Sunday Service: Communion & the Thief on the Cross

Join us for online worship this Sunday August 2nd at 10:00am. I’m continuing our summer sermon series, Faces of Faith: Bold and Untold Stories of the Bible, and will be preaching this week from Luke 23:32-43, the story of the thief on the cross.

Together, we will celebrate the sacrament of communion, so please remember to gather your elements.

And we will also be honoring the many Radcliffe Room volunteers who have stepped up over the past eighteen weeks to serve a daily hot lunch to hungry guests in Triangle Park. We hope to see you on Sunday morning.

Join us for 10:00am Sunday Worship here
Dial-in#: 1-929-436-2866 Meeting ID 150 620 342

And a prayer from the Iona Abbey Worship Book to nourish you this week:

God, in whose heart is love and justice,
show us this day whom we must love
and what we should challenge or change
in order that your will for the earth might be done.
Increase our hope,
dispel our apathy;
inspire our imagination,
and deepen our commitment
until we become the signs of your kindom.
Amen.

Peace and Courage,
Heather

Storytelling for Survival: A Morning with Dr. Judy Fentress-Williams

Unusual tactics, unlikely allies. That’s the pattern of survival stories, said Dr. Judy Fentress-Williams, our McClendon Scholar last weekend. And these stories, which push back against a traumatic reality and engage our imaginations, can help and inspire us as we navigate our lives today.

The book of Ruth is a story of survival, she said: Naomi and Ruth are unlikely partners who employ unusual tactics that lead them not only to survive, but to thrive and become part of Jesus’ genealogy.

Families tell survival stories too. Fentress-Williams told of her husband’s grandfather, Milton Benjamin Flowers. Having built a good life and land equity for his family, he applied for an educational loan. “Negroes aren’t allowed to get educational loans,” said his banker.  But Milton discovered he did qualify for a property improvement loan. And so he “improved his property” each time a child went to college. When his last child was ready for college, he again went to the bank. “Milton, what are you doing on that farm?” the banker asked. “I use the money to invest in this land for my family,” said Milton.

Milton’s story and the book of Ruth begin with trauma. In both, a short sentence tells a deep story. For Milton, the sentence is “Negroes aren’t allowed to get educational loans.” In Ruth, it’s “there was a famine in the land.” And in both, unlikely partners and unusual tactics, combined with imagination, overcome the impact of the trauma.

The power of these stories is in the telling, she said. Milton Benjamin Flowers was not Judy Fentress-Williams’ ancestor; it is not her family’s story. “But if I tell it enough times, it will eventually become mine.”

Dialogic Interpretation. For Fentress-Williams, to read the bible is to engage in dialog. What we call the bible is a collection of writings collected from different sources over an extended period of time: “The truth that it has to yield to us is a dialogic one.” The bible is in dialog with itself; and we are in dialog with the bible.

And we cannot separate our own experience from our experience with the scriptures. For example, early in the pandemic, the story of Noah’s ark was one of sanctuary for Fentress-Williams. But after George Floyd’s murder, she no longer felt she was safely on the ark. The story told a different truth: Instead of being about safety, it became a story about the need for a larger ark.

Trauma and Survival. These scriptures come to us out of the trauma of the Babylonian exile, and that should have an influence on how we read the text, she added. The exiles collected these texts to help them survive, and when we read stories in the Bible from this perspective, we can find key tips for survival in an uncertain world.

Stories of the Israelites were “told in ways that defied their experience, that pushed against reality,” said Fentress-Williams. They created a safe space for those who needed it, and they engaged the imagination, “perhaps our most important survival skill of all.”

The Gift of Imagination. She then walked us through quick readings of Exodus 1 and 2, showing how these stories push back against trauma, and engage our imaginations with unusual tactics and unlikely allies.

In Exodus 1, the extended introduction detailing  the Israelites’ oppression highlights the trauma of this story. In addition, she noted, the first violence in this story is the act of making the Israelites “other.” This act of othering comes before the enslavement, before the calls for physical violence.

But the story takes a turn, pushing back against the trauma with a short phrase that establishes an alternative reality to Pharoah’s: “But the midwives feared God.” Then the action plays out with unusual tactics and unlikely allies: The midwives align themselves with God’s reality by disobeying Pharaoh’s order to kill the Hebrew babies and lying about it – “the Hebrew women are vigorous and deliver before we arrive” – a lie Pharaoh believes because of his othering of the Hebrew people.

