Living to Remember

25th Annual Remembrance Ceremony:
for those who lose their lives to illicit drugs
Weston Park, Yarralumla; Monday, 26th October 2020

I am struck by the concept of remembering, which is the central reason we are here.

Someone we love has died because of drug dependence, and we are here to remember them, to say their name again.

In my job, there are celebrations, like yesterday when a ninety-seven year old colleague was acknowledged for his history of service in the church and for his country. I attend Anzac Day ceremonies, where remembering is both about honouring those who serve, and about our grief.

I lead funerals, where grief and loss are integral as people try to make sense of what is happening in their lives.

Remembering can sound passive, as if that is all we can do. As if it is nothing.

But remembering is vital. We have read their names, but we are already offering more.

We recall the lives we have shared with someone who has died, we talk about their face, and their voice and when we held their hands. We remember the parties, and the wonderful things we did, and the stupid things we did. When we tell the stories, we laugh and weep together, and our hearts and lives become slightly stronger.

Remembering and grief sit together, as we are now.

But remembering is more.

There’s a hymn, written in the last twenty-five years, about the horrific cost of war, and those left behind. The last line invites us to “remember forward to a world restored”; remembering is an act of courage and hope and change.

We remember today all those we have named, those we love. And in our remembering we assert the value of those we have loved and those we know around us who are struggling with drug use and a system which is not serving them – or us – well on this.

Our presence here today, our remembering, asserts the inherent value of those who have died. We refuse to see them as collateral in some politically, or culturally-styled “war on drugs”, but as members of our families, our friends, as people wrestling with addiction and often other compelling issues in their lives.

There is also anger, as we recall what might have happened if things had been different, if we had had better resources for treatment, a more hopeful focus on those things which sought to bring people back to life, to community and family. 

We are here, once again, to name this as a health and social issue, and not a criminal one. We are here to declare, once again, that the huge amount of money and other resources poured into criminalising and punishing drug users could be better invested in treatment and health care. We know, from medical experts, from legal and judicial experts, and from experienced police, that justice, hope and economic common sense make this a compelling argument.

This is the reason the Uniting Church, our justice arm, Uniting, and so many other legal, medical and community groups support Fair Treatment.       

Our remembering affirms the courage and work of so many family and friends, people like Marion McConnell and Bill Bush, and all those who advocate for change, to drive law reform on drug use, so that we address the deeper causes, not just the symptoms, and look at treatment and restoration as opposed to punishment.  

As we know, there are debates happening right now on drug use, and drug decriminalisation, and even legalisation of some drugs. This is an important and difficult and necessary conversation, and we are engaged, as we need to be. The conversation will move when the facts are established, but will move more powerfully when our experiences are.

The stories we carry are valuable and need to be heard, if we are able to tell them. It is by the telling of our stories that statistics become people, that news items become human beings, that arms’ length becomes hand in hand. 

This week in the life of the church ends with All Saints Day, which is where Hallowe’en found its beginning. Saints are those not those astringent, “nice” people, who never cause trouble. They are people who are passionate, prophetic and engaged, with dirt under their fingernails, who are often found badgering those in power for change, or hope, or justice.

My ministry is established in the hope of a God who always remembers us; whose first and last act is to love and bring life; who, in the worst moments of our lives, is with us.

As we remember those we love who have died, we remember those
who have helped us find our way,
who have helped speak the name of those we have lost, 
who have helped us learn to sing and stamp our feet,
who have continued to cry out for justice,
who have helped us to remember.

Being Served … & Serving

The Uniting Church will seek ways in which the baptized may have confirmed to them the promises of God, and be led to deeper commitment to the faith and service into which they have been baptized. [Basis of Union, par. 12]

It seems the pandemic has bookended and pervaded every conversation since March. I noted with some friends that other, important things have slipped past, unremarked. If nothing else, being sequestered at home for lengths of time has given me the chance to reflect.

In the last couple of months, three older friends of mine have died. Three men, two and three decades my senior, all of whom were members of Dubbo Congregation, my first placement. I have seen all three of them less in these last years than I would have wished, but time and distance – and everything else – intervened.

Dick was a retired Minister (we had been warned at College about retired Minsters…) who, from our first meeting, was a support to me. In ways both implicit and explicit, Dick taught me about ministry, about paying attention and waiting and listening, about struggles and speaking up and leading when the time was right.

