June 29th, 2016

When we got home on Sunday, Robert read me William Blake’s poem “On Another’s Sorrow” from Innocence and Experience, which captures what I was trying to say in the sermon on how God responds to prayer. Peace, Catherine


Can I see another’s woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another’s grief,
And not seek for kind relief?
Can I see a falling tear,
And not feel my sorrow’s share?
Can a father see his child
Weep, nor be with sorrow fill’d?
 Can a mother sit and hear
An infant groan, an infant fear?
No, no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!
 And can He who smiles on all
Hear the wren with sorrows small,
Hear the small bird’s grief and care,
Hear the woes that infants bear,
 And not sit both night and day,
Wiping all our tears away?
O no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!
He doth give His joy to all:
He becomes an infant small,
He becomes a man of woe,
He doth feel the sorrow too.
Think not thou canst sigh a sigh,
And thy Maker is not by;
Think not thou canst weep a tear,
And thy Maker is not near.
O He gives to us His joy,
That our grief He may destroy:
Till our grief is fled and gone
He doth sit by us and moan.

 Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has geared up to help in West Virginia. To find out what you can do, click here.   https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/155852dd8f2419bc

 Scripture Readings: John 1:29-34; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

The prayer list can be found here.

June 22nd, 2016

Like so many others who are baffled by Congress’ refusal to rally ‘round commonsense gun laws (which even the majority of gun owners agree are needful), I was saddened by the failure of Monday’s Senate vote to restrict assault weapons for those on terrorist watch lists. For the life of me I cannot understand who could possibly be against that. But doubtless there are some who see any gun law as a slippery slope, and so they dig in. Now as I write there is a sit-in going in the House, led by one of my all-time heroes, Georgia Representative John Lewis. Will anything good come of it? Sadly we have become accustomed to thinking it won’t. But our God is able to do the impossible, and I sense a sea change in the country following the Orlando murders. I cannot help but pray God is behind it.  
It would be just like the God of Abraham, Sarah, Jacob and Jesus to use the senseless deaths of young gay Latinos to finally tip the nation toward a change. The heartbreak that happened here in 2007 didn’t do it. Neither did the slaughter of five and six-year- olds in Connecticut. That was the moment when I thought “Surely now, Lord.” But no, there was nothing. Then there was Charleston—in a church, and while it has not impacted gun laws, changes in the display of the Confederate flag have come, not all of which are wise, but I for one am not complaining. Now the murders of young people whom some think of as lepers—immigrants and gays!—seems to be inspiring action.
You have heard me say before that God is not coercive. Instead, God uses the helpless to bring about powerful change, represented most clearly by Jesus’ death on a cross. God was with Jesus in his death (whatever that means) and God was with the 49 who died in Orlando, too. It seems consistent with all I know that God would bring life out of the deaths of young people gathered to dance and relax in what for them was one of very few safe places—until it wasn’t.
Maybe I will wake tomorrow to discover that what is happening right now in the House has come to nothing, been belittled (doubtless) by some as a stunt and nothing more. The Psalmist warns us not to put our faith in princes. But I can’t help but think that God, not a bunch of politicians, is up to something, and I want to be part of it. So I will pray, pray, pray to be surprised, and hold on to hope in Christ Jesus, who taught us that his way of dying and rising is the Way, the Truth, and Life.
Peace, Catherine
Scripture Readings for Sunday, June 26: Luke 11:1-13

The prayer list can be found here.