The survival of baby Moses in Exodus 2 also includes unusual tactics and unlikely partnerships, she pointed out. Not only does Moses’ mother put him in a basket, but the partnership of Moses’ sister Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter is certainly unlikely! This story also pushes back against Pharaoh’s reality with God’s reality. Pharaoh’s daughter saw, heard, and took pity on baby Moses. These are the same verbs that describe God’s response to the Hebrew’s cry from bondage. “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering” (Exodus 3:7).

Telling the Story. “So many of us are asking what we can do. One thing all of us can do is to tell the story,” Fentress-Williams concluded.

We can tell how the story of our walk with God pushes up against the realities of our day. “We will find ourselves in unlikely circumstances with unlikely partners,” she said, and we will be able to act, facilitated by our imagination.

The talk concluded with a discussion with Rev. Heather Shortlidge and a Q&A session. A full recording of the talk will be available soon at https://www.nyapc.org/mcclendon-sir/

‘Courage out of Crisis’ – Dr. Judy Fentress-Williams

Dear Friends,

Join us for online worship this Sunday July 26th at 10:00am. Our guest preacher, Dr. Judy Fentress-Williams, will be preaching “Courage Out of Crisis” from II Kings 4:1-7. Dr. Fentress-Williams is Professor of Old Testament at Virginia Theological Seminary and Senior Assistant to the Pastor at Alfred Street Baptist Church.

Join us for 10:00am Sunday Worship here

Dial-in#: 1-929-436-2866 Meeting ID 150 620 342

The Personnel Committee is pleased to announce that the Rev. Rachel Pacheco will be joining the staff as our new Associate Stated Supply Pastor. Rachel will begin this ¾ time position (30 hours per week) on August 18th and will be with us for at least twelve months. She comes from Church of the Pilgrims in Dupont Circle where she’s been serving as the Director of The Pilgrimage, a service-learning hostel that connects faith formation to social awareness and action. 

A huge thank you to the 30+ volunteers who have helped with the daily hot lunch program in Triangle Park. For the past four months, our Radcliffe Room volunteers, under the steady leadership of Phil Telfeyan, have been distributing 175 daily lunches that have been graciously provided by World Central Kitchen. Thank you to all who picked up food at Nats Stadium or area restaurants, who braved law enforcement blockades to deliver it, who helped reheat the meals and serve them to our hungry guests. By our calculations, that’s 130 back to back days of lunch service, over 22,000 World Central Kitchen meals, and 1,300 volunteer hours. Thank you for making a difference in the lives of so many people. Even in the midst of a pandemic, the church has continued to be the church.

At the end of next week, our Radcliffe Room volunteers will be scaling back to their original schedule of Sunday only. World Central Kitchen is scaling down and no longer able to provide us with meals, hence the change. Our partners at the Downtown Day Services Center (DDSC) will continue to provide their meals, but without the donated food from World Central Kitchen, there isn’t a need for week day Radcliffe Room volunteers. You can still support those experiencing homelessness, by volunteering on Sundays. Sign up here.

And a prayer from Sister Joan Chittister to leave you nourished this week:

Loving God,
lead us beyond ourselves
to care and protect,
to nourish and shape,
to challenge and energize
both the life and the world
You have given us.

God of light and God of darkness,
God of conscience and God of courage
lead us through this time
of spiritual confusion and public uncertainty.

Lead us beyond fear, apathy and defensiveness
to new hope in You and to hearts full of faith.

Give us the conscience it takes
to comprehend what we’re facing,
to see what we’re looking at
and to say what we see
o that others, hearing us,
may also brave the pressure that comes
with being out of public step.

Give us courage we need
o confront those things
that comprise our consciences
or threaten our integrity.

