What did you do this summer?

The wisdom writer know as Ecclesiastes writes, “And a time for every matter under heaven.”  

Worshiping from the pews this summer, we were treated to a great sermon series titled “Music Lessons.”  In additionspecial music summer 2017 to the spoken word describing the interplay of melody, harmony, form and rhythm in our lives, a wide range of special music enhanced the spirituality of the services. While the congregation found a steady rhythm in worship, the rest of church life took its own sabbath rest time with a break from committees, Sunday school, choir and other group meetings.

But that’s just the surface view.

Action was definitely happening–it was simply elsewhere or at other times.  The middle school youth went on a spiritual retreat to Massanetta Springs and are now preparing for a mission trip to Washington, DC.  The high school youth have had their mission and spiritual retreats as well.  Not to be left out, the younger crowd from the church and community filled our halls with record numbers for Vacation Bible School.  At the same time, a hearty band of members launched an international mission to Nicaragua.  Phew!  That’s a lot of activity.

You see, June and July were just low points for committee meetings.  That is what struck me when committee meetings drew me to the church two nights in a row.  These two meetings are in preparation for upcoming events, much like the various mission and retreat activities of the summer.  The rhythm of planning the events and producing the events are now the rhythm of the late summer and fall.

The key piece of that planning rhythm is to keep the melody going in harmony with all the other melodies of other committees.  There is time for such “matters under heaven,” but each have their own cadence.  Indeed, this part of the church season seems to be the “time to build up.”

Stay tuned.

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Advocacy: A Report from the Front

This past weekend Peter McKinnon and I attended the 2017 Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington, D.C. We journeyed there on behalf of our colleagues on the Justice and Peacemaking Committee, but also on behalf of all of you, the people of Guilford Park Presbyterian Church. Our hope is that we can put to use what we learned and experienced in our own ministry of justice and peacemaking right here on Fernwood Drive.

In case you don’t know, as I did not, what this 15-year old conference is all about, here’s a brief summary from the website. This particular 2017 gathering celebrated the 50th anniversary of the “Beyond Vietnam – A Time to Break Silence” speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Riverside Church in New York, one year before his assassination. You can listen to it here.

In our annual National Gathering, Ecumenical Advocacy Days focused on the theme Confronting Chaos, Forging Community from April 21-24, 2017. We grappled with the intersectionality of racism, materialism, and militarism, and learned more about the impact they have around the world, in our communities, and in our own lives. Through prayer, worship, advocacy training, and networking with other Christians, we faced the current manifestations of these ‘triplets’ and together advocated for change in public policy that better reflects the Beloved Community about which Dr. King spoke. After a weekend filled with education and training and a prayer vigil at the Pentagon, the event culminated with a Lobby Day on Monday, April 24, 2017, where participants converged on Capitol Hill to meet with their Members of Congress and Senators. Also on Lobby Day, a group of dozens of Christian clergy and lay leaders and advocates participated in a prayerful witness and civil disobedience in a Senate office building, rejecting the budget proposal of President Trump which calls for reduction in human needs spending at home and abroad to pay for sharp and unnecessary increases in Pentagon spending.”

Wow. That sounds like a lot to me now – no wonder I’m still tired! And no, Peter and I did not get arrested for civil disobedience. But we participated in all the rest, and it was an astonishing experience. 900 or so Christians, committed to and exploring the meaning of justice and peace in our world, spellbinding speakers including the Stated Clerk of the PC(USA) Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, and a great many enthusiastic and well-informed people leading various workshops, including a wonderful breakfast meeting exploring the challenges experienced by our LGBTQ neighbors. A lovely young Muslim woman shared with us the heartbreaking simplicity of her life as a gay woman: “I am not allowed to exist.”

Some of what we heard made us uncomfortable, but we were there partly to be made uncomfortable. Some of what we heard affirmed our fledgling Justice and Peacemaking ministry at GPPC that has been supported by so many of you. Much of what we heard challenged us to dig deeper into the meaning of justice in our nation and our world, deeper into empathy with those who suffer from injustice, discrimination and marginalization, and deeper into the power and challenge of being an advocate. And we connected with people from across the USA, from many different faith communities, who are facing the same challenges.