June 15th, 2016

Yesterday, five folks from BPC, Glade Church, and the Unitarian Congregation sat around a table over on Innovation Drive. We were there to talk about the possibility of joining together to sponsor a refugee family from Syria. What would be involved? What kind of family might arrive? What sort of financial commitment would it take? How many volunteers would be needed and what sorts of things would volunteers do?
A phone conversation with a staff member of Catholic Charities in Roanoke who works with refugees had been pre-arranged. His office coordinates with the federal government, who vet refugees who have applied for admission to the U.S. The families come with a small stipend. They spend two weeks undergoing orientation to the U.S. before arriving in their new communities. Finding housing and employment for at least one adult are the top priorities, closely followed by English lessons, and volunteers willing to drive family members to countless appointments that come with a move to another country. We listened and asked questions, then asked more questions, then made a list of next steps.
One of those next steps is identifying who else in the area might want to partner with us. The North Main Mosque is aware of our interest. There has already been some interest in sponsoring Syrian refugees at the United Methodist Church. We are following up to see if they would like to join forces. It turns out there is an international student group at Tech that works with refugees. They might be interested, too, and might provide some needed translations skills early on or other help.
But what about our own churches? Is there support and interest? BPC has been involved with refugees before; which means there is some experience to benefit from and lots of memories, some good and some not so good! We are hoping to invite our Catholic Charities guide to come and speak to anyone who might want to learn more a month from now on Wednesday, July 13th at 7:00 p.m. We will keep you posted in case there is a shift in the date and to let you know about the location. That way you can come and ask all your questions, too.
Peace, Catherine

Scripture Readings for Sunday, June 19: Psalm 32; James 5:13-16

The Prayer List can be found here.

June 7th. 2016

Now that our Season of Creation is past, we are starting a new Sunday series. For the next six weeks I will be preaching on Reformed worship, sharing different aspects of why we do what we do on Sunday mornings. We’ll begin this Sunday with “Why Worship?”—an overview—and then move on to confession, prayer, the sacraments, self-offering, and being sent. Don’t worry, music will be discussed under the topic of prayer, since all music in worship is offered as a prayer to God.
The series has been inspired in part by knowing that we come from so many different church backgrounds nowadays. And also by the work the elder candidates have been doing since May. They will be ordained/installed on August 21st, later than usual due to their busy summer schedules.
As part of their training the elder candidates have been reading portions of the Directory for Worship, which is a section of Part II of our Constitution, The Book of Order. The Directory does not prescribe an order of worship, with instructions about what is to be done and said. It is a description of the elements that should be present when we worship God: prayer, scripture read and proclaimed, baptism, the Lord’s Supper; self-offering; and relating to each other and the world. Each congregation is free to arrange its own order of worship as long as all the elements are present.
Re-reading this material has been very moving for me, and has reminded me that knowing why we do what we do in worship is good for the whole church. So if you’ve ever had questions about what goes on in worship and why, now is the time to learn. And if you have a particular question, send me an email so I’ll be sure to cover it. I look forward to taking a break from the Lectionary and helping us all glorify God with fresh understanding.
Peace, Catherine
Scripture Readings: Psalm 95; John 4:19-26

The prayer list can be found here.

June 1st, 2016

Mid Week Mus(ic)ing

Not surprisingly, one of the aspects of creation that has always captivated me is sound. Obviously sound is important to what I do, and although music itself is my main interest, what really fascinates me is how it all works. Even though I understand the physics of sound and acoustics, it still amazes me how all the frequencies and harmonics and overtones and all those technical things SOUND GOOD (that’s the scientific term)! There is such order and beauty behind the science of sound, but the real beauty is in the manifestation of the laws and principles.
We humans have discovered the mechanics of sound and have learned to manipulate it, but the real gift from the Creator is how music affects us psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. Hopefully you have experienced at least one time in your life when music—with or without words—moved you or spoke to you in a way that words alone could not.
I could write a symphony with soaring melodies, beautiful, complex harmonies, unique orchestration, etc. but no matter how skillfully I compose, I cannot determine how you will respond to it. God has created the tools in the physical world for us to create music, and has gifted us to respond to it. The Holy Spirit can work through music to touch our hearts.
We will have a special musical gift on Sunday! The Blue Ridge Clarinet Collective, a group of eight musicians playing clarinets of various sizes (and in which I play and am the assistant director), will provide music during worship. We will also present a PRE-WORSHIP CONCERT beginning at 10:00 in the sanctuary. The concert will include a wide variety of music, from Handel to Albeniz to Scott Joplin. Our featured piece is the St. Paul Suite by Sir Edward Elgar. We will play some of the movements during the concert and some as part of worship.

