As I write this, it is still October and we’ve yet to bid our fond farewells and best wishes to Rev. Rob Williams and to Nora Williams. Rob’s last Sunday before he retires is October 30. We are expecting former members from out of the area to join us that day.
Elizabeth Campbell and Virgil Roberson have graciously offered their home for a reception for Rob & Nora immediately following worship. Food and fun is in store for us.
Not only will we be saying farewell to Rob & Nora but also to Carolyn Giles as she prepares to move to Delaware. It is a sad time for many of us.
The good news is that Rob has done yeoman service in preparing us for this time of uncertainty and next-steps. With hardly skipping a beat, the church keeps a-humming.
We already have a supervisor assigned to us by the Classis of Rockland-Westchester of the Reformed Church in America. He is the Rev. Tom Danney, former pastor of the First Reformed Church of Nyack and the clerk and treasurer of the classis. Tom will be attending the Consistory meetings and guiding the Interim Minister Search Committee toward the hiring of an interim.
The search committee has interviewed two promising candidates to be our interim and has scheduled a second interview with one of them. By December we hope one of them will be in place. This person will be our worship leader, provide pastoral care, handle administrative duties, and help navigate us through this time of possible merger.
In the meantime the search committee is scheduling guest preachers for Sunday services until the interim is hired.
The UCSV-GPC Dialogue Committee has been meeting every Thursday evening to iron out details of a possible merger. Along the way they will give us updates and ask for our input.
Olde Fashioned Christmas is in the works for December 10. Thankfully, Judi Cramer and Gladys Fincher have volunteered to help coordinate this joyous occasion. Germonds Presbyterian Church is looking forward to joining us and will help provide woman and man power to be sure the Christmas tree goes up and there are people to lead the crafts.
Looking ahead at the finances of our church, the Consistory in October met with our financial advisors, Marvin Zektzer and his daughter Carly Zektzer. The Consistory sought their advice on the handling of the portfolio in the event of a merger with Germonds and heard that retaining our building as a mission site was feasible.
The Sunday School children are looking forward to their annual Advent Workshop and are rehearsing for the Christmas Pageant. The youth group meets twice a month with Fred Brown continuing to serve as their advisor.
God will provide, we are taught. Certainly we have been blessed in many ways. Let our hearts be filled with thanksgiving and praise.
Marianne B. Leese – Crossties Editor
Ten years… already? These have been the fastest ten years of my life! How grateful I am for them; how grateful I am for you.
In the fall of 2006, with prompting from your departing pastor Jack Branford, you invited me to do pulpit supply while you looked for an interim minister.
As we moved through the fall, you intimated that you would consider me for that role. I was eager to say yes, at first. But then I realized, I didn’t want to be your interim pastor, I want- ed to be your installed pastor.
I had fallen in love with you; I felt I had found home. So I said no to the idea of serving as interim and asked to be considered for the installed position.
Usually it is against policy to be serving a church while be- ing a candidate for the installed position. But with the blessing of the Classis of Rockland- Westchester, RCA and reframing the role, it was permitted. So I stayed. Your search committee went through its pro- cess. There were a number of candidates considered. Then you chose me, and I’ve been here ever since. I thank God!
How grateful I am: to Jack for introducing me to you; to the Rev. John Vanden Oever, your classis supervisor, who made it possible for me to stay while candidating; to your search committees for seeing the potential for our collaborative relationship and extending the call to serve you; to all of you for the warm, wonderful welcome you gave to Nora and me. I am deeply grateful.
Leaving is not easy for me. I have loved being a pastor for these forty years; I have loved being YOUR pastor these ten years. These have been rich years for us all.
Although our membership has waned, as I view it we have grown deeply. Our service to the community has grown as we became the host and base of operations for Helping Hands, the county’s sole service to the homeless. RIPB, our service to feed the hungry, tripled over these years. Making room for BOCES to teach English to immigrants here was a natural complement to our mission. We celebrated the arrival of some new members, and bid farewell and Godspeed to many long- standing members. We were blessed with significant be- quests that have enabled us to carry on our mission and ministry; and we’ve been good stewards of our resources.