Snatches from my notes tell some of the story: “The sin of just doing our jobs;” “Out of love & faith the women (at the tomb) show up – so find your inner woman;” “Be a midwife of hope;” “Faith is porous – there’s room for stuff to get out and stuff to get in, it’s subject to intrusion and perversion;” “When we promote just wars & holy wars and claim God is on our side, we become tools for the 3 evils of racism, materialism and militarism;” “One can name Jesus Savior and Lord and promote someone who displays by actions he or she does not know our Savior and Lord;” “We just want to love people and get along, not get involved with politics;” “‘Us’ and ‘Them’ eats away at the soul, making some people expendable;” “We adjust to empire and don’t critique it;” and my favorite (from Dr. Nelson): “If your church isn’t promoting social justice, you need to find a new church.”

It was powerful to stand on the lawn of the Pentagon with a couple hundred others singing and praying for peace, especially after having heard stories from around the world of how our nation often takes actions that seem to promote war and not peace. It was equally powerful for me to witness Peter pushing an elderly man in a wheelchair back to the hotel, one of God’s mighty warriors for peace even in his age and infirmity. He was grateful for the help and clearly thrilled to be there! Earlier in the day, one very poignant story came from a North Korean guest speaker, begging that we as Christians advocate that our government help promote a peace process and not escalate war. I thought of that man and the everyday citizens on whose behalf he spoke, and prayed that our nation will exercise wisdom and restraint in the current climate. His face will stay with me as our leaders debate our course.

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And on our last day, Peter and I were happy to head to the Senate office buildings to sit down with the rest of the NC “delegation” and talk with staffers of Senators Burr and Tillis about the budget. We asked that we not increase military spending at the expense of spending on people, health care, infrastructure, education and the environment. We asked that the proven programs that have fed people here and around the world not be cut, but expanded. We asked that black and brown people – African Americans who have been imprisoned in such devastating number, Muslims and others who seek refuge from terror and war, immigrants who seek a better life and have contributed to our communities – that these people be protected and respected as God’s children. Here’s a picture of the two of us outside Senator Burr’s office: 18010188_1904657459814279_7499214834275391116_n (1)

Let me say how grateful I am for our congregation that has also been challenged and stretched by this new ministry. Many of you like me grew up not understanding what on earth such “political” matters have to do with faith, and together we are coming to understand that working for justice and peace in the world is actually central to our Christian call. Let me also quote Dr. Nelson again: “There is no conflict between justice and spirituality. A church can do both.” I thank God as always for all the good ministry in which we are engaged at GPPC. And I hope more of us will get the chance to attend the Ecumenical Advocacy Days gathering, and bring back their energy, passion and ideas, as together we strive to be people who seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

–Melanie Rodenbough

Stand Up and Step Out!

“Stand Up and Step Out!”

That’s the title of the church’s theme for 2017. The words reflect the primary purposes of two of our session committees—Justice and Peacemaking (“Stand Up” to advocate for the poor and marginalized and for peace) and Mission (“Step Out” in service to those in need). We want to challenge more members of the congregation to become involved in our work, in addition to the good ministry you do within our congregation.

This past week has been a busy one for both ministries.

Last Sunday we celebrated our partnership with Bread for the World, reminding us of the need to continually pray and advocate for the hungry and malnourished.

On Tuesday night the church hosted a gathering of approximately 125 people, both from GPPC and from the greater community, to hear a challenging presentation on systemic racism in our culture. From presenter Bay Love we learned that studies have confirmed the existence of race as the most important factor in significantly poorer outcomes for blacks than white across all our systems—education, health care, criminal justice, social services, and financial services.

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Part of the crowd at GPPC to learn about systemic racism.

This conversation comes at the end of a two-month Sunday School class on race led by the JP Committee, and just prior to the study of Jim Wallis’ book on racism, titled American’s Original Sin. We hope to help bring to the congregation and community a heightened awareness of the role race plays in our culture, as well as thoughtful responses for us as a Christian congregation to the injustices caused by the sin of racism.

Wednesday evening three of our members participated in the Air Horn Orchestra outside the Governor’s Mansion in Raleigh, to bring attention to the injustice that HB2 has brought to the LGBTQ community in North Carolina.

Meanwhile on Wednesday morning, a team of eight hardy souls left on the annual mission trip to Washington DC, where they will work in various ministries related to poverty and homelessness. They will represent us well as they extend the love of God and the hand of fellowship to those in need, helping provide direct services through various ministries there. 

