Changing Minds: Lincoln and Gurley in 1862

Notes from a class with John O’Brien by Meg Hanna House

In February 1862, after the death of his 11-year-old son Willie, President Abraham Lincoln began meeting with NYAPC’s Rev. Phineas Gurley as he worked through his grief. At the same time, Lincoln was also planning his most controversial decision of the war, proclaiming Emancipation. 

How did meetings between President Lincoln and Rev. Gurley affect each man’s thinking? In his adult education class on May 8, John O’Brien traced the parallel tracks of Lincoln’s and Gurley’s thoughts about the war, slavery, and God before and after 1862.

Lincoln’s speeches and correspondence before and after this time show him developing ideas about a more personal yet mysterious God, who cannot be harnessed to human desires.

As for Gurley? After the war, he moderated the 1868 General Assembly, which united New School and Old School Presbyterians in the north, changing American Presbyterianism and setting the stage for the Social Gospel movement, O’Brien explained.

Presbyterians and Slavery
American Presbyterianism “started off on the right foot,” said O’Brien, declaring in 1801 that slavery was immoral. But as the power of the cotton culture grew, the church moved away from “political issues,” stating that the Bible did not explicitly condemn slavery.

By 1860, the Presbyterian church positions fell into three categories:

  • One faction, represented by Charles Hodge of Princeton Seminary, argued that the US could place limits on slavery, but largely agreed that the Bible did not condemn slavery.
  • Another, represented by Robert J. Breckinridge, reflected border state thinking and argued that the Constitution was a gift from God and that decisions about slavery should be based on the Constitution.
  • Finally, the leader of the Southern Presbyterian Church most strongly defended slavery and secession, citing both the constitution and the Bible.

Gurley, God, and Slavery
Gurley most closely aligned with Breckinridge’s thinking. He preached a gospel-based theology that avoided the political issues of the day, said John O’Brien. God is all present, all powerful and all loving, and desires a personal relationship with humans. But God’s ways are mysterious, said Gurley. Human’s ways are not God’s ways and God’s time is not human time. As such, Gurley thought the church should have no political opinion. Still, God works through human beings – “human instrumentalities” – who can use their own free will to fulfill God’s purposes.

In his sermons, said O’Brien, Gurley encouraged his listeners to take their cares to God, to read the Bible and accept that it reveals how God wants us to live, to make a public confession of faith in Christ – and to avoid theaters.

Lincoln never made a public confession of faith, and “we can only wish Lincoln would have paid attention” to Gurley’s warning about theaters, said O’Brien. Nevertheless, his thinking evolved during this time.

Lincoln’s Reflections on God
Lincoln’s faith appears to have been primarily a “public religion” going into this time. Writing in 1850, he subscribed to the “doctrine of necessity” (God as an impersonal watchmaker). Later, in his first inauguration speech, Lincoln portrayed God as a referee who will decide who wins. In addition, he initially focused on the issue of secession as the cause of the Civil War, not slavery. But by July of 1862, Lincoln had written a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation and was thinking about how to sell it to the country.

O’Brien shared several quotes from Lincoln’s writing that show Lincoln’s thinking evolving. One, a “Meditation on Divine Will,” discovered after Lincoln died, seems to accept a more personal, active God, said O’Brien. If the war was only about the Union, then one side surely would have won. But God must want something different. O’Brien said this reflects conversation going on in Presbyterianism as well, and Lincoln’s use of the phrase “human instrumentalities” echoes Gurley’s theology.  

In other writing after Willie’s death, Lincoln also seems to pick up on Gurley’s belief that God’s ways are mysterious, pushing back on the idea that humans can know the will of God. In addition to this change in his perspective on God, Lincoln begins to write about slavery as the cause of the war more frequently, said O’Brien, citing several excerpts from his writing.

Was Lincoln religious in the end? As John O’Brien noted, most mainstream scholars are not religious. But, he added, it’s hard to read Lincoln’s correspondence after 1862 and not see Lincoln working out what God was doing, even though Lincoln never subscribed to a specific doctrine.

Phineas Gurley, on the other hand, went on to lead the reconciliation of the New School and Old School churches of the northern Presbyterian church, much to the dismay