For as long as I can remember, September in church life meant
the intentional coming back together as a church community after
a long and hopefully abundant summer. Most of us remember
Rally Day Sundays, which marked the official beginning of a
congregation’s programmatic year. Obviously, things will be
different this year. We won’t be physically gathering together for
some time. We are not closed, however. We still are the church.
We are still the Body of Christ and the Body of Christ is always
We will be doing things differently this year and we are finding
new ways to keep connected with God, with one another, and
with our community at large. In this issue of the Quest, you will
see a number of opportunities for worship, fellowship and service.
We are exploring new ways to celebrate and refresh our
community of faith until we are able to truly “rally back” and
gather together in person again.
During this very complicated and difficult time in our world, we
need the strength and comfort of a God who is greater than our
problems and who has promised that nothing in all of Creation
can separate us from God’s love. We need each other as well. So
much of our current situation forces us into separateness and
isolation and it is far too easy to feel alone and overwhelmed by
everything that is going on.
Keeping the connections between members of our congregation will continue to be a top priority for our leadership team and we are actively looking for more and more ways to make that happen.
We are all in this together, and if you have ideas on how we can support one another, please let me or someone of Council know.
Blessings to you all,
A year ago, I began the journey. It was Monday, July 15, 2019 that
I entered the doors of Holy Cross Lutheran Church for the first
time as your pastor. It has been a wonderful, eventful year and
through it all, I have been surrounded by your love and support. Thank you.
Through all the complexities of settling in, of adjusting to the
reality of a new state, to the reality of living apart from Shelly and
my family most of the year, you have been there. In the various
events of the year — weddings, deaths, births, a sabbatical, and
even a pandemic — we have journeyed together.
It has been quite a year, but I am so happy that I have been here
with you along the way. It has been and remains an honor,
privilege, and blessing to be called to be among you as your
pastor! Holy Cross is a congregation that is alive with Jesus’ love
and acceptance for all people, a place that takes seriously and
joyously Jesus’ call to all those who seek a safe, grace-based
community in which to find peace. We are travelers on a great
journey, welcoming others to join us along the way.
One thing the experiences of this first half of 2020 has taught us is
a clear reminder that we do not know what the future holds. It is
clear that things will not be “normal” for some time. As I have
written before, we all are learning in new ways about community,
unity, and ways to care for one another. Together, we are God’s
people for this time, in this place. Using a reference from the book of Esther, Bishop Ortiz often reminds the pastors of our synod, “You have been called to a time such as this.” That is where we are as God’s people in the world today: seeking to be faithful in the face of uncertainty.
There is a prayer that I love, taken from both the Morning and
Evening Prayer services, that seems to sum up where we are
today and, more importantly, whose we are in all things:
O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we
cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils
unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not
knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and
your love supporting us; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Whatever the path, I am grateful to be traveling with you and
pray that our mutual care and ministry continue to honor the One
who calls us all, embraces all, and strengthen us in all things along
P.S. Thank you for the wonderful celebration of
our one-year anniversary together! The prayers, cards, well-
wishes and the ROCKS! What a beautiful day surrounded by your
love. I so am blessed to be your pastor!
I’ll share a little secret. Sometimes, when a pastor is up against a
pending (or overdue) deadline for a newsletter article, she or he
may be tempted to look through the archives to see what had
been written for this month in some previous year. It happens.
Well, this year isn’t like any other year in my experience. Were I to
peruse July articles from years past, there wouldn’t be anything
there about a global pandemic, about church buildings empty
during the week, or about the inability to gather for worship in
person. I’ve never been here before. You’ve never been here
before. We are all learning a new way to live and to be in the face
of circumstances that can easily overwhelm us. We’ve never
personally faced times when the most basic aspects of our society
– school, work, buying food – have been impacted to such a
degree. Most of us cannot remember a time when fear was such a
component of our life together and it has been a very long time –
possibly fifty plus years– that we’ve witnessed the breadth of
unrest, division, violence, lament, and anger we have in our
society at this particular moment. It can so easily feel hopeless.
We truly live in interesting times. Each day, we are living in this
new reality and learning what it means to be people doing the
best that we can. We don’t have many road maps for this journey
that we are on, so we must all the more affirm and rely upon the
grace of Jesus Christ for us all.
It is, to me, very comforting that Jesus does not demand you or
me to be perfect: to be strong at all times, to have all the answers,
or even to always be in a good mood. If anyone does, Jesus
understands what it is like to be a human being in difficult times.