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The eight members of the GPPC mission team ready to board the bus.

This extended trip caps off a busy season of the Mission Committee’s regular ministries to feed the hungry through GUM, Interactive Resource Center, A Simple Gesture and Hot Dish and Hope, as well as sponsoring the annual Blood Drive, the current Habitat for Humanity build, and the CROP Walk.

Many of these ministries will continue through Advent and into the new year.

And coming in July 2017, an international mission trip!  The Mission Committee held an informational meeting on October 18, and looks forward to serving our international community on the trip.  More information to come for members of the congregation interested in joining.

Together Justice and Peacemaking and Mission represent a good part of our congregation’s effort to share the love of Christ with the world outside our church walls. They do not compete, but complement each other. As Frank Dew so beautifully illustrated in his recent sermon, when the sink is overflowing with water we need to both mop up the immediate problem of the water on the floor (Mission) and turn off the water to address the long-term source of the problem (Justice and Peacemaking).

Stay tuned as we challenge you in 2017 to Stand Up and Step Out!

–Melanie Rodenbough (JP Committee) and Peter Isakoff (Mission Committee)

Why Talk About Race?

There’s a real term called “race fatigue.” It refers to the stress African American students feel as they navigate predominantly white institutions of higher learning.

But many white people suffer from a different kind of “race fatigue” – a weariness with hearing about race and racism. We wonder why we are still talking about racial inequity fifty years after the Civil Rights Movement. Weren’t these issues resolved with the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Acts? Isn’t the African American community responsible now for its own problems?

And many of us also might wonder, What does this have to do with the church? Why do we have to hear about this from the pulpit, in classes, in the newsletter, and now now here in the church blog, of all places? Aren’t these political and economic issues, rather than faith concerns?

We know the church is called to speak out against injustice. The Bible is clear about God’s call for us to seek justice for the poor, the marginalized, and the stranger. We hear this in the ringing call of the prophet Micah “To do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” Knowing we are called to do Christ’s work in the world, we hear that call also in the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set free the oppressed and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people.”

And yet the white church has often failed to acknowledge the sin of racism or advocate for justice for black people. We failed throughout American history—first in the time of slavery, when the church bell often also served as the slave auction bell, up to and through much of the Civil Rights Movement. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed members of the white clergy:

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen. When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

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We are confronted in the news with incidents that reflect ongoing racial tensions, racial violence, and racial injustices, both around the country and here in our own community. In all of our institutional systems – education, health care, social services, criminal justice, etc. – outcomes for blacks are worse than for whites. Study after study indicates race is the determining factor for those poor outcomes.

We struggle with how to respond as Christians to these realities.

The Justice and Peacemaking Committee has spent a year learning and planning to engage our congregation in some of the issues around racial equity and justice. We hope many of you will make the decision to step out of your comfort zone, as we have tried to do, to learn more. Come and think, grow, and learn with us. Bring your concerns and opinions and insights. Let’s see together where God might be calling us to speak and act for justice. Opportunities include:

  • A Sunday School series (4 weeks, Sept. 11 – Oct. 2), led by Tim and Laura Peck and Keith Harrington, based upon video lessons developed by Salem Presbytery’s Task Force on Peace and Justice. Drop in on any class.
  • A study of evangelical leader Jim Wallis’s book, America’s Original Sin: Race, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America (Monday evenings, Nov. 7 – Dec. 5). This book speaks directly to us as Christians.
  • A series of discussions hosted by GPPC and other churches titled “Doing Our Work,” specifically for white people who want to better understand racism, put on by the Guilford Anti-Racism Alliance, the first Tuesday of each month beginning in October. Find the schedule on the JP bulletin board. GPPC will host the meeting on Tuesday, November 1st.

Let it not be said of us that we chose to “remain silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.”