Give us, most of all,
the courage to follow those before us
who challenge wrong and changed it,
whatever the cost to themselves.
Prayer for Conscience and Courage by Joan Chittister

Peace and Courage,

Heather

“From Lament to Hope:” GA Calls for Action on Racism

Responding to racism wasn’t on the agenda. Plans for the first-ever virtual General Assembly pared the agenda down to the minimum required to keep the PC(USA) going for another two years, until the next GA. But commissioners (including our own Miriam Dewhurst) made sure that what was originally “out of order” would be very much “in order,” in the form of a resolution adopted by the 2020 General Assembly:

This 224th General Assembly of the PC(USA) declares that Black lives matter. … We pledge to join hands and hearts with our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) siblings to actively confront and dismantle systemic racism in our church and in society at large, and to work for a more just, merciful, and peaceful country that allows all of God’s children to flourish.

So begins “On the Church in This Moment in History – Responding to the Sin of Racism.” The resolution confesses complicity with systemic racism and white privilege and calls for the PC(USA) at all levels, from General Assembly offices to congregations, to study task force reports that were postponed to the 2022 GA, and to develop and adopt antiracism policies. “This work can be done now at all levels, even in advance of the 225th General Assembly, at which time that General Assembly can act on setting a constitutional requirement to do so if it chooses.”

The motion passed 407-72, and some critiqued it for not going far enough. For more details on the process, talk to our own Miriam Dewhurst, a commissioner to the General Assembly who was actively involved in getting this motion to a vote. Read an article about the motion in Presbyterian Outlook here and download the full text of the resolution below.

From Rev. Heather Shortlidge – Anna’s Story

Dear Members and Friends,

Join us for worship this Sunday July 19th at 10:00am via Zoom. Our summer sermon series, Faces of Faith: Bold and Untold Stories continues, focusing this week on the widowed prophet Anna, who meets the newborn Christ. You can find Anna’s story in Luke 2:21-38.

Join us for 10:00am Sunday Worship here

The Personnel Committee has been hard at work, ensuring that the church is properly staffed. Last week, we said goodbye to Rev. Billy Kluttz, who has moved on to serve as the Associate Pastor at Govans Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, the city in which his husband is now doing a residency. The Personnel Committee is currently negotiating with someone to serve as a ¾-time Associate Stated Supply Pastor. This person will begin mid-August—more details coming soon. We’ve also brought on board Will Timmons to serve as a paid Worship Coordinator, an 8-10 hour a week contract position. Will began in this new role on Tuesday and will now direct the production of online worship, ensuring that we continue to have a high-quality Zoom experience. Will has been volunteering on the worship tech team since March and has been essential to NYAPC’s successful transition to online worship.

Your Pastoral Nominating Committee (PNC) is now meeting regularly on Sunday evenings from 7:00-9:00pm. Please continue to keep this group in your prayers as they begin the faithful process of discerning NYAPC’s next Lead Pastor.

Finally, a prayer for the life of the world by John Philip Newell. Since returning from vacation, I’ve been hearing from many of you about the fear that is welling up inside you—how long will we need to keep up this virtual reality, the rising Covid-19 death count, the trampling of truth by elected leaders, and deep concern for those who are stuck in homes that are not safe and essential workers who take risks in order to help the many. We gather these very real fears and take them to God in prayer:

To the home of peace
to the field of love
to the land where forgiveness and right relationship meet
we look, O God,
with longing on earth’s children
with compassion for the creatures
with hearts breaking for the nations and people we love.
Open us to visions we have never known
strengthen us for self-givings we have never made
delight us with a oneness we could never have imagined
that we may truly be born of you
makers of peace.

Peace and Courage,

Heather

What’s Going On: The Pandemic Flower Project

By Gwenn Gebhard

Each week since early April, three members of our congregation have received flowers from NYAPC, thanks to a combination of generosity and creative thinking. When the church moved to online worship back in March, the Diaconal Ministers canceled its weekly orders for Sanctuary flowers from Foxglove Flowers, but committed to continue to pay this small business during the pandemic. That’s when owner Yvonne Trujillo made a creative offer:

Thank you so much for your offer to continue to pay me for the weeks that your church is closed during this COVID-19 crisis. I had an idea come to mind. You could give me the names and addresses (including phone numbers for delivery purposes) of __ people of your congregation per week. And I will deliver a fresh $___ value arrangement to each person. This way you will put this money to good use & cheer up some members of your congregation.

