation and prayer.

May the Holy Spirit grant you peace—the peace that passes all understanding— and settle your heart and mind in Christ Jesus,
 
Pastor Nancy Jo Dederer
Transitional Pastor
 
PRAYER FOR ELECTIONS AND OUR COUNTRY

Holy God,
We come to you today in prayer,
full of emotions.
Election seasons always seem to bring that out in us-
Worry and hope, fear and frustration.
The list could go on.
So today we bow our heads and ask for guidance.
Open our ears to hear the groans of creation.
Open our eyes to see the needs of others.
Open our hearts to make room for empathy.
Give us the wisdom to navigate challenging conversations.
Give us the patience to disagree with grace.
Give us the compassion to make decisions for the greater good.
And when all else fails, bring us back to love.
Bring our hearts and our hands,
Our dreams and our hopes,
Our anger and our frustration,
Our hurt and our fear,
All back to love.
With hope we pray,
With hope we are sustained. Amen.

© A Sanctified Art
 
 


Time in the Wilderness

Dear Friends,
 
Grace and peace to you! I am delighted to be here and look forward to getting to know you better over the coming weeks and months. I have appreciated the notes, emails and gifts you have offered me as a sign of welcome and partnership in ministry. It was a bit of a disappointment not to worship outside and in person on my first Sunday here due to the weather, but I am grateful for a strong technology team that allows us to gather as part of that great iCloud of Witnesses!
 
Sunday’s Old Testament Scripture was about the Israelites’ time in the wilderness. With the departure of your pastor in the spring and this long season of Covid-19, I imagine this interim time might feel a bit wild and desert-like for some of you. A rabbi colleague and friend once told me that the wilderness journey was a way for God to draw the people out of their routines, out of their burdens and labor into a special time to worship and reconnect with God. In fact, when Moses first went to Pharaoh to ask him to “let God’s people go,” it was initially for a short time to worship God. Eventually, of course, it turned into the full exodus from slavery in Egypt to freedom as God’s people; but originally, the wilderness was to be a gift for the people to commune with God and offer their worship and praise.
 
I wonder if we might be able to shift expectations of “wilderness/interim time” to a holy season in which we experience God’s providence to us as individuals and as a congregation and grow deeper in our relationship with our Triune God–Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. What might that look like to you? I hope as we journey together we will name those places where we see the Holy Spirit at work and explore how God is shaping us for ministry in this time and place.
 
May God bless you with joy and hope,
Pastor Nancy
 


A Letter from Our New Transitional Pastor

Dear Friends,
 
I greet you with joy in my heart. Thank you for inviting me to come and work alongside you. The “Time between Pastors” is a holy season for the church. While it might feel long and uncertain, it is also an opportunity for the congregation to reflect upon who God is calling First Pres to be in this time and context. I appreciate transitional ministry because it frees folks up to be curious, questioning, evaluative and experimental. We can explore our heritage: holding on tight to that which is good and faithful and letting go of those things that no longer fit well. We are offered the gift of delving more deeply into what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and renewing our commitment as the church of Jesus Christ.
 
COVID-19 certainly has wreaked some havoc on the traditional ways of ministry; however, we we are not barred from the work of ministry—that of praising and worshiping God, welcoming, praying and caring for each other as siblings in Jesus’ family, and sharing the good news of the gospel in word and deed with our corner of the world and beyond. We may still do all of this with energy, intelligence, imagination and love.
 
I can’t wait to hear how the Holy Spirit has been moving through you and your congregation. I look forward to visiting with you (properly distanced!), listening to your stories, frustrations, and hopes, and helping your church discern the direction God is leading you next as you prepare for your new pastor.
 
May God bless you and our ministry together!
 
Grace and peace,

Pastor Nancy
Rev. Dr. Nancy Jo Dederer
Transitional Pastor