Melanie Rodenbough

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Picture this scene:

  • The faith community gathers in their worship space on a summer evening. Groups mill about, inside and out.
  • Tow-headed children are underfoot, gleefully chasing and chattering.
  • The boys have found a ball somewhere and seamlessly formed themselves into teams that run and run and run.
  • Pretty young teenage girls flit by in tight groups, shy smiles masking what they are thinking.
  • Parents whisk into the parking lot, late, looking for a parking place so they can get inside before the service starts.
  • There is food. Lots of food, its delicious smells permeating the air.
  • “Who made that dessert? What’s the recipe?”
  • People settle around tables into conversation and eating, laughter filling the air.
  • Pastors gravitate toward one another to talk shop – or not.
  • Only the call to prayer shushes the conversation.
  • And soon it will be over, this evening of fellowship and worship among the faithful people of God.

These words describe many evenings I’ve spent at Guilford Park over the last three decades. But they also describe the worshipping community nearly 30 of us visited on Monday evening at the Islamic Center of Greensboro, as the honored guests of our Muslim friends. We were there to share and witness Iftar, the breaking of the daily fast of Ramadan.

For some this was nothing new, having visited before. Many of us, however, confessed to some anxiety over strange customs, dress, and language. And indeed most of the people didn’t look or dress quite like us. They surely didn’t pray like us. Their worship and eating space was wide and open, the floor carpeted with the beautifully ornate continuous pattern that designates individual prayer spaces. We didn’t really know what was going to happen next, how it would sound or what it would mean.

We noticed differences in the feel of the space, in the separation of women and men, in the language that not even all those praying fully understood. Welcomed as honored guests, we sat apart from most of the Muslim community at dinner, invited to ask questions, and were observers only of the prayers. Should we pray? Should we eat while they prayed? Should we take pictures of people praying? We were definitely out of our comfort zone!

And yet … And yet.

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GPPC visiting with Muslim friends at the Islamic Center of Greensboro

Their faith and commitment were evident. And our presence in that space, among those friends, was a witness to our own faith in the love of God we proclaim in Jesus. At a time when these peaceful, worshipping neighbors are the subject of suspicion and blame for the actions of a few extremists, we went to eat with them, to visit with them. They thanked us profusely. Yes, THEY – who fed and welcomed us – thanked US repeatedly for coming to them, for being there. Could the upside-down message of Jesus be any better illustrated that that?

Jo brought them the gift of a prayer shawl on our behalf, which Jeff presented (Jo’s not in the picture above because she took it.) When I mentioned to one of our new friends that the shawl had been lovingly made and prayed over by our congregation, he smiled and told me that it would be hung in a place of honor, at the center of many more prayers.

Hopefully we all came away aware that what is common among us far outweighs the differences. We are all children of God, seeking to live in peace with our neighbors.

It was an extraordinary evening, leaving us with much to ponder.

Lobbying [“LOB-ee-ing”]

To lobby means, according to Webster’s Dictionary, “to solicit or try to influence the votes of members of a legislative body” or “to try to influence the actions of public officials, especially legislators” or “to urge or procure the passage of a bill by lobbying.”

Any way you look at it, Bo and I engaged in lobbying this week as representatives of GPPC, on behalf of Bread for the World.

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Part of the NC delegation, with a member of Senator Burr’s staff (in red, back row middle)

Following in the footsteps of our beloved former parish associate Bob Herron, we traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in Bread’s “Lobby Day,” along with over 300 other Bread members from across the United States. The day was jam-packed with worship, caucusing with others from North Carolina to plan our lobbying visits, and then trekking back and forth across the front of the U.S. Capitol building to get to the offices of our two NC Senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, and local congressman Mark Walker.

During worship we heard a riveting and heart-breaking presentation by the author of The First 1,000 Days: A Crucial Time for Mothers and Children – and the World, Roger Thurow. His research confirmed the lasting effects of pre-natal and early childhood malnutrition that our speaker Nancy Rhodes conveyed to us in worship on Mother’s Day. As he said more than once, the only reason that we have carried the “medieval” problem of hunger into the 21st century is a lack of political will to end it. Bread’s goal of ending hunger and malnutrition by 2030 is entirely within our reach.

Suffice it to say we were and still are amateur lobbyists. But we learned a lot and had good experiences at each office we visited. Thankfully the Bread staff had prepared materials, including the specific “asks” for Senate and House, and talking points to support them. You may recall from our letter-writing campaign that Bread’s emphasis this year was on maternal and child nutrition. We were there to ask for support for the Global Food Act and for an increase in the appropriation for domestic food programs that target children, including school breakfast and lunch, summer feeding programs, WIC, and others.