Our building is old, but unlike many churches, we have not deferred maintenance; we’ve put on a new roof, installed a new boiler, new fire alarm system, and security monitoring system. We have worshipped and played and picnicked. We’ve had births and weddings and funerals. We have been family, an extraordinary family— diverse, inclusive, progressive, and faith-filled!
Nora and I have felt a part of your family from the beginning. We will never forget your generous support and compassion: during the summer of 2008 when I underwent surgery, contracted MRSA, and was a long time recovering; and then even more profoundly through- out the long months preceding and following the death of our son. How can we ever thank you enough?
I will be praying for you, and I ask that you pray for us. It is hard to leave, hard to say goodbye. What isn’t hard is to say thank you. I am/we are so very, deeply grateful!
Studying other religious traditions has always been of great interest to me, although I have had little time or opportunity to do so. I hope to do more in my retirement.
I visited an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Hinduism a while back and was struck by a bit of the belief system. In English, I believe it would be called “The Four Stages of Life.” Unfortunately, all the information I have read about these stages speaks only of men. I am not sure if it uses “man” in the generic sense of “human” or really only means males!
I am using material found on the “About Religion” website.
The first stage is The Single Student. “This is a period of formal education. It lasts until the age of 25, during which the young male leaves home…to attain both spiritual and practical knowledge. During this period, he is prepared for his future profession, as well as for his family, and social and religious life ahead.”
The second stage is The Married Family Man. “This period begins when a man gets married and undertakes the responsibility for earning a living and supporting his family….This stage lasts until around the age of 50….However…(for some) this stage lasts a lifetime.”
The third stage is The Hermit. “This stage begins when his duty as a householder comes to an end. He has become a grandfather, his children are grown up and have established lives of their own. At this age, he should retire from his social and professional life, leave his home, and go to live in a forest hut, spending his time in prayers. (This kind of life is indeed very harsh…for an aged person. No wonder, this third stage is now nearly obsolete.)”
The fourth stage is The Wandering Recluse. “At this stage, a man is supposed to be totally devoted to God. He has…no other attachment; he has renounced all desires, fears and hopes, duties and responsibilities. He is virtually merged with God, all his worldly ties are broken, and his sole concern becomes attaining…release from the circle of birth and death.”
This is rough stuff, but interesting. I suppose the part that beckons me is to view my retirement from a different perspective. Rather than being released from my “spiritual” vocation, I am invited to delve more deeply into it. These coming years are an opportunity to deepen my faith and nurture a greater intimacy with God, freed from the normal duties of a job.
I hope that will be true for me. I hope that I will find ways to grow spiritually in my retirement, in ways that perhaps have been less accessible for me till now. I have seen that in some of the more elderly of our faith family. I hope to grow to be more like them. If you are in the elder stage of life, I wish it for you too.
Rev. Rob Williams
I think the big lesson God wants to teach me right now is about “letting go.” Together with Nora, I am letting go of a lot in my life, on almost a daily basis.
In order to sell our house, we had to do what is called “staging.” Essentially it means decluttering and neutering your home. We’ve lived in our home for 31 years, and to call it cluttered would be a kindness. Every nook and cranny was filled: attic, two-story house, basement, and garage. We had furnishings from the homes of our parents, grandparents and an aunt & uncle. We had boxes of stuff that had not been unpacked from our move into this house in 1985!
Some of the excess needed to be kept. We rented a large storage unit and filled it. That hardly put a dint in our stuff. So we started sifting it. We took dozens of carloads of stuff to a local church thrift shop and some to Goodwill. We gave away a lot to friends and family members. We put piles and piles of stuff out on the curb in front of our house for the twice monthly sanitation department pickup.
That’s the big picture. The more intimate story goes to the heart. When he was in elementary school, our son Felder made a papier-mâché dinosaur and knight. Keep it or let it go? We had to let it go. So many items with heartstring stories… keep them or let them go. We’ve kept a few special treasures, but let go of so very much more.
The sale of our house closes on July 20. We are letting go of the house that has been our home for most of our marriage and nearly all of our children’s lives. Letting it go. We have an apartment now in Edgewater till December 31st, then we will be technically homeless. We’ll nose around some towns down south where we have family and friends until we feel we’ve found our next home. But that will take a few months. I feel a little like Abraham, and sure hope God will show us the way home.