The concert will begin at 10:00, but you may come at any time between 10:00 and 10:30. Feel free to enter while we are playing—we realize this is a time for gathering for worship, so it will be informal. I hope you will take advantage of this opportunity and come early!

Scripture Reading: Psalm 150

Praise for God’s Surpassing Greatness

1 Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty firmament!
2 Praise him for his mighty deeds;
    praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
3 Praise him with trumpet sound;
    praise him with lute and harp!
4 Praise him with tambourine and dance;
    praise him with strings and pipe!
5 Praise him with clanging cymbals;
    praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
6 Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
Editor’s note: Clarinets weren’t invented at the time. Otherwise, I’m sure they would have been included.

The Prayer List can be found here.

May 25th, 2016

For the past several weeks the class of elders you elected in April have been reading. As of tonight, they will have met three times, sharing their faith, sharing conversation and questions about the reading, and talking about the commitment that accepting a call to serve the church brings. They have also been filling out sheets in a workbook designed to help them learn all the things they have to learn in order to stand up in front of you and answer the constitutional questions with integrity.
As part of their training, they have been assigned portions of the Book of Order and the Book of Confessions, the two documents that make up the Constitution of the PCUSA. They have also been reading chapters in Selected to Serve, A Guide for Church Leaders. One chapter covered the constitutional questions from the Book of Order.  Another chapter has thumbnail sketches of our nine confessions and the circumstances in which they were written. (A tenth confession, Belhar, has now been ratified by a majority of presbyteries but won’t be added to the Book of Confessions until after the General Assembly meets in Portland this summer.)
Each time we meet we begin with worship. Then we launch into the assignments together. Tonight’s assignment has to do with Presbyterian theology and the role of the confessions. Perhaps you know that the confessions that comprise our Constitution were each written during a time of change and challenge for the Church. The oldest is the Apostles’ Creed written in the second century. Belhar is the newest, originally written in South Africa in Afrikaans in 1982. Re-stating what we believe in times of challenge is a central aspect of being part of “the church reformed, always reforming.”
After tonight, we have two more training sessions to go, one on worship, governance and discipline, and one on the nuts and bolts of how things work at BPC. So the next time you see Jama Hayes, Andrew Warren, Fred Piercy, Brian Smith or Peggy Kinkaid, you might ask them what they think of the process and thank them for their commitment.
Peace, Catherine
Scripture Readings: Isaiah 55:12-13; Psalm 1; Revelation 22:2

The Prayer List can be found here.

May 18th, 2016

This coming Sunday marks the start of our Season of Creation, a three-week emphasis on Creation. The Creation Care Team initiated it last year and it received an enthusiastic response. It has been scheduled earlier this year to take place before Vacation Bible School, which will also have a creation theme. Once again we will be invited at the end of the Season of Creation to make pledges to protect the Earth. This year’s worship themes in order are

  • The Rainbow Covenant
  • Forests
  • Animals

The Rainbow Covenant is the story of God’s vow never to destroy the earth again, and we are invited to join with God in protecting creation. Such a beginning paves the way for our care for the Earth’s plants and animals.
A team of folks have been working hard on the services and have some interesting things in store. The Creation banners will be up in sanctuary. If you are not familiar with these gorgeous banners, take time to look at them closely. BPC commissioned them from Atlanta artist Ellen Phillips. They represent the first six days of the Creation. The elaborate paper cutting was done here at the church by members young and old!
I confess that I was less than enthusiastic about introducing another set season into our worship life, but last year’s marvelous services turned me into a believer. Please plan not to miss these opportunities and consider bringing a friend.
Peace, Catherine
Scripture Readings: Psalm 8; Philippians 2:4-11; Genesis 9:8-17

The Prayer List can be found here.