At only one visit did we talk with the elected official (Senator Tillis) – most of the time we were talking with staffers. Everyone was pleasant and reasonably well-informed on the issues, which lessened the anxiety of this very new experience. Thankfully we were talking about a subject that naturally inspires passion: The travesty of hunger in this country and around the world, particularly hungry children, and the need for our government to support and fund efforts to alleviate hunger and malnutrition.

Our part of the lobbying was to add our personal, community, and congregational experiences to the conversation to emphasize how important the issue of hunger is to us. Being a member of GPPC made the task easy! I introduced myself at each visit as representing a 450-member congregation of people who, though they span the political spectrum, all care about the issue of hunger. Bo and I spoke about our congregation’s active mission efforts to feed people, and our Bread letter-writing campaign of over 300 letters. And on the issue of appropriating funds for domestic feeding programs for children, I described my personal gratitude that as a school child I was able to receive a “free lunch” every school day. We prayed with the staffers at each office. 

We were especially fortunate to have the youngest lobbyist of the day in our NC group, from here in Greensboro no less! Read about delightful 6-year old Toren Rhyne here:

http://www.bread.org/blog/and-little-child-shall-lead-them

Sometimes folks worry that political lobbying could put the church at risk of losing our tax exempt status. There really isn’t much chance of that at the level we participate in lobbying. Only if we as a church engaged in “substantial lobbying activity” would this even be a question. “Substantial” in Internal Revenue parlance refers to both the time and resources we spend. We at GPPC are nowhere close to that standard with our occasional efforts to encourage the congregation to contact our elected representatives about legislation that promotes justice and peace, including our efforts to support Bread for the World. We can, and should, lobby more often for policies that promote justice and peace!

I did wonder at the end of our long day if we had done any good. At the closing reception, I had the opportunity to ask a Bread staff person that question. She made a pretty convincing case that YES, our efforts matter; YES, the representatives listen and pay attention to the letters, calls and visits; and YES, through our work on behalf of Bread for the World we make possible a more hopeful future for millions of hungry people in our own country and around the world. In our lobbying, we are doing the work of Christ. 

As Bread’s motto reminds us: “Have faith. End hunger.”

Making Space

I subscribe to three non-work related blogs: The Art of Simple, Becoming Minimalist, and Slow Your Home. Are you picking up on a theme here? I’m also a fan of the popular book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.

I have too much stuff. Stuff that when I bought it, I felt like I needed. Or, it’s things that have served their purpose and I’ve since set aside.

declutterBut as I’ve been reading these blogs and books, I’ve come to realize that I don’t own my stuff, my stuff owns me. It owns me in the space it takes up in drawers and on surfaces; in the amount of time I spend shuffling it around trying to make everything fit; in the way it clutters my thinking just like it clutters my house.

With the help of my virtual guides (and a lot of help from my husband!), I’m decluttering. Trash bag after trash bag has been donated or thrown out. Surfaces are reappearing. There’s space for the things I need and truly want to fit now. I even threw out a huge trash bag full from my office on Monday.

What’s the point of the decluttering and minimalist vibe? First, it’s a whole lot quicker to clean up if there’s a lot less stuff and everything has a place. Second, decluttered surfaces allow more space for me to think and breathe. Last, and most importantly, I’m trying to follow what Jesus says in Matthew 6:19-20:

 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

I’m not sure I’ve made it to storing up treasures in heaven yet, but hopefully that will come. For now, I’ll be content to continue ridding myself of moth and rust traps. I’ll continue to seek the balance between having what I need and the more important things I want, instead of going after all my pocketbook will afford. It’s a tough process to break myself of this habit. Until then, I’m keeping the trash bags handy.

Blessings,

Jo

 

 

Still Called

I hope many of our women enjoyed the time at our PW Spring Retreat to worship, learn and fellowship with other women. We had 46 participants, including our guest preacher Julie Peeples from Congregational UCC. We honored our past by recognizing the 25 living members who have been awarded the PW Honorary Life Membership. We also thought about our future, challenged by Julie to see ourselves in a polarized world as “menders of the breach.” (Isaiah 58). 

text31619_3Most of us have been part of a church all of our lives. Some of you are fairly new to Guilford Park and we are very happy to have you. Many of you came here to this church as young women and have grown up here in this fellowship of women. And those years have brought a lot of change in the role of women in the church.