Then there’s the challenge for me to let go of this wonderful congregation that has loved us so well. Where will we find a church home like this?! Will we end up among the unchurched for lack of anything like you all? Letting go.
In 2005, I left Marble Church to become the pastor of Pompton Plains. Within the month, my call there was rescinded by the Classis. Marble invited me back, but I felt God was saying I needed to let go, that God had something better for me yet. One day while I was praying about it, an image of a trapeze artist came to mind. I’m not sure this is exactly the way they do it, but in my image, I saw the artist had to let go of the swing he was on and then be caught by the fellow on the other swing. But there was that moment between when he was in the air having to trust that he would be caught. He had to let go. So did I.
So must we all at various times in our lives. We can look at it as an experience of loss, or we can look at it as an opportunity for gain – an adventure with unlimited possibilities. But nothing will happen, nothing can happen, until we let go, and let God catch and hold us.
My son John married his beloved Dave on Saturday, May 14. As with his brother, Felder, I was privileged to conduct the wedding.
I have done a lot of weddings in my 40 years of pastoral ministry. I love them! I did find it more difficult to conduct them for my sons than for others. I certainly know my sons better than others. But they also know me, foibles and fortes as we say around our house.
As I always do, I worked with Dave and John to craft a wedding ceremony that would reflect who they are and what this meant to them. I don’t like just doing it out of a wedding manual.
Near the end of the process, John bravely invited me to include some time for my own personal remarks to them. I struggled with what I could say to them that would be meaningful, honest, and in keeping with their spirit and values. It wasn’t until the night before the wedding that I hit on the vehicle for what I wanted to say. It was The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
This is a book I have long loved but have not thought of for quite a while. I was reminded of it by a daily devotional that is e-mailed to me (http://d365.org). This little volume is something like a fairytale that is full of rich and tender wisdom. I loved being able to share some of that wisdom with them, and I thought I might use this space to share it with you.
There is a fox in this story who sets about to teach a young prince the secrets to life and love. Two of the most quoted lines from the fox are these:
“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart.”
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: One sees clearly only with the heart; what is essential, is invisible to the eye.”
Out of context, I suppose these lines may sound abstract; but in the flow of the story, I find them deeply moving and true. The apostle Paul would surely
have agreed with the fox, for “Faith, Hope, and Love”—invisible to the eye—are felt and seen only with the heart, and are indeed the most beautiful and essential elements in life.
Isn’t it odd that May Day & mayday have such diametrically opposite meanings! One signals a celebration! The other signals a disaster! If we take them as the two ends of a spectrum, we might well ask ourselves, where we are on the scale between them, closer to May Day, or closer to mayday!
As Wikipedia writes, “May Day on May 1 is an ancient northern hemisphere spring festival and usually a public holiday; it is also a traditional spring holiday in many cultures. Dances, singing, and cake are usually part of the celebrations that the day includes.”
Alternatively, “Mayday is an emergency procedure word used internationally as a distress signal …. It is used to signal a life-threatening emergency primarily by aviators and mariners, but in some countries local organizations such as firefighters, police forces, and transportation organizations also use the term.”
Are you experiencing more May Days or maydays these days? Over time, most of us find ourselves swinging back and forth between the two. It seems that life itself is bi-polar!
One thing that is clear to me about both situations is that they call for others. Whether it’s a party or a problem, we are created and designed for relationships. God looked at the “adam,” the “earthperson,” and said it’s not good to be alone. We are made for companionship, with others and with God.
A party is not much fun when no one else responds to our invitation. We are lost in a disaster when no one heeds our cry. How sad in either case.
Christ’s church is a place where such invitations and cries can be heard. We gather to celebrate the joys and accomplishments of life, of love, of work. We gather to share comfort and strength at times of loss, struggle, and suffering.
We gather not only for ourselves, but for the sake of the world around us. God’s people gather to listen for the world’s cry of mayday. Together we seek to bring to others not only the care and compassion that is so desperately needed but also the hope and assurance that God’s May Day is coming!
May your maydays always be answered with God’s May Day!
I try not to inflict my travel reminiscences on you too much, but… I had a great time in New Zealand! It is a beautiful country and I’ve loved visiting our son there and getting to know his new home.