Foxglove Flowers LLC designs and puts together our sanctuary flower arrangements that sit on either side of the altar during worship services. These arrangements are paid for out of the Flower Fund, money the Diaconal Ministers use primarily for each Sunday’s flowers, along with poinsettias for Christmas, and lilies, ferns, hydrangea, and azaleas for Easter. Contributions from the congregation for special dedications replenish the fund.

We negotiated for three flower arrangements each week to be delivered to three addresses in close proximity to one another (to reduce delivery costs). Unless the arrangement is for a bereavement, the card delivered with the flowers usually says:

These flowers represent God’s presence and our prayers that blessings of calmness, courage, health, and hope be with you in these difficult times. From the Diaconal Ministers at NYAPC.

For many years, the DMs have re-arranged the sanctuary flower arrangements into smaller bouquets and delivered them to members of the congregation who are ill or homebound, celebrating a special anniversary or a birthday, and as a thank you for their service to NYAPC. This project takes the place of that work.

This project also keeps a small business, Foxglove Flowers, functioning and their staff employed. Yvonne Trujillo is a European trained Floral Designer of over 20 years’ experience. She says on her website: “Floral Design is my passion! I like helping my clients express their feeling through personalized Floral Creations. Hobbies are baking and hiking with family.”

The Diaconal Ministers welcome your contributions to the Flower Fund. Because we did not have our usual Easter Lily dedications, the Diaconal Ministers missed an opportunity to replenish the fund.  You can donate by going to https://www.nyapc.org/give-now/. Select “General Donation” and note “Flower Fund” in the accompanying box.

Peddling Hope – from Rev. Billy Kluttz

Grace and peace be with you!

This Sunday, we gather to hear the story of Vashti from Esther chapter one. Vashti is the queen dethroned for her disobedience to the king. Within a season of civil disobedience, I believe that Vashti is just the prophet that we need right now. If the story of Vashti (and the Book of Esther) is not fresh in your mind, you may enjoy remembering her story with this humorous parody and midrash by artist Felicia Sloin, click here.

Next week, we are also excited to announce the launch of our new Digital Church Hub which will provide you with quick links on our website homepage to access the information and resources you need during the pandemic. To visit the new Digital Church Hub after it goes live, go to http://www.nyapc.org. And, if you prefer the website as it was, there’s a button for that, too! This has been a summer-long project with our new communications team. Special thanks to Erica Morgan, Will Timmons, and Meg House for their hard work on this import effort.

This Sunday will also be my last Sunday with you. I want to say “thank you” for working alongside me this summer. I hope that I have encouraged you to continue your vital ministries as a church. I hope that I have helped equip you to be the church in the digital age. I hope that I challenged and comforted you and your soul through my words and/or silence.

You all have certainly been an inspiration to me this summer. Our work together has reminded me of my love for the church–and of the great power disciples of Jesus still have to affect change in the world. Your commitment to justice and creatively doing church during this pandemic are points of hope for me that I will carry with me into my next call in Baltimore.

My favorite quote comes from the Moroccan feminist Fatema Mernissi’s book, Scheherezade Goes West. The book itself is a study of the harem in western artistic portrayals—an apt subject for conversation this week because the harem plays a special role in the story of Esther. But the quotation comes from the book’s ending in which Mernissi imagines what she might have done with her life if she had been denied an education. She writes: “Yes, I would have peddled hope. Hope is my drug and official addiction. Pessimism is the luxury of the powerful. I can’t afford it.”

Keep peddling hope, New York Avenue! Your example and witness have already given me such great hope for the future of the church. Thank you for sharing that with me and with each other. I will be cheering you on from a little farther up I-95.

Peace,
Billy

Black Lives Matter Protestor Hospitality

Black Lives Matter protestors march by New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, where they can find access to restrooms, water and respite. Photo: Aryn Myers

The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church has recently used its building’s unique location, two blocks from the White House, to support the current protests for Black Lives Matter. Embodying NYAPC’s value of radical hospitality, volunteers ensure protestors have access to restrooms, water and a safe place to recharge.

NYAPC has found itself on the frontlines for justice and social change throughout history. The congregation and its leaders actively participated in civil rights marches, anti-war protests, and the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign. The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, sometimes known as “Lincoln’s Church” because President Abraham Lincoln worshipped there, also houses an early draft of the Emancipation Declaration written by President Lincoln.