The great news of the gospel is that Jesus promises to be there
with us, especially in those times when we just can’t see a way
out on our own.
Perhaps, in the face of things we don’t always understand, I can
share some not-so-random thoughts, hopes, and prayers:
• Trusting in God’s grace, may each of us, in our own
way, remember what grounds us – the promise of
Jesus to be with us in every circumstance.
• Claiming God’s grace, may we remain gentle with
ourselves, gentle with our friends and families, and
gentle with those whose actions we may not always
understand. We are all going through a lot these days.
• Enlightened through God’s grace, may we, as a
congregation, continue to be a place of hope and
healing for us all.
• Empowered by God’s grace, may we can find ways to
connect, support, and assist those who need our help,
both serving as the hands and feet of Jesus to our
neighbor and seeing Jesus in those we serve.
Thank you all, for all that you do. Thank you for your support, your
strength and your endurance.
With you in service,
ORDINARY TIME IN EXTRAORDINARY TIMES.
In June we begin the long, “green” season of Pentecost,
sometimes termed in church lingo, “Ordinary Time.” Given what
we are experiencing today, however, nothing seems very
ordinary, does it? In Virginia, some parts of the state have
opened-up a bit, which may cause us to yearn even more for
things to get back the way they were. When can we get back to
normal again? When can we worship together, like we used to?
When will we be in “ordinary” times again?
To be honest, there are no real clear answers to these questions.
If we are learning anything these days, it is that these days are
presenting us with extraordinary changes and challenges. What
has become clear to me and to our leadership at Holy Cross, is
that safety should be our chief concern as we move forward.
While the government may give a green light at some future date
for churches in our area to open up for “normal” worship, that
still may not make it the right thing to do for the safety of
everyone in our congregation. When it is safe, we will gather.
Until then, the leadership is exploring options on a month-bymonth
basis. For now, we will continue an on-line presence. Later,
we may look at some sort of outdoor worship, where we can
gather in physically-distanced safety. At this point, we just are not
Believe me, I, like you, long to be together again. I miss you all. I
miss singing and worshipping together. I miss Holy Communion. I
miss those all-so-ordinary things that are so extraordinarily special, particularly when we are prevented from doing them for a
In extraordinary times, the church has always adapted, shifted,
and met the challenge. We are not the first of Jesus’ followers to
suddenly find the world around them vastly different from before.
We are not the first believers to find themselves unable to
worship together due to circumstances beyond their control. We
certainly are not the only people of faith who have cried out to
God, “when will things be normal again?” Through it all, the
faithfulness of God has carried us through. Through it all, the love
and grace of God – those precious, essentially ordinary aspects of
God’s nature, have nourished us through the extraordinary times.
In a conversation today, I tried to describe these extraordinary
times by using the image of walking through a cave with only a
candle as our light. We can see just a few feet ahead and as we
travel we are surrounded by darkness and uncertainty. Yet we
walk step by step, not certain what lies ahead but only in the light
the illumines our way. That is where we live and breathe and have
our being today. We don’t know the exact way or the precise time
when this part of our journey will end. What we can trust is the
presence of the One who has promised to walk with us and be our
light – a light that the darkness cannot overcome.
We will gather as a church together again. We will gather again to
celebrate the extraordinary-made-ordinary that is the promise of
Christ to gather with us in Word, in The Meal, in Baptism, and in
the Assembly. When that will happen is unclear, but we trust in
the promise of its fulfillment in our midst.
Until then, let us continue to be the Church: the Body of Christ in
the world, ordinary people living in extraordinary times doing our
best to live out the presence of Jesus in our lives.
Peace to you all,
Scattered, Not Shattered
We have slogged through quite a month together (yet separate),
right? This past week, I have been remembering my article in
January, as we got ready for Jeremy’s sabbatical. If I recall, I
mentioned that we would be challenged to “use different
muscles” as we adapted to that change. And we did. And it was a
blessing and we came through it stronger.
As it turned out, however, we had only just begun! There is no
doubt that this past month has been a challenge at the level that
none of us could have predicted. Individually and as a society, we
are facing a deadly virus that has changed almost all of our daily
routines. We fear for our health and for the safety of those we
love and to make matters worse, during this time of stress we are
prevented from doing the very thing that seems the most natural:
gathering, together. As a church, we are learning what it means to
be the Body of Christ that has been separated by circumstances
beyond our control. Talk about new muscles!