May 4th, 2016

Training for the new class of elders began last night. We worshipped together, passed out books, set up the schedule and talked in general about life on the Session. Being informed about Presbyterian theology and polity are important, but so is spiritual formation. Being a church leader ought to impact one’s personal faith in ways that deepen and refresh. Finding a balance between information and formation is the key.

The new elders have committed to a lot of reading and study in the coming weeks. The course of study we are using is more intense than the one we’ve used in the last few years. This class of elders is going to evaluate the training material and determine how we handle it from here on.

But make no mistake. The Church’s ministry is a gift from Jesus to the whole Church. Read through the responsibilities of church members in the Book of Order (part of our Constitution) if you think the elders are the only ones who have things to do. Still, some of us are called to “ordered ministries,” as the Book of Order calls it, to fulfill the function of leadership for set periods of time:

              As there were in Old Testament times elders for the government of the people,
              so the New Testament church provided persons with particular gifts to share in
              discernment of God’s Spirit and governance of God’s people. Accordingly,
              congregations should elect persons of wisdom and maturity of faith, having
              demonstrated skills in leadership and being compassionate in spirit. Ruling elders
              are so named not because they “lord it over” the congregation (Matt. 20:25), but
              because they are chosen by the congregation to discern and measure its fidelity to
              the Word of God, and to strengthen and nurture its faith and life. Ruling elders,
              together with teaching elders [that means pastors], exercise leadership, government,
              spiritual discernment, and discipline and have responsibilities for the life of a congregation
              as well as the whole church, including ecumenical relationships.
(Book of Order, G-2.0301)

The five new elders went home last night with a stack of books and assignments. They are taking their calling seriously, and I invite you to support them by asking how training is going and praying for them between now and their ordination/installation in July. 
Scripture Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:44-53

The prayer list can be found here.

April 28th, 2016

Life has a way of surprising us. Our daughter Rorie fell and broke her wrist this week. Rob and I are going to be with her for surgery (plates and pins). That means I can’t be here on Sunday. Preaching and celebrating communion will be the Reverend Edwin Lacy, a PCUSA pastor from Abingdon Presbytery, and the pastor of the Wild Goose Christian Community in Floyd County. It’s part of the PCUSA’s 1001 Worshipping Communities movement.
If you haven’t heard about 1001 Worshipping Communities, you might want to google it. But you may have heard about Wild Goose. The congregation gathers on Tuesday nights for dinner and worship that is infused with music and singing. Edwin plays the banjo. I put a video on the church Facebook page about the church, so go and watch it before Sunday. He is also pastoring a house church here in Blacksburg on Thursday nights called Under the Wing. Session has agreed that in future if they need more room, Under the Wing will be welcome to meet in our building.
The Spirit was already at work in me, Edwin, our two presbyteries and the Session with regard to Under the Wing. Now my daughter’s injury makes it possible for you to meet Edwin and worship together. So once again God turns what is bad into something new and good. Please keep the Taylor Deans in your prayers this weekend as you praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Scripture Readings: Psalm 67; Mark 8:34-47

Prayer List can be found here.

April 20th, 2016

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are around the bend, days that present some conundrums for the church. Both days are relatively recent creations. They are not part of the Church Year, so it’s typical for churches not to focus on them too much in worship. At the same time many people want and expect to give thanks for their parents or the people who fulfilled those roles. Plus it can be meaningful to wear a red (in honor) or white (in memory) rose or carnation on one’s collar or lapel on the day. Such rituals have their place and enrich our lives. Certainly every wise pastor I know prays for mothers and fathers on those days, and makes allusions to the parenthood of God, whose unconditional love is both our example and our ideal. No one is an ideal parent, however, and the pressures on parents to meet unrealistic standards can be intense.