New Zealand is famous for many things, most recently as the vacation destination for those who love the films on the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit,” all six of which were filmed there. It has also long been noted for its sheep ranching. Perhaps you have heard it said that New Zealand has more sheep than people. That has been true for ages, though it may not be quite accurate today.
So here’s the connection at work in my mind. Our scriptures were written in a time and a culture that depended heavily on sheep for food, clothing, and religious practices. King David was a shepherd, first literally, then metaphorically. Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd”) is one of the very first scripture passages most of us learned. Jesus is the “Good Shepherd” who lays down his life for his sheep.
Among the many stories in the four gospels about what happens after the resurrection is an account of Jesus meeting the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee where they have gone back to fishing. You’ll find the story in John chapter 21. The story culminates in a dialog between Jesus and Peter. During Jesus’ trial, Peter had three times denied know Jesus or having any association with him. Now Jesus three times asks Peter if he loves him. Peter tries to assure Jesus that yes, he does love him. This is a painful exchange, but seems intended by Jesus to open Peter’s wounded heart and heal it with forgiveness and grace. Three times Peter answers Jesus, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” And each time Jesus reaffirms Peter by commissioning him to “feed my lambs,” “tend my sheep,” and “feed my sheep.”
There is so much grace in this encounter: tenderness, forgiveness, healing, trust, restoration, and great love. I can only imagine how overwhelmed Peter was with gratitude and love in return. I also believe that this encounter was meant as a paradigm for our relationship with Christ. Our intentions may be great, but so also may be our failures. Yet I am convinced that Jesus never gives up on us, that he always approaches us with this same honest, tender question: “Do you love me?” And to the extent that we answer humbly, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” then we may also experience again the depth and power of his grace, healing, and restoration.
This was the Easter story for Peter. It is our Easter story as well. It is grace and it is a commissioning: Feed my lambs… tend my sheep…feed my sheep.”
“Practice what you preach!” That’s a phrase we’ve all heard. We know what it means, and usually it comes with a bit of irony, if not sarcasm. I don’t know where or how it originated. Since it has the word “preach” in it, I suspect it began as an accusation aimed at clergy who failed to live the way they preached that others should live. Ouch! They’re talking about me!
First, a defense. Of course there is and always will be a gap (a chasm?) between what we (I) preach and what we (I) practice. Our faith tells us that only Jesus perfectly practiced what he preached, and some of the stories about him are cause for doubt about that. So it is inevitable that every preacher like every pew warmer will fail to practice what s/he preaches. That’s a good reason to include a Prayer of Confession and Assurance of Pardon in every worship service.
On the other hand, preachers in particular are sometimes the worst at practicing what they preach. Here I am not just referring to financial scandals or sexual abuse of minors or adults. I’m talking about our day to day garden variety failures to do even the basic things that we tell others they need to do. Those central spiritual practices that we preach will nurture our faith and discipleship, like prayer, Bible reading & meditation, tithing, and serving others (who aren’t our own church folks).
This is exactly why preachers need Lent for themselves. Of course the danger is that we’ll do Lent the way we do the rest of the church year: tell others to do what we won’t find time to do ourselves! Too many years this has been true of me. Perhaps it’s a function of age, but I seem to have done a little better the last few years. Or perhaps it is related to all that has gone on in my life during this period. In any case, I welcome this communal season of reflection and a little more intentional time to spend with God. Don’t get me wrong, I can predict it will remain spotty, but I know I want it and need it. Plus, you’ve given me some time away in which I can/might do it.
For the next two weeks, Nora and I will be traveling around the south island of New Zealand in a campervan. We’ll roam about from campground to campground, national park to national park, surrounded by nature’s glory, God’s handiwork. No agenda, no responsibilities except to enjoy creation, enjoy each other, and enjoy the God who made us and all this. I hope I’ll take time each day to read my Bible a bit, pray a bit, journal a bit, and sink into the strong warm embrace of my God.
This Lent, I’m making a real stab at practicing what I preach. That’s my prayer for you too.