The word “congregation” literally means a gathering. Yet, as a
community of faith, we have been prevented from coming
together in what Luther called in his Smalcald Articles, “the
mutual conversation and consolation of brothers and sisters.” We
have been scattered, but we have not been abandoned. In that
same writing, Martin Luther reminds us that the gospel is the
presence of the crucified and resurrected Christ in our
community. When the Word is proclaimed, Christ is present.
When the sacraments are administered, Christ is present. When
the community is gathered, Christ is present. Here is the gracious promise – when we are able to receive just one of these methods,
we still receive the fulness of Christ in our midst. Holy Cross may
not yet be able to gather, but the power and assurance of Jesus
Christ remans and holds us together.
We are indeed exercising new spiritual muscles, learning new
methods and models about being the church, and through you,
the work and the message of the gospel continue to be a blessing.
• Thanks to you, we gathered $1,370 for Herndon Middle
School from our Lenten Appeal. As you know, those funds
will assist their efforts to help many of their students
whose families struggle to have the basics such as
adequate food and clothing.
• Thanks to you, we have provided an enormous amount of
food and difficult to find paper products to the various
agencies that help people on our community.
• Thanks to you, our congregation’s finances are stable and
even though we are not gathering in person, your mailings
and electronic giving are making a huge difference.
• Thanks to you, our music and worship life continues, and
we are all learning a bit more than we expected about all
sorts of technology and being “virtual”.
We are a generous congregation. We are a congregation with
strong lay leadership and many folks who are willing to pitch in
and help. We are a congregation that truly loves each other, seeks
to care for our neighbor and is resilient in the face of change. It is
I am blessed to be your pastor, and I am inspired and nurtured by
your work and your support. None of us know when we will get
back to “normal” or what that might even look like, but I believe
that with all the “using new muscles” that we have been doing
together, I know we’ll be in pretty good shape.
“May you live in interesting times.”
The old proverb seems apropos for where we are today. We are
indeed living in a season of great uncertainty. Just in the past
week, what seemed to be the things we could count on, such as:
the schedule of our day, the ample opportunity to greet and
gather with friends, and the joy of worshipping with one another
in the place we name “sanctuary, have all gone away for the most
A few days ago, through the wonder of the internet and a meeting
program called Zoom, I gathered with Bishop Ortiz and 57 of my
colleagues in rostered ministry in our synod. We gathered for
worship and for discussion. We gathered for community.
Together, we listened to and prayed through the March 22nd
Gospel reading, John 9. It is the story of a man born into
blindness, and Jesus’ healing light. It is a story of many, blessed
with physical vision, who are unwilling to see God’s new and
wonderous grace in their midst.
Jesus calls us to be open to God’s presence in our time, to be
open-minded and open-eyed to God’s amazing love and grace, no
matter what things look like around us. Bishop Leila reminded us
that we are now seeing the church in new ways, that the situation
in which we find ourselves has given us the opportunity to witness
God’s work in and among us, despite what our typical
expectations might be.
We are living in interesting times. We are living in troubling, scary
times. But we are also living into what it means, in Christ, to be
the people of Jesus in all times. I am abundantly thankful for each
of you. I praise God for Jeremy, Teresa, Deb, and the whole
leadership team at Holy Cross. Through their work, we are finding
new ways to reconnect with our congregation, especially through
our on-line check-ins, devotions and worship.
Our on-line efforts cannot be the only way we help one another,
however. Please take time to reach out to one another through
phones, emails and texts. Pray for each other, asking for God’s
peace and hope for each of us.
Finally, take care of yourselves. Today, we pastors, and other
rostered leaders heard clearly and passionately from our Bishop
to take care of our own needs as well as those of others. I pass
that on to you as well – be gentle with yourself and with those in
your home. We are all stressed. We are all afraid. We all need to
be assured and reminded that we are loved. Spring has begun,
and I hope we can all go outside and enjoy the flowers and the
trees and pause to give thanks to the Creator of us all.
We live in interesting times, but we are claimed and loved by the
God of all time.
“As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.”