Rather than use such days to evaluate ourselves or our upbringing, faith encourages us to put our focus on others. For many years now Presbyterian Women have taken a Mother’s Day offering, whose proceeds go to mission causes. You will have that opportunity on PW Sunday, which will be on May 15 this year, the Sunday after Mother’s Day. Or you can make a gift to the Women’s Empowerment Project featured in the Presbyterian Giving Catalog. There will also be an opportunity to pick up a Mother’s Day card on Sunday, April 24 and Sunday, May 1, in exchange for a donation toward these mission causes.  There may be similar opportunities when Father’s Day rolls around in June.

However we choose to honor our parents, or the spouse who is raising our children, we can always celebrate the extended family available to all of us—single, married, or widowed—in the body of Christ.
Scripture Readings: John 13:31-35; Acts 11:1-18

April 6th, 2016

Once upon a time it was a letter. Now it’s an email, the email sent every year to the group of people who have agreed to go before the congregation for election to the next class of elders.

For those who are new to being Presbyterian—a goodly portion of the congregation—the church is governed by people you elect. You elect five of them every year, after some of you (the Nominating Committee) get together, pray, and determine who to suggest. They serve a term of three years on the Session. We call them “elders,” a word that implies experience with life and faith, though nowadays you need not be “elderly” to be an elder. The Greek word for elder is presbuteros—and yes, you got it, it is the source of our name as a denomination. Our name comes from how we govern ourselves as a church.

These five folks haven’t been elected yet. That happens this coming Sunday at the Congregational Meeting after worship, so by rights I am jumping the gun. But since I expect things to go as smoothly as they usually do (please, Lord), I have already sent the email saying thank you—thank for saying “yes” to serving the church. Thank you for being willing to embark on the journey of church leadership. Thank you for saying “yes” to the adventure of partnering with God to lead the church.

Once you elect these five folks—Jama Hayes, Peggy Kinkaid, Fred Piercy, Brian Smith, and Andrew Warren—they have a lot of work to do. They will undergo elder training, which is no small thing. They will write a statement of faith and share it before the Session. They will take on the leadership of one of the current ministries of the church. They will meet with others who care about that ministry and tackle the day to day things that allow that ministry to flourish. They will come together once a month with all the other elders to make decisions for the church—directing the pastor and the staff in all that they do. And they are bound to have some nights alone with God when they seek guidance because what to do is not that clear.

So please know that what the elder candidates are saying “yes” to is huge and that your vote this Sunday is what gives them the authority—with God’s help—to do it.    

Peace, Catherine

Scripture Readings: Acts 9:1-6, John 21:1-19

The prayer list can be found here.

March 30th, 2016

What a joyous Easter Sunday, with so many people in a single service! Seeing the sanctuary full to the top of the choir loft was glorious. The Choir, the orchestra, the children all led us in praising God.
Unlocking “Alleluia” (Hebrew for “praise Yahweh”) is something we’ll definitely do again, so much excitement did it generate. The box we used was my Aunt Betsy’s jewelry box. Betsy was my mother’s only sister. She served as organist at the family Presbyterian Church in Missouri for decades, following in the footsteps of her mother. Betsy took me to Montreat for the first time when I was a teenager. Surely she would have approved of such a use for her box.
If you are not on the church’s Facebook page you may not have seen the video we made for Easter. Far from being a single day, Easter is a season of 50 days, and the attitude of a lifetime. The video was running Sunday in the Gathering Space, but it can be hard to follow with all the other activity going on. Watch it on the website www.blacksburgpres.org. Or go to the Facebook page and sign up while you’re at it: https://www.facebook.com/groups/5275433507/. It has been shared 68 times on Facebook and churches in other parts of the country are posting it!
Kendra has done such a great job with the website redesign, and she is the one who is choosing the images and music and editing the videos. In two weeks I will be going to the workshop with my clergy friends during which we’ll be learning about “90 second sermons” for church websites. So you can look for more such creations in the future, and if you’d like to suggest a topic, just let us know.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Catherine

Scripture Readings for 2nd Sunday of Easter:
Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150; Revelations 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

The Prayer list can be found here.