John Wiley, Eleanor K. Robins, and Vincent de Forest stand outside the Poor People’s Campaign Information Center at NYAPC in the spring of 1968.

Protestor hospitality is a continuation of this work. The church opened its doors for the Women’s March, the March for Our Lives, and now for the current Black Lives Matter protests, providing access to restrooms, water, cell phone charging and cooling stations. In a unique time during the pandemic, these services are in even greater demand with many other businesses and buildings closed. Click here to join our volunteer email list and help open our doors during city protests and marches.

The church also displayed protest art on its building in a series of installations in celebration of Juneteenth. The congregation and friends submitted protest signs to be hung along New York Avenue, a main thoroughfare of the protests. NYAPC also partnered with a local artist and light designer John D. Alexander that evening to display Enlight of Solidarity: Juneteenth “Power to the People” (pictured below) expressing commitment to social justice for Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ communities. Find out more about the art installations here.

Protestors pass the Juneteenth protest art installation at NYAPC. Photo Eric Bond.
Juneteenth Light Installation Enlight of Solidarity: Juneteenth “Power to the People”. Photo: Eric Bond.

What Does Ministry Look Like During a Pandemic?

As the pandemic has changed the world around us, New York Avenue Presbyterian Church has continued its mission to “express God’s Love, engage in God’s justice” in the center of Washington, D.C. Although in-person worship services and day-to-day tenant operations serving marginalized groups have paused, NYAPC continues its work in new and creative ways. These include continued ministry to those experiencing homelessness and online advocacy for under served communities. 

Ministry to Those Experiencing Homelessness:

Guests line up to receive lunch daily, provided by World Central Kitchen, at the Triangle Park.

NYAPC has long served those who are experiencing homelessness in Washington D.C. through a program called The Radcliffe Room, usually operating Sunday mornings inside the church offering food, coffee and a closet where guests can find clothing, shoes and essentials. Instead of suspending operations, the team has gotten creative and moved operations outdoors to the Triangle Park directly in front of the church building where social distancing can be enforced. Find out more about volunteer opportunities and where to donate clothing items here.

NYAPC is also now partnering with World Central Kitchen, the not-for-profit founded by José Andrés, to provide lunch seven days a week out of the Triangle Park for those experiencing hardship and homelessness during the time of the pandemic. Many indoor public services have been suspended due to Covid-19, and this remains a way to continue service to the community. Volunteers are welcome to sign up here to help with this initiative.

Ministry through Advocacy:

The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church is a member of the Washington Interfaith Network (WIN), a broad-based, multi-racial, multi-faith, strictly non-partisan, District-wide citizens’ power organization, rooted in local congregations and associations. WIN is committed to training and developing neighborhood leaders, to addressing community issues, and to holding elected and corporate officials accountable in Washington, DC.

Most recently, WIN has organized virtual action in the times of the pandemic, and members of NYAPC have attended in support of their most recent Virtual Public Action, showing the power in numbers to demand investment in the under served communities of DC. Visit here for more details.

NYAPC and other WIN Members at the recent Virtual Public Action meeting on Zoom.

More Light: What Does That Mean?

Pictured above, NYAPC columns are lit to celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month. Photo by Eric Bond.

The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church is a More Light congregation. More Light Presbyterians, a network of over 230 congregations, works to “empower and equip individuals and congregations to live into their welcome for LGBTQIA+ people.” As its mission statement says:

Following the risen Christ, and seeking to make the Church a true community of hospitality, the mission of More Light Presbyterians is to work for the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA+) people in the life, ministry and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and in society.

The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church Session voted to join this network in 1998 to advocate for the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ folks in the world and the church. For us, that has meant choosing and supporting LGBTQ leaders in our local congregation, calling LGBTQ pastors, lobbying for LGBTQ rights in the civic arena and in our denominational structures, caring for LGBTQ persons and families in our midst, and supporting national advocacy groups, such as More Light Presbyterians. 

If you or someone you love identifies as LGBTQ+, you are welcome here! We look forward to marching at Pride alongside you, celebrating weddings, marking gender transitions, baptizing children, working for justice, and seeking the loving and peaceful reign of God together in Jesus’ name.