Matthew 4: 18-23
In many ways, it is not an easy time in our history to “be the church.” Sociologists and folks that study these things tell us that the demographic shifts in our culture are growing away from organized religion (actually, all organized groups in general). Many in our society distrust, even fear churches and the people that attend them. They often see us as judgmental and closed-minded, too quick to divide people into “the good” and “the bad.” Of course, we know that not all Christians operate in this way, but to those on the outside, it’s hard to tell the difference. People are far more likely to claim to be spiritual but not religious and they are certainly not attached to any particular denomination or congregation. According to some experts, church attendance across all denominational lines is at an all-time low in our country. It’s easy to get discouraged and fearful for the way forward.
When Jesus called his first disciples, his request was pretty simple: “follow me.” He did not say what that following would cost them, where it would bring them, or what troubles lay in store for them. He simply asked them to follow. It was not easy for them either, to follow Jesus. They gave up their families, their home, and their vocations for a new call. They followed into uncertainty, trusting in the One who called them.
The church is not dying, but we may be transforming into something new. The church will survive, because Jesus is in the midst of us. We are Jesus’ Body here on earth and we have survived 2,000 years of change. God is the God of the present and the future, of resurrection and new life. While it is natural and tempting to focus on what is going wrong, Jesus calls to trust that, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”
Some of the way ahead means emphasizing what we do best: Preaching the Word. Sharing the Sacraments. Being an open place that is safe and welcoming. Bringing food to the hungry. Being a sanctuary for those who hurt and a feeding station for those who need strength for the week ahead. Some of the way ahead will mean trying new things, being more open to the needs of our community and listening to their concerns.
We are in an ongoing process of reimagining and rethinking how we do things at Holy Cross. We are looking for new ways to be a part of our community, different avenues to be the presence of Jesus to our neighbor. We are exploring new connections with our schools, especially the Middle School, seeking to hear how we can assist them in their mission. We are looking into ways that our congregation can be even more open, more welcoming, and more inclusive to all people. We are, especially through Jeremy’s sabbatical, seeking to enhance our worship and music ministry, particularly with an eye to invite new people into our congregation.
Thank you. Thank you for being a congregation that is supportive, open, and willing to try new things. Thank you for being a community that welcomes others in our midst, that seeks to be a positive force in our area. Thank you for being a place where people find hope and healing in recovery groups, where new neighbors can learn English, where young men are mentored and trained to be men of integrity in Boy Scouts, and where people who are hurting can find Good News. Thank you for your generosity. You make this happen. Through your financial giving, through your dedication to the programs and the building, through your trust and your attitude of service. All of this is what it means to be a church. No matter what the future might bring, no matter what changes we may face, Jesus will continue to lead us and call to us, “Follow me.”
Time of Rest and Reflection
New year. New decade. New challenges. New opportunities. January often allows us the chance to assess, plan, and look forward and can be the same with congregations as with individuals. This new year also brings us a new twist at Holy Cross as Jeremy has begun his well-deserved sabbatical leave. It will seem strange not to have him present leading us in music, but we are thankful for the volunteer leadership of Marcia, Becky and Suzanne who will keep our spirits soaring with song! Sabbaticals are a time of rest and reflection. Taking some time off to sort out, refresh and rethink is one major goal of a sabbatical. It is also an opportunity to stretch out, to try new
things and exercise new “muscles”. Often, the change of routine and of action leads to a new vitality and new way of thinking about the time ahead.
While Jeremy is on a formal sabbatical leave, we at Holy Cross are going to be doing our own bit of rethinking and redoing as well as doing our best to fill in the gaps in Jeremy’s absence. This is how we will be utilizing “new muscles”, trying new things, seeing things differently and looking forward together.
In my experience, such a shake-up, even for a few weeks, often revitalizes a congregation. As we change up from the routine, it allows us to be reminded about what we love at Holy Cross. It allows us to have a hand at being part of our common mission in a different way. It also allows us to appreciate the gifts the Spirit has blessed us with – those we have come to know and love, and those that emerge in the new time.
During this new time of sabbatical, my prayer for us is that we be open to the Holy Spirit’s promptings as we see and do church in different ways; that we remain patient with each other and with the different ways of worshiping together; and that we listen closely for the Spirit’s whispers of promise as we are lead into dreaming, planning and doing new things in God’s name in the years to come.
Not too long ago, I was invited to speak at a Senior Center Forum on the topic, “An Attitude of Gratitude.” Gratitude, that ability to be thankful, is certainly an important and healing component of who we are as God’s people, but it can also be a difficult thing to conjure up if we are overwhelmed by other things in our lives.