Dick had retired early due to an illness which hindered his ability to preach and lead worship, significant in his ministry. Something he had learnt out of his wisdom and pain, was how to receive the elements of the eucharist, once again, after four decades of presiding over the bread and wine, then offering them as sacrament. Dick offered his wisdom to me instead.

My original prayer partner was Denis and we met weekly in my study for years. I learnt to wait, to listen, to pray. Denis taught me to pay attention to the living God and the lives of people around me, so that prayer – and all aspects of my ministry – might be better informed.

My struggle with stillness surprises no-one who knows me and yet it was Denis’ leadership which kept me seated and still for an hour each week. Denis’ patience with me exemplified what I have always needed to understand, and enact, so that I am able to pray more fully into the presence of God for the concerns and wonders of the world around me.

My third friend, Brian, informed my faith and life in a different way. Brian took me out west, to the desert country, teaching all my family about “the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended, and at night the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars”.

My first strong memory is Brian taking me to a riverbed outside Dubbo in his 80 series Land Cruiser, bogging it deliberately, putting me in the driving seat and saying, “Get us out of here. Don’t worry, you can’t break it”.

We bought an old Cruiser (80 series, naturally) soon afterwards, and for several holidays journeyed with Brian and his family up and down western Queensland and New South Wales, off road and on, talking about faith in Christ, what tyres run best, raising a family, why it’s dangerous to camp in riverbeds, forgiveness, and the majesty of camp oven cuisine.

Three godly men, who gave out of their faithfulness and in full awareness of their own frailty. Three disciples of Jesus, who discipled me – and many others – in their turn.

In this season of our Church’s life, we can grieve the loss of worship and community as we have known it for so long. We can look for ways to sing our faith when we cannot sing as we always have. Preaching has moved online, so that we can hear a sermon as easily from overseas, or from other times, as we can from our local preachers.

Discipleship remains, vital and indispensable. We pay attention to the lives of others, offering fractions of our experience and stories of our life in Christ, to guide them as we have, in our turn, been led. Graciousness and frailty, strength and good humour. Faith earthed in Jesus Christ and elevated by the Spirit of that same Christ.

It takes time and decision. It takes others; for me there have been many women and men who have challenged, blessed and chastised. It requires the hope we have in Christ.

We have chosen to follow Jesus, we are called to invite others to share our road.

Dick. Denis. Brian. May they rest in peace. May they rise again in glory.

Crisis? Opportunity.

There’s a café on the mezzanine floor of our Synod offices where you don’t meet if you want to discuss anything confidential. People and their friends from across the Synod meet there; no gathering remains secret when you order a long black from George’s.

Except for this season.

Like cafés and restaurants in every CBD across the world, it has sat, almost empty, since March. I was there with friends a week ago and we talked with the owner about the financial crisis for him and his staff, echoed in small businesses in Sydney and Melbourne, and London and Paris.

It focuses the mind. Does it focus our mission?

Like many, I have been in zoom and other online events ad infinitum since the pandemic began – meetings and birthdays and morning teas and worship – and the technology thrill has faded somewhat. When I meet with people online, we have thoughtful conversations about hospitality and discipleship, about including those without internet access or ability, about how we will face this challenge.

Why are we only asking these vital questions now?

What might the Spirit be saying to the church as the pandemic labyrinth unveils itself? All too hastily some of us have refused the risk, holding our collective breath, or cutting and pasting our worship onto various media, waiting for the virus to extinguish itself.

Many of us, however, have asked critical questions about our worship, witness and service; realising, perhaps, that we needed to be asking them each week for the last four decades. Still others have embraced this time as opportunity, because that is how we understand our life in Christ.

How shall we bear witness to the risen, crucified One? What will flavour our hospitality, as we invite people into our community of faith?

Neither our faith in Jesus Christ, nor our identity as disciples in the Uniting Church invites us simply to survive. If our first consideration is ourselves, we are neglecting the primary call of discpleship, to love our God and love our neighbour as ourselves.

The rigorous challenges of our faith have not arisen due to COVID-19, they are present always. It is only now, when our patterns of church and neighbourhood are comprehensively unsettled, that many of us dare to test the assertion that God will provide.