March 24th, 2016

God is present. God cares.
God has a divine purpose for your life.
May God bless you with discomfort
at easy answers, half-truths, and
superficial relationships, so that
you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at
injustice, oppression, and exploitation
of people, so that you may work for
justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless you with tears
to shed for those who suffer
from pain, rejection, starvation,
and war, so that you may  
reach out your hand to comfort
them and to turn their pain
into joy.
May God bless you with enough
foolishness to believe that you
can make a difference in
this world; so that you can do
what others claim cannot be done
to bring justice and kindness
to all our children and the poor.
Franciscan Blessing of Discomfort,
(Prayer from the PEAKS Presbytery Senior High Retreat)

Peace, Catherine

Scripture Readings: Acts 10:34-43; Luke 24:1-12

The prayer list can be found here.

March 16th, 2016

The church office is busy this week getting ready for upcoming Holy Week services: The Palm/Passion service this Sunday at which the Choir will sing an oratorio with full orchestra, the communion service in the Fellowship Hall on Maundy Thursday at 5:30 p.m., a service of reflection at noon on Good Friday, and of course worship on Easter Sunday.  Given that we are preparing for four services, it startles me when people go through Holy Week as if it does not exist except for the Sundays on either end.

Being oblivious is easy, of course. The world around us does not take note of the last supper shared by the disciples on Maundy Thursday, when Jesus gave us the commandment to love one another (Maundy comes from the Latin word “to command”). Good Friday passes unheralded by school or business closings in much of the country, though Montgomery County Schools happen to be on break. Easter retail opportunities abound, but not many items represent the crucial days before. Last weekend, however, I spotted several elaborate chocolate crosses for sale in a restaurant gift shop. Another customer and I exchanged startled looks, then whispered our reluctance to chow down on crosses—even though they were available in both milk and dark chocolate.

For those who plan to journey through Holy Week mindfully, be assured that we are working to make Holy Week as meaningful as possible. On Maundy Thursday we will gather around tables in the Fellowship Hall and pass the bread and cup to one another. On Good Friday worshipers in the Sanctuary may place rose petals on the cross of nails as we reflect on Jesus’ life and death. The noon service will accommodate those who only have an hour for lunch, and the visuals will be meaningful to older children.

Not everyone is able to come to midweek services as scheduled. Those who could come at night can’t come during the day and vice versa, so nothing works for everyone every year. Even so, not doing things that have the potential to deepen faith is an easy habit to fall into. If that’s been true for you, perhaps this year can be the year you make a change.

Peace, Catherine

Scripture Readings: Matthew 27:15-52; Luke 22:13-49

The Prayer List can be found here.

March 9th, 2016

Many people reorganize their closets, offices, or pantries in January, a New Year attempt to reduce chaos and stress and lead a more orderly life. Lent is also a good time for such doings, since reducing distractions is something we're invited to do in Lent. 

At home we have had a new closet built to enhance the master bedroom. It is just now being finished so I haven't had the chance yet to install shelves and hanging rods and such. But I'm poised and ready, and that energy has spilled over into the drawers of my kitchen at home, my medicine cabinet and...wait for it, my study at church. Just today I hauled an additional file cabinet out of my basement and into my study. Old Testament sermons already fill the drawers, making the other drawers of sermons much less crowded and usable.

Lives that are less crowded and usable are one of the goals of Christian life. Almsgiving is my topic for the Lenten dinner tonight, so it has occurred to me that clearing out and giving away is part of attaining a less hectic life. There is a quote I considered using in the sermon that applies. It's from Basil the Great, a fourth Century bishop. I'm not using it in the sermon because it has a somewhat shaming effect, an emotion that I don't think inspires, But I share it here for those for whom it might be powerful:

“The bread you do not use is the bread of the hungry. The garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of the person who is naked. The shoes you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot. The money you keep locked away is the money of the poor. The acts of charity you do not perform are the injustices you commit.”   