  • Some of us grew up in churches where women could not serve as elders; today the church is filled with female ordained elders.
  • Many of us remember the congregational vote to call to GPPC our first woman pastor, Joanne Hull, and the concerns some had about the appropriateness of calling a woman; at our retreat we worshipped led by two women pastors.
  • Some of you may even remember when in 1979 Guilford Park hosted the then-remarkable wedding of an African American woman, Judge Elreta Alexander, to John Ralston, a white man; today we rejoice to have African American members and those who are married to members.
  • Just a few years ago we could not have imagined openly gay people in the church; today we worship with gay women, as well as men, who were married in our sanctuary, one of whom will soon be ordained as a pastor with our support.

There is no doubt that the role of women in the church has changed. We see it, we have lived it, both here and at other churches where we’ve been a part. Where once the role of women in the church consisted primarily of teaching the children and cooking, women now serve as pastors, elders, and leaders in every way. Women trek out on mission trips and sleep on cots, write letters to the editor and to Congress to advocate for the hungry and marginalized, and send money to support mission projects all over the world. And where once those mission projects consisted mostly of supplying Bibles and medical supplies and supporting schools, our money now also supports drug treatment programs, clean water efforts, inner city youth programs, programs to help keep young men out of prison and a host of other good works in a hurting world.

On the bulletin board out in the hall nearest the crib room is collection of voices from Christian women about their understanding of church and faith. A little further down are posters that highlight both our past and our present as Presbyterian Women. I hope you’ll take a look at both. I know you’ll be surprised by some of the women’s voices, but some will resonate with what you know and celebrate. They remind us that the church, and the role of women in it, continues to change.

And we can see this with our own younger women, as they make their place in the church. Few of them were able to join us at the retreat – we were delighted to have those who could! But we know that many younger women face the daunting task of working full time while raising busy active families. Some are not interested in belonging to a circle, as has always been the case. Those that are members of circles may not have the same kind of circle activities we older women have traditionally had. Many choose church leadership roles other than PW. And in my observation, very few are interested in cooking as a primary expression of their faith!

And all that may be just fine.

Our challenge is as it always has been: Just as we re-interpret scripture for each new age, we re-imagine the role of women in the church. But some things have not changed, and that is something we celebrated at our retreat.

We are still, all of us, called to prayer and worship, called to mission, called to work for justice and peace, and called to build an inclusive caring community of women. 

That is who we are as Presbyterian Women, and that is the heritage we hope to pass on.

-Melanie Rodenbough

The Missing Days of Holy Week

Like many of you, I was more attentive to devotional time during Lent, especially enjoying the “Presbyterians Today” devotionals. But I also ran across poems and other writings that were meaningful and thought-provoking. One writer highlighted the days between the palm processional and the last supper of Maundy Thursday, the “missing days” of our Holy Week services. What was Jesus doing during those days, and how might that increase our understanding and awe on Easter morning?    

Luke records several events that preceded the decision of the religious leaders to entrap and have him put to death: Jesus wept over Jerusalem, Jesus overturned the money-changers’ tables in the temple, and Jesus repeatedly challenged the religious leaders for rejecting the God of peace and justice. Ours is no dispassionate, emotionally distant savior, but one who feels deeply.

The love of God in Christ evident in the empty tomb is made clearer because of these events during the first Holy Week. Christ died and was raised to redeem God’s creation as it was intended to be – a world of peace and justice for all. That same love is also made clearer by contrast in a stunning event this 2016 Holy Week: The passage of House Bill 2 by our state legislature. It is a law that reflects hatred and injustice for the LGTBQ community. And like those religious leaders in Jerusalem, we Christians today are called to choose the way of justice and peace, or face the consequences of rejecting that way.

Jesus wept over Jerusalem. He didn’t weep because the people weren’t holy enough or didn’t interpret the scriptures rigidly enough. Jesus wept because the people of God had abandoned the ways of peace for a cruel faith that had made its accommodation to a cruel government. He expressed utter contempt (Luke 20:46-47) for the religious scribes who “devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.”

I have had four communications with members of our church this week who described their grief and anger over the decision by the legislature to remove the protection of the law from our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. The new law says clearly to them that they or those whom they love do not matter; that they are lesser human beings, such that their elected officials would have the law turn a blind eye to discrimination against them.