There are wonderful stories of creative, generous worship, thoughtful discipleship and gracious hospitality as we meet the opportunity of this coronavirus season. I give thanks to God for faithful disciples and congregations, attending to the whisper and song of the Spirit.

Christ who is present when he is preached among people is the Word of God who acquits the guilty, who gives life to the dead and who brings into being what otherwise could not exist.                                                                          [Basis of Union, para.4]

This is who we are called to be.

How will I care for my friend in his café?

How will we trust ourselves to the Holy Spirit, so that our words will articulate the hope which gives us life – and offer that hope to others?

Through human witness in word and action, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ reaches out to command attention and awaken faith; he calls people into the fellowship of his sufferings, to be the disciples of a crucified Lord; in his own strange way Christ constitutes, rules and renews them as his Church.                      [Basis of Union, para.4]

Into the midst of it.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. [Matthew 10.37-39]

The celebration of forty-three years is neither a noteworthy birthday, nor an anniversary of particular moment. The importance of our Uniting Church anniversary is not the number, but the reminder of why God called us to unite, and the purpose for which God has called us.  

As our community and our world try to navigate the new paths bulldozed by COVID 19, we are also caught up in the vital and ongoing crisis of racism. People are trying to distance themselves socially, while seeking to register their voice and presence about how we must give value to the majority of the world’s population – those who are not fair-skinned.

As Jesus’ disciples, we are in the midst of this. We must be.

It is not simply about missing each other in our congregations. It is far more than debates about whether or not we can sing when we gather. It is about the witness that we bear.

The Church’s call is to serve that end: to be a fellowship of reconciliation, a body within which the diverse gifts of its members are used for the building up of the whole, an instrument through which Christ may work and bear witness to himself. [Basis of Union, Para. 3]

The one we follow, Jesus Christ, leads us into the midst of the community in which we live. So we are called to stand with all who experience the obscenity of racism, and stand before all those who would seek to decry its potent weight. When someone asserts that #BlackLivesMatter, we challenge those who would parse the language to avoid responsibility, and seek to raise the voices of those whose lives are accustomed to being silenced.

When Jesus Christ died and was raised for each and every person in history, the last became the first.

While we learn what our renovated social life looks like, avoiding handshakes and hugs with our serially-washed hands, we must address deeper concerns – caring for the frail and elderly in our community, learning again how to live and celebrate and grieve and worship – because fear and anger bear fruit faster than reason or science.

We will attend to those for whom home was unsafe; we will support those for whom isolation resulted in brokenness, or despair; we will live out justice and compassion for those who felt discarded, or lost when a virus changed everything.

We bear witness as a community which offers hospitality and mercy, which is precisely how we found life in Jesus Christ.

Our Church was formed during the Cold War, just after the war in Vietnam had ended. The world was changing rapidly, and the worldwide church was facing headwinds for which it was not prepared. The Australian political landscape was scarred from the dismissal of the Whitlam Government, and we were facing waves of refugees, born of our catastrophic misadventure in South East Asia.

The last, first. Voices for those silenced. Valuing those who appear different. Hospitality. Mercy.

A community in which Christ may work and bear witness to himself.

A risky, costly, wonderful calling.

Some of us might dream that we could return to what church and life were like before the virus. More of us might want to seek refuge within our church and close our eyes and hearts to those whose lives are beyond our doors. A few of us might even wish to travel back four decades and start again (or not start at all!)

We find our life neither in shelter, nor in nostalgia. We find our life in one place – Jesus Christ.

Our Uniting Church finds its life when it “preaches Christ the risen crucified One and confesses him as Lord to the glory of God the Father”. We have been called, never for our own, but for Christ’s sake.  

Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

May you discover the new life to which Christ calls you, each and every day.

Virtual Hospitality

I conducted a marriage interview on the weekend, for a delightful young couple I have known for some time. They came round to the house, as they have many times in the past. On the morning of their visit we realised that there had been almost no visitors to our home in nearly three months.

We started tidying, Fiona cooked a slice and, for a short moment, we felt slightly discombobulated. When they arrived, we nodded with affection and appreciation (handshakes, kisses and hugs sadly absent!) and welcomed them, once more, into our home.

We have tried to ensure that our home has always been an open one for friends and guests alike. Yet, due to this season of pandemic and response, almost no one has passed, physically, over the front step since the beginning of March.