Peace, Catherine

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 43:16-21; John 12:1-8

The Prayer List can be found here.

March 3rd, 2016

 We are coming up on the Fourth Sunday in Lent, a season in which alms-giving and charity are emphasized. I’m speaking at the next ecumenical Lenten Dinner on March 9th (it’s at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation—a first!) and alms-giving is the topic. Naturally I have been pondering what to say. One’s first response might be to think that we give in order to help those who receive the gifts. But I’m convinced the practice is more about healing the givers. I don’t want to give the sermon away (plus it isn’t written yet) but I do want to make us aware of an opportunity.

Last Sunday the Session approved BPC’s participation in the effort to re-supply the library at Mzuzu University in Malawi. On December 18th the library was completely destroyed by fire. Textbooks, network servers and computers were lost. Students at Mzuzu University do not have the means to purchase textbooks or computers of their own; they use the resources at the library.
Now a joint effort of the PC(USA) Malawi Network and Virginia Tech are working to rebuild the library and replace what was lost. There are three ways to donate a book:

  • Go to the following online registry, look at the list of books, and purchase one. Books purchased on the registry will be sent to Virginia Tech. Once they have a shipping container’s worth, the books will be shipped to Malawi. https://malawiedandchildwelfare.wordpress.com/book-needs/.  
  • You can donate a book directly. If you have used textbooks in good condition, bring them to church. There will be a donation box in the Gathering Space. Textbooks are sought for science and math, social sciences and humanities, resources and environment, health sciences, information sciences, and management.
  • Or you can make a donation. Checks can be made out to “Malawi Education Foundation” with “Mzuzu Library” on the memo line and dropped in the church offering plate. Cash can be placed in an envelope; just mark it “Library”.

Peace, Catherine

Scripture Readings: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

The Prayer List can be found here.

February 24th, 2016

The day has shifted from gloom and rain to blazing sunlight, a welcome transformation. Tonight at 5:30 we host the Lenten dinner, then worship in our sanctuary. I had been worried about attendance given the rain. In fact, we had a plan for what to do in case of snow! Instead the sanctuary is suffused with light, in keeping with the saying "We plan, God laughs."

When I lived in Ithaca, NY, another common saying was "If you don't like the weather, wait 30 minutes." I've heard that said here in Blacksburg, too, where it seems equally applicable. The phrase can also apply to time spent with God. Lifting an event to God may bring great clarity right away. Having a way forward, or at least a sense that we are not alone, can change our hearts and lift our spirits. At other times when we feel depressed and dark within, being with God can give us the strength to endure even if the darkness persists around us.

Lent is a time when we are encouraged to increase contemplation and prayer, which can lead to feeling more secure about God's care and nearness. At the very least we can establish a track record to look back on. That way, if we find ourselves feeling alone, we can remember other times when God was near. Many of the psalms begin with distress, then the psalmist remembers God's faithfulness in the past and ends with
words of hope. It is very like a day that starts with rain, but turns to blazing sunshine.

Peace, Catherine

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 55:1-9; Luke 13:1-9

The prayer list can be found here.

February 17, 2016

The first of the Lenten dinner/worship services is tonight. We’ll be gathering at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church and hearing Susan Verbrugge preach, which will be especially fun for us from BPC who enjoyed her preaching for so long. Dinner is at 5:30 and the service begins at 6:15. Being able to hear good preachers is always a gift to anyone who preaches regularly, and it makes me smile that three of this year’s preachers are Presbyterian clergywomen!