Easter comes early this year, March 27. It’s not uncommon for clergy and church musicians to remark on that. But Easter pulls along with it several other significant observances in the Christian calendar, such as Ash Wednesday and Lent. Yet we don’t often hear anyone remark that Ash Wednesday comes early this year. It does this year.
I’ve been thinking about Ash Wednesday. It is the day that initiates the season of Lent, 40 days during which we are invited to reflect on the character and pursuits of our lives in the light of our faith and the teachings of Jesus. On Ash Wednesday, this season of self-examination begins with the ancient exhortation: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” As is said at funerals, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
All this is by way of saying: take seriously your mortality! It’s odd that we should need reminding of this. Every day the media assaults us with news of death, timely and untimely, peaceful and violent, strangers and loved ones. How can we not be aware of our mortality and the uncertain length of our lifespan?
Nevertheless, most of us live as though we don’t need to think about it, that we have plenty of time to deal with it later. My sister, God bless her, lives with my mother who has Alzheimer’s Disease. She is taking care of her at home for as long as possible. Last week, Kathy sent me a fat packet of information about our mom’s health history, financial, affairs, and end of life directives. She is named in our mother’s will as the executor, but Kathy wants me to have all the information too in case she is unable to serve. The packet she sent me, contained the same information about her own situation. Bear in mind, Kathy is three years younger than I am, and we all know the statistics on how women generally outlive men. (Just poke your head in any nursing home.) Yet I have not done the same with my affairs. Have you?
Or setting aside the contents of your bank account, think about the contents of your home. If it resembles mine, it is probably stuffed to the gills: every room and closet, and if you have them, the attic, basement, and garage. I feel sure we have all seen others confront such homes in the aftermath of a loved one’s death. It is daunting to say the least. I have heard many say, indeed I have said, we can’t do that to our children. Yet nothing has been done to sift and reduce the clutter.
Health histories, bank accounts, all the stuff that fills our homes, these are important but mundane matters. How much more important it is to take stock of that which fills our minds and hearts. How much more important it is to take stock of the spiritual legacy we will leave behind when we return to dust and ashes.
The origins for the term “milestone” are those markers along the road that indicated how many miles one had traveled from one location to another. They were useful benchmarks (a similar term) for measuring one’s progress on a journey. Our lives may also be viewed as journeys with significant milestones.
This year, 2016, will be full of milestones for me. I suppose it is a milestone year. This is the year in which I will retire from my paid vocation. (That feels so odd to write; I can’t yet imagine all that it may mean.) In some sense, everything I do as your pastor in the next ten months will be the last time I do it. Our Thanksgiving Eve service back in November was my last. Advent, the Children’s Nativity Pageant, Christmas Sunday, Christmas Eve Candlelight Service – all these services that touch my heart so deeply, all done for the last time. Ahead, Holy Week with the children’s pageant on Palm Sunday, our intimate Upper Room Maundy Thursday service, the deepening darkness of our Good Friday Tenebrae Service, Easter Sunday and the Hallelujah Chorus (with Rodney Jackson holding down the back row!). All of these for the last time for me.
People tell me that retirement can be a challenging adjustment; that it forces you to take a hard look at how wrapped up your identity has been in your work. I know that has always been true for me; it is part of the way I understand what “vocation” means. I also know that at one time in my life, I lost my sense of boundaries and was not present enough to and with my family. I learned and improved, I think. (You’ll have to ask them!) I suspect I’ll still have some work to do in retirement to figure out who I am without a church paycheck.
Most important to me, I don’t want to “disappear” before I retire. I want to be “full strength” every day (especially Sundays) of every week (except vacations) until that last day in October. I want this to be a great year for all of us, together as a church family, serving God, one another, and the world around us! I’ll need your help for this.
I’m making my New Year’s Resolutions this week (it’s December 21st as I write this). Being the best pastor I can be for you this year is resolution #2 (being the best husband & father I can be is resolution #1). These are way out ahead of all the others, like my diet and exercise. I hope you will also make extra effort this year to be present, to participate, to contribute to the life, work, and vitality of our church.
Let’s reach the end of October together ready to party and celebrate. It will be the 10th anniversary of my ministry here; it will be the 40th anniversary of my ordination to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament. I have been so blessed to be called to parish ministry, and I have been so blessed to have been called to serve here.