We have, however, had loads of guests – pastoral and worshipful, meetingful and familial – in the last trimester. We have gathered the church from across the Synod and beyond, heard fine sermons and shared in Saltbush (and several other) Cafés. Our family has blown out virtual birthday candles, and good friends living in English isolation have shared their breakfast with us while we had dinner.

The challenge of physical isolation has been met and, occasionally, overcome by the blessing of meeting more people in a day than I might normally meet in a week. I have shared worship in Ballina in the morning, popped into Bathurst morning tea, slipped past Bowral’s Facebook Sunday worship and completed my day in Saltbush Café that afternoon.

Always welcome, and certainly blessed.

We have asked, again and again in the last few months, what does discipleship look like in this different time? What does mission look and sound like?

We can begin, as we have always needed to, with hospitality. Not words made tepid by repetition like tolerance and inclusion, but the deliberate act of making people welcome and safe.

Whenever we are able to worship together again with each other, physically, we need to remember what we have learned from this time. Those who could not and would not come to church, came to online worship. Those who did not feel safe in small groups could watch and share in a zoom café. Those who felt disconnected found a new way to connect.

How shall we show hospitality – in the new ways, in the old ways, in the ways in which our God has always made us welcome?

Originally written for Ruminations,
the rural journal for the Synod of NSW & ACT,
Uniting Church in Australia

A Pastoral Letter

Greetings in this Pentecost season.

We are finding our way into this new stage, of living differently as a church and community with the challenges of COVID 19. Many of us have learned afresh how to be the church in physical isolation, worshipping and gathering, serving and singing – wonderfully – in new ways.

Some of us have struggled, with loneliness or uncertainty; resources have been hard to access, or technology out of our reach.   

My mind has turned a lot recently to the extraordinary book of Exodus, when Moses has led the people of Israel out of Egypt and the gloss of triumphant escape has started to wear off. Suddenly, captivity under Pharaoh doesn’t look too bad, as they wander in the wilderness, waiting for a future.

Isolation has been a challenge for almost everyone. However, as we try to negotiate living and worshipping in slowly-restored numbers, with physical distancing, complying with guidelines and wondering about our safety in the new environment, isolation might begin to look pretty palatable.

You will have received new guidelines for worship and gatherings, for funerals and weddings and small groups. They may appear to be pretty onerous. This is about caring for people at risk, for people we know and love, and for the risks to our faith communities and the wider community around us.

How will we attend to God’s Spirit leading us through these times? This is new territory for us, and uncertainty can creep in. How are we the people of God, worshipping, witnessing and serving, in this new terrain?

May I suggest that perhaps we are where we are meant to be? What if God intends to use us precisely here?

We need to learn how to adapt and change so that we can welcome new people into discipleship and faith. We need to prioritise children and young people, and that requires us to think in new ways. We need to learn how to make sacrifices with our property and finances to resource new ministries and communities across our Synod.

What if the challenges of this coronavirus season are teaching us how to sing the Lord’s song in new ways?

Be assured of my continuing prayers for our Church. Be equally assured of my prayers for those who find this season too difficult. And be certain that I am praying for new opportunities, new ministries, new discernment as we navigate these times under the mercy and generosity of our God.

May the flame of the Spirit guide your every step,
may the breath of the Spirit inspire each and every word,
and may the wind of the Spirit urge you into action.

Gospel Precedent

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

[Acts 2.42-47]

This is how we understand ourselves, at our best. The gospel proclaimed, the needs of our community addressed, meals shared, people coming to faith in Christ – worship, witness and service.

All of us, together.

However, here we are, in our homes, on our screens and phones, venturing tentatively into the world around us. Wary of any kind of physical contact, washing our hands at every turn.

There is great pleasure in sharing a meal with friends, and worshipping together, in silence and in song. I love incidental meetings, bumping into someone in the shops, or the street, and that almost never happens now. Now, every meeting is planned; we sit, scheduled and sequestered, behind the screen.

Some of us are inclined to see this time solely as imposition; the strictures of governments and Synod add to this feeling. We can’t do things the way we want to, the way we always have. It is easy to feel disgruntled, especially when a lot of what we knew seems uncertain in these times.

It’s easy to think that the patterns of our church life are the best (the only?) way to be the church. If we can’t gather to worship, are we church? If we can’t have bible studies, or visit friends, are we failing as disciples? Our heads know this isn’t true, but perhaps a bit deeper, inside ourselves, we wonder.