What we have come to know as “the holiday season” – roughly Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day– can be a tough time for many people. It’s a time where we often hear a lot about being grateful, or thankful or joyous. It is also a time when many of us may find it hard to feel that way. In the winter, our access to natural light gets less. Our bodies naturally react to the decreased light by slowing down – literally depressing. We may feel sluggish. We may feel sad. Being joyful or thankful does not seem like the natural thing we want to do. This time of year can also be difficult for those who have experienced loss in their lives. The memories of family members who have passed or of a family that once was whole or of people who are far away, can all make this an emotionally dark time for us as well.
When you, yourself are struggling with grief or depression or just feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all, it can be particularly hard when there is almost a demand in our society that you be upbeat and joyous. The data, however, shows us that a lot more of us are hurting than we think or let on. While the society around us may seem to be happy, joyous and full of gratitude, it is also a fact that reports of depression, feelings of loneliness, domestic violence and even suicide all peak in the months of December and January.
So how can we can we remain grateful even in the midst of the darkness that may surround us? I suggest starting by taking stock of the gifts we have received and the people that are and have been in our lives. When people first come into a 12-Step recovery program, they are often at the lowest point in their lives. One of the very first practices they are taught is to begin to write down, each day, something for which they are grateful. It seems counterintuitive to ask people who “have hit their bottom” to be grateful, but each day is a baby-step to healing.
We can also remember to allow ourselves to feel how we feel and to remember that others we meet may also be going through a tough time. There is no need for guilt or shame. Our pain, our grief, our brokenness are real parts of who we are. But they are also not fully who we are or what we may become. As people of faith, we also trust that the Light is greater than the darkness and our dark places are not the only definition of who we are. In the dark, love remains.
For my presentation at the Senior Center, I offered up a working definition of what an “Attitude of Gratitude” might look like:
It is not the denial of the suffering, pain and loss we have experienced, but the personal decision to look through these events into a larger realization of:
what we have been given,
what we have been allowed to achieve and
the people we have loved and who have loved us
all of which has made us who we are today.
While, by no means complete, I pray that this humble attempt may help us find a new way in which we can give thanks. May we be gentle with ourselves and one another. May we be sensitive to the complexities this time of year may bring to us and to others. And may we be truly grateful for all that we have received, even if it is just one thing this day.
God’s blessings and love to us all during this Advent and Christmas.
Not so long ago, I received a note from an old friend in which she
thanked me for being an inspiration in her life and for being a
witness to Jesus for her. I was pretty shocked to say the least:
first, because I had not seen her in over 30 years and second
because, I had absolutely no idea that I had been any kind of
influence to her.
That is a grace moment – God using me, in spite of myself, to help
It got me to thinking about all those people who have been
important for my faith. Some of those people have died. Many are
still active in my life. Some, like my note-writing friend, are still
alive, but I haven’t really talked to them in a long time. In each
case, these people have been used by God to touch my life and I
I think about many of those people at Holy Communion. When we
gather at the Table, I am often reminded that we do so
surrounded by a great “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).
Theologians tell us that in the great mystery of the
Resurrection, when we gather for communion, we join all those
saints at the Table. When we celebrate The Feast, we do so with
us a host of people who have touched our lives and strengthened
our faith along the way—literally a myriad of mothers, fathers,
grandparents, friends, siblings, Sunday School teachers, pastors,
neighbors, etc., who have shared with each of us, through word
and example, what it means to be a follower of Jesus. These are
the saints in our lives. These are the ones who have passed on the
faith to us. These are the ones who still mark us and influence us
For those I am thankful. Is it any wonder that another word for
Holy Communion, “Eucharist” means, “Thanksgiving”?
Who have been those saints in your life? Who was there with
patient prayers, or faithful instruction? Who mentored you along
the way, or cared enough to make certain that you did not get
lost? Who laughed with you in your triumphs, and cried for your
tragedies or mistakes? Who was that solid example of integrity
and grace? Who were and are those saints that are the faithful
cloud of witnesses in your life?
November 1 st is All Saints Day, and on Sunday, November 3rd, we
will observe All Saints Sunday. Take time to thank God for all the
saints—past and present– that God has given to bless your life.
Take time as well to ask, “How is God using me to be that saint for
someone else?” In some ways, we may know how we share Jesus
to some people, but I suspect that in many ways, we will never
really know just how brightly God is shining through us to
positively touch another person. And that, my friends, is living in
And for that, I am thankful.