It’s no surprise. We Presbyterians take the Word very seriously. This Lent I am focusing on our core beliefs. This coming Sunday’s text from Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi is a chance to talk about the cross. That might seem surprising this early in the season, but if we don’t understand how God uses—and doesn’t use—power, we are not very likely to make sense of the cross come Easter morning.
While I am struggling to write a meaningful sermon about the cross, many women in the congregation will go to the winter retreat, and hear about the meaning of God’s “glory.” What they are up to and what I (hope to be) up to are the same:  We’re all gazing at the invincible power of vulnerability and weakness, things the world generally puts no stock in. That the topics should have come together like this would surprise me except that the Spirit of God is ever at work making connections and bringing together things that look on the surface as if they were apart.
Hope to see many of you at dinner and in worship this evening.
Peace, Catherine

Scripture Readings: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalms 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35

The prayer list can be found here.

February 10, 2016

At Easter we celebrate the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s a holy time marked by feasting, color, music and traditions such as Easter eggs to remind us that in Christ God brings new life. Lent is the time to get ready for the joys of Easter, and so in Lent we put distractions away and take up things that set our minds on God. Not to be pious or impress anybody. Both Isaiah and Paul tell us God does not want fancy worship services or big displays. What God wants is seeking, trusting hearts, inner attitudes that result in caring actions.

Prayer and reading scripture are two of the best ways to focus fresh attention on God. Charity and concrete acts of service are also emphasized in Lent, along with simply taking time to think about God's grace and love. We have seven weeks to go with Jesus toward the cross, time to build some habits that might stay with us long after Lent is past. All these practices of Lent are going to be the themes of this year’s ecumenical Lenten dinners.

One thing Lent is not about is trying to make ourselves feel small or bad, not at all. God is not in the shame business, something not all Jesus’ followers have figured out. In fact if we have been using faith practices to try and make ourselves feel big, Lenten disciplines remind us to knock that foolishness off. In the Lenten scripture readings Jesus wants to free us from wasting energy on surface attitudes and things that will not last, and that certainly can’t save us.

So how about accepting Lent’s invitation to deepen our awareness of God's presence and grace? To open to what God has done, is doing and will do without fail whether we’re ready or not. One thing we’re going to try in worship throughout Lent is letting the Prayers of the People really be the people’s prayers. There will be blank cards in the pews on which to write a brief prayer—no names please. At some point we’ll gather them up. Then one or two people will “pray” the cards when it’s time for corporate prayer. We hope this experiment will be at least one way to allow Lent to be a holy time of rest and restoration.  Peace, Catherine

Scripture Readings: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13

For the prayer list click here

January 28, 2016

Worship this Sunday will be richly different! There will be preaching and liturgy as usual, but—since the Annual Meeting will follow the service—the Elders will serve as liturgists, each one introducing a part of the service that corresponds (at least somewhat) to the ministry they lead. It gives us a chance to highlight the ministries and who is leading what. Thus Buildings and Grounds chair Craig Woolsey will call for the offering and Stewardship chair Cherry Pelt will offer the prayer of dedication, etc. Some ministries fit with parts of the service better than others, but you get the idea. We did this effectively last year—though a heat failure in the sanctuary meant worshiping on folding chairs in Fellowship Hall. I am looking forward to experiencing this special Annual Meeting service in the sanctuary.

We’ll also be celebrating the baptism of five-month-old Henry Davis Stewart, son of Nolan and Brittany Stewart. What better thing to do as we gather for church business than to conduct a baptism—the primary business of the church! The scripture lessons also focus on the church and its leaders, so the Holy Spirit seems to be ahead of us and leading the way, as usual.

As far as the meeting is concerned, the two items of official business are 1) electing three people to serve as Members-at-Large on the Nominating Committee and 2) voting on changes in the terms of the pastor’s call. The only change this year is a cost of living raise. The full terms of my salary package will be printed in the bulletin. We’ll also hear about the results of the 2016 Stewardship campaign, which are very exciting.

Scripture Readings: Jeremiah 1:4-10, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30

For the Prayer List click here.