And there are certainly deeper concerns. People are at risk in their homes, which should be the safest place to be. Some face violence, some find being continually alone almost intolerable, some are physically ill or disabled, and need the care, the tangible presence of others.

How are we caring for those who are most in need of hope, and help? How are we offering the gospel, with our hands and voices? How are we making contact, sharing a meal, or inviting them into our new community?

The Uniting Church acknowledges that the Church is able to live and endure through the changes of history only because its Lord comes, addresses, and deals with people in and through the news of his completed work. Christ who is present when he is preached among people is the Word of God who acquits the guilty, who gives life to the dead and who brings into being what otherwise could not exist.

[Basis of Union, Para.4]

What an opportunity we are offered!

We offer the gospel, and worship and gather, and serve in different ways, not despite our circumstances, but because of them. We gather, and pray and worship across the internet – across the world – and people are sharing in that for the first time.

People who would never walk through a church door are signing in through YouTube and zoom. People from small congregations are gathering with new friends each week. People for whom the journey to worship, or small groups is too onerous – emotionally, or physically – are able to share with others about their faith, and even their fears.

We are becoming more aware of how to meet and serve our neighbours – not the theoretical ones, but the people who live next door.

The gospel inherent in Jesus Christ is not static. It doesn’t tolerate isolation. The Spirit of the risen Christ is not constrained; it finds its way, to acquit, give life and create anew.

What are the gifts from this time, that we will carry with us, into the next season of our faith? What have we learnt about hospitality, about silence and community which we will need to remember as we emerge from this sheltered time?

What is the Spirit saying – has this time better taught us to listen?

Standing At Our Gates

We sense it was love you gave your world for;
the town squares silent,  awaiting their cenotaphs.

– Carol Ann Duffy, “The Wound In Time”

Many of us will stand, silent, waiting, at our own gates.

Waiting for sunrise, or for the bugle sounding The Last Post, then bare heartbeats later, Reveille.

It will not be like last year, at dawn, or in the morning, as we remember them.

Less, perhaps, of almost everything.

There will be less mystery, than when we were sentinels with each other in the darkness, just before the dawn.

Less theatre, than the almost-cavalcade, as those who served, and their children, marching with their children’s children, accompanied our community along the main street of Eumungerie, and Griffith, and Sydney’s CBD.

For most of us, Reveille will not sound except, perhaps, in memory.

However, what matters will be present. The remembering, the acknowledgement, the loss, the thankfulness, will all be extant.

Those who served – and still serve – at risk to themselves for others’ sake will still be held in our memories and our prayers.

We will still grieve a death from yesterday, or know the inherited grief of more than a century past.

We are still responsible for those who have returned broken and unsure, believing themselves less than they were, or burdened by far more. And for those who care for them, and for whom they care, what shall we offer? Surely more than memory, or our thankfulness, or our tears?

As disciples of the risen, crucified Jesus, we stand at our gates to remember, but also to look forward. We assert that the violent injustice of war has rarely been an answer, and never a hopeful one.

We proclaim a faith in which our God, our selves, our neighbour and even our enemy are loved. So what does remembering look like, in hope, as we follow Jesus?

We embody that hope of forgiveness and life, present in Jesus, in every relationship we share.

We will stand in thankfulness for service rendered;
we kneel in grief for lives lost, or broken;
we oppose those who call war peace, and violence justice;
and we love our neighbour, and our enemy, at cost to ourselves.

We are an Easter people, believing in hope beyond death. It is this which forms us for our remembering – for the past and for our future.

Locating Hope

We know how this season works, whether we are people of faith, or not.

Notwithstanding the clumsy marketing of some supermarkets immediately after Christmas, hot cross buns and chocolate eggs usually appear in late February, so we know that Easter is near.

Despite the irony of buns and chocolate, the Christian church has traditionally marked the weeks before Easter with the challenges of discipline and occasionally abstinence, preparing for the event which is the coherent crux of belief in Jesus Christ.

Many of us – people of faith, some faith and none – have danced this dance before, with worship attendance significantly larger than usual over the Easter weekend. For those of us who honour faithfulness and sacrifice, Anzac Day follows on, sometimes within days.