Do we doubt that Jesus weeps with them?        

As much as we might like to think this is a “political” matter and thus not a concern for the church, we do so at our own peril. Whether we ask it of Republicans or Democrats is not the issue, but we must ask, we must demand, from our government that our LGBTQ brothers and sisters be treated equally under the law. As Jesus made abundantly clear both in his words and in his furious cleansing of the temple, religiosity is no substitute for pursuing the ways of justice and peace.

Here at Guilford Park we have members who are gay, both openly and privately. We have parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles of gay people. Gay people are our friends, our neighbors, our colleagues. Increasingly many of us are also becoming more aware of transgender folks, particularly young people, and the difficulties they face.

Our Session has made the decision to welcome members of the LGTBQ community, to marry those who ask to be married, and to affirm our obligation to work for justice and equality for them. We cannot hide our heads and pretend this is “politics not religion” lest we become those whose faith witness is “for the sake of appearance.”

So let us commit ourselves in the name of Christ to join the fight for equality. Write a letter or call your representative and let them know that you believe in the God of justice and peace who weeps over this decision. Advocate and vote for candidates who support equality. Pray for those among us who have been wounded by this decision, and for those who have the power to undo the damage. And pray for the Justice and Peacemaking Committee, as we seek ways to join our congregation in the fight.

Christ is risen! And Christ still weeps over injustice and violence. 

Christ is risen! And Christ still calls people of faith to care about the marginalized.

Christ is risen! And Christ who is risen in glory is the Christ who died for us – for all of us.

— Melanie Rodenbough

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Keeping the Door Open

     In an excellent little volume called This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids, one of the authors relates a story about a priest’s unexpected grace-filled response to a mother concerned about the faith implications of her teenager’s sexual orientation. The priest said, “I want you to know that God asks us to never close the door to anyone. Not our children, not our friends, not anyone. Always listen to your child. Always keep your door open to her.” The mother carried that thought with her as she came to accept God’s love for her gay daughter. 

     This morning my internet devotional was titled, “Leave the Door Open.” Writer May Sarton says, “We have to live as close as possible to all that leaves the door open to the ‘holy’” – the holy revealed in the mysteries of growth, birth, and death.

     “Behold I stand at the door and knock … If anyone opens the door, I will come in.” Revelation 3:20 gives us a powerful visual for the possibility of God’s presence in our lives.

     An open door is a potent symbol for us as Christians. An open door welcomes. An open door allows the holy nature of God to stream into our lives. An open door channels in the love that casts out fear.

     I thought about this in light of the ways our Justice and Peacemaking Committee has begun to ask the congregation to extend an open door to education and programming about the concerns of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers. About immigrants. About racial equity and policing and race. About reaching toward understanding with our Muslim neighbors. About climate change. About economic and political justice for the hungry and the marginalized.

     And I am deeply grateful for your support for open doors, even when they make us uncomfortable.

     These ideas challenge us, some more than others. They challenge the faith in which I was raised, a faith that placed a deep, impassible divide between politics and religion. Woe to the preacher that stepped into that chasm!

     Esteemed Presbyterian minister and pastor of Riverside Church William Sloan Coffin said in a sermon titled “Religion and Politics”: “Although they are often at sword’s points, religion and politics are fundamentally inseparable … Whatever they do in our minds, it is clear (from scripture) that in God’s mind religion and politics do mix; economics too. It is equally clear that God chooses sides, siding with those who suffer deprivation and oppression.”

     But the challenge the God of the Bible and of the Gospel issues to our politics should never be confused with partisanship. Indeed, coming to understand the lordship of Christ over our political and economic convictions allows us to face squarely the problems with all political parties and economic systems. Self-interest is not a biblical virtue, and all of our human institutions are rife with self-interest.

     As we explore opening various doors we appreciate your prayers and your feedback. We know not everyone will agree on matters of faith. We on the JP Committee believe in our purpose and its foundation in scripture and the PC(USA)’s Social Creed. But it is important to us that our fellow Christians feel they are being respected, heard, and loved for who they are when they encounter an idea that frightens or angers them or challenges their understanding of the world and God’s call to us. 

     We are on this faith journey together. Thank God for open doors!