One of the things that attracted me to this congregation over ten years ago was a statement in your description of the church – what’s also reflected on our sign out front – that here the ministers are all the members of the church. The pastor serves a particular function, but the strength of this congregation is understood to be in its membership, and in the variety of gifts God’s Spirit activates in us and inspires us to share for the common good.
She explained that her young son had run from the bathtub straight into her office, naked, and her husband had chased him with a towel, eventually catching him and carrying him out.
In that moment, everyone on the Pastor Nominating Committee wanted to meet this Carla face to face.
As one who was privileged to be a mentor in this awesome confirmation process, that was part of what I had to say – that doubt is not a disqualifier. It’s not a disqualifier for life as a Christian, it’s not a disqualifier for life as part of Ginter Park Presbyterian.
This is a place of learning. This is a place of open minds and open hearts. This is a place of God’s grace. I’ve been part of Ginter Park for 25 years now. It has helped me change and I trust it’s not through helping me change.
The joy and peace of being part of God’s community crept into my heart gradually. As our country seems more and more divided and imperiled by forces that are everything our church does not stand for, I yearn to commit to something and see it through, to be of use in this community that gives so much. And so when I was asked to join the Session, I felt excited and honored.
The people of the Bible wanted this Jesus to be a Messiah—a savior—and in so many words, he told them: if you want a savior, go spend time with someone who’s lonely. Go rock a newborn baby with fetal alcohol syndrome. Go identify the systemic wrongs in your community and seek out ways to right those wrongs. Stop looking for salvation in all the wrong directions.
This week our Session voted to welcome a refugee family into our community, and to join the Richmond broader network of Sanctuary supporters. What this means for our weekly affirmation that we are one in Christ is that we really let that sink in, “ Somos uno en Cristo somos uno, somos uno, uno solo, un solo Dios, un solo Senor, una sola Fe un solo Amor, un solo Bautismo, un solo Espíritu, el Espíritu Consolador”. One in Christ, who made us distinct in identities, but one in faith. Find me in the pew, singing in Spanish, but one with y’all.
As a parent of teenagers, I can’t advocate for removing our hands from the steering wheel when the driving gets scary. But, when one of the kids in my car asked if Jesus could really take control of a moving vehicle, I had to accept the gift of being asked a faith question by my kids and set aside my liberal theological background for a minute. “Yes, kids. Jesus can take the wheel.”
… as we were preparing to go to Joanna’s memorial service, I was actually hitting my dresser over and over and saying, “I cannot go to this service and repeat all those words of hope and promise we’re going to say.” My mother stepped close, wrapped her arms around my frantic and flailing ones, and said, “That’s okay. You don’t have to say them today. We’ll say them for you.”
… I see you, and I love you.
If I, one member of this GPPC family, can see all of this light, can you imagine what we all see collectively? Can you imagine how much more God sees? Can you imagine how much more Christ loves all of us? It’s not surprising. It IS breathtaking. It’s grace. Love-filled grace. It’s for ALL of us. And how lucky are we that we can take that out into the world when we leave this place?
Exodus 3 describes God’s insistence on using Moses, an octogenarian, fugitive, murderer full of fear and doubt, to lead the Bible’s greatest pilgrimage. This scripture, joined by many others, practically shouts its lesson: there is power in being different, or afraid, or needy.
I am no Moses, and—no offense—neither are you. But perhaps you, like me, have been awkward and broken before. We probably would not wish those experiences on anyone. But often, they invite other, remarkable ones—opportunities and motives to give compassion, to receive it, and to marvel at the simple, healing power of being on either end of that exchange.
That quiet small voice just kept reminding me that I had begun my [teaching] career in the city and I could go back. Well, like some famous Bible characters, you remember Jonah and others, I tried to ignore the voice. It wasn’t until a year later when I saw the test scores and knew that I needed to make the change. My students in the county would get another good teacher and would be fine, but those kids in the city may not. So, I made the call to apply and my current students and colleagues thought that I had lost my sanity and were worried about my safety. However, when you follow God’s suggestion, I have found, you go in safety and with promise.
I also began to understand that maybe I could put my experiences abroad to good use, to maybe start telling stories of love, mercy, and friendship that I encountered in surprising places. To be as unafraid to talk to, share a meal with, to see the image of God in men and women in Richmond as I was to do those things with a farmer in Afghanistan; a refugee in Beirut.
I thought to myself: I don’t know how I’m gonna do all of this, but I’ll bet spending more time in the GPPC community will get me started.
I believe the encouragement to “be not afraid” is the way the Holy Spirit supports and sustains me when I enter into unfamiliar situations. Here are some examples:
When I strike up a conversation with someone I have not met before
When I welcome a stranger into my home
When, years ago, I transported a group of adult home residents to a picnic and one of the guys told me he had shot someone
When I tried (and succeeded!) in getting Randolph Hayes into my car from a wheelchair so he could come to Sunday School and worship
When I agree to speak in a public forum such as this one, where I am girded by the encouragement to “be not afraid” and I am sustained by the love and acceptance of this community.
One thing that I am not up to verse in is the Bible. One thing I do know about is trusting and believing in a God that makes sense to me. Like anyone else, I am not perfect at having complete faith, and I like to choose when to have faith. I have also learned that God is everything or nothing. I want to believe, today, that God is everything.
A whole universe of Spirit, big-bang creative explosions,
and dry dust particles holding the elements of
shimmer in that space.
Korean Protestant churches are very iconoclastic. In fact, few have either baptismal fonts or communion tables in the sanctuary. I tell my history students that I miss those symbols in worship, because they remind me again of who I am and what God has done for me-visible reminders of an invisible grace. Such symbols act as icons, windows through which we can reaffirm what it is we believe and who it is we follow. These symbols “spark memories” of people and places which should not be forgotten. “Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, do this in remembrance of me.”
Mendelssohn choral music is luxurious. It feels Swiss-made. The phrases breathe; it’s like God created the human lung after singing a Mendelssohn alto line. Mendelssohn can spin out an eight-part choral setting with drool-worthy voice leading. And his gift for melody is extraordinary.
50 years at GPPC is a good thing to have in one’s backpack, whether running on fumes – or just jogging in the mornings, and praying about the next good thing to do.
Our future is about welcoming the stranger, the sick, and the broken.
Our future is about welcoming ALL with unconditional love.
That’s the future I was glad to get back to.