Easter is about community, acknowledging with thankfulness a priceless sacrifice, the solidarity of Jesus with the brokenness of every human being, and the affirmation that love is stronger than death.

But this year, the dance is entirely different, and many may feel that we will dance alone.

We know, despite their depredations, how to manage natural disasters when they come. The chaos of the fire season, ravaging the drought-scorched landscape, drew us even closer as community. We carried people in our arms and our prayers, gathered on beaches, in surf clubs, and lounge rooms – together. Our fear was lessened because our shoulders bumped old and new friends as we faced the crisis.

This season we wait, in our individual spaces, zooming and texting and tweeting, quarantined from a virus and each other, wondering how to share communion, or play two-up, with no one standing, or laughing, or weeping, or singing, next to us.

This year, sanctuaries across the planet which are usually replete with music and colour and celebration will sit silent over the Easter weekend. In this season of disorder, our community will try to find its steps.

Churches and families have already begun to adapt, with a plethora of choice in worship and theology sweeping across the net, matched only by the marketing of businesses as chaos confronts the world they know. As in everything, some are acts of creativity and faithfulness; some, of course, are not.

However, a zoomed event is not the same as shaking the hand of a friend, or leaning on their shoulder. Sharing a meal, blessing a marriage, weeping at a graveside, blowing out birthday candles are inherent to the weave of all our lives.

People in our community are wary of their quarantine, as mental health concerns become more tangible. For some, home is not the sanctuary everyone deserves; violence and abuse can be appalling visitors when uncertainty and fear meet loneliness and isolation.

How will we care? How will our compassion be realised for those around us? Incidental conversations need now to be more deliberate, as we attend to those who might not call our attention to their need – small, or not so small.

Easter is more than what happened in Jerusalem two millennia ago. It is more than a story of empire and sacrifice, betrayal and suffering. It declares far more than a promise of life wrested from the silent injustice of death.

Easter is hope. This is not the trivialised “hope” for a parking space, or that it rains tomorrow. This is the hope which looks at what Jesus proclaimed in his life, in his death, and when he was raised again to life.

How Jesus invites (calls!) us to live – loving our neighbour, our enemies, even ourselves – is made tangible in his suffering and death at the hands of his neighbours and those who feared and hated him.

Jesus is the one who understands the fear of suffering, the grief of isolation, the pain of unjust violence. Jesus is the one who seeks forgiveness for those who harm him.  

Hope resides here.

Those who follow Jesus Christ place their hope in all our suffering being met on the cross with Jesus; when Jesus was raised to life, death was no longer the most powerful word.

Love is.

So, this Easter, we will care for each other, sing our songs, eat our chocolate eggs and call the spinner in by zoom.

We will declare our hope that this story of separation is not our complete story, and will end. We will assert our need for community and justice and life.

We will dance, now and in the days to come.

Faith in a Time of Covid19

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

A friend and colleague reminded me today of this wonderful Easter verse,

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” [John 20.19]

As we talk in our families, congregations and communities about isolation and quarantine, as we consider the fear and uncertainty which infiltrates so much of our world, the risen Christ steps in amongst us.

Leaders of all our presbyteries and our Synod met this morning, to consider how we can best serve our Church and our God, at this perplexing time. Pragmatic issues of safety and finance were undergirded and challenged by the need to care for people across our Church and community, and to continue our worship, witness and service to the living God.

In this season leading to Easter, I remind you that we are disciples of the risen, crucified Lord, who speaks to our lives now. The Basis of Union states “the Church is able to live and endure through the changes of history only because its Lord comes, addresses, and deals with people in and through the news of his completed work.”

We face challenging, difficult times. Our community is uncertain, afraid. We will need to learn how to worship and gather in new ways in the weeks and months ahead. We will discover new ways of being in community, like Zoom and Skype; we may rediscover ways of contact that we may have laid aside, like phone calls and snail mail.

Jesus is with us, allaying our fear and leading us in hope.

Jesus’ presence brings peace when everything is in turmoil, and we are unsure of what is next. Jesus’ death and resurrection assert the promise of God is greater than our circumstances, and offers hope for today and tomorrow.

In the days ahead the greetings of peace we will share affirm our faith in our God, and is the witness we bear in the world around us.

I am praying for you, our congregations and our presbyteries as we navigate these days under the song of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Grace and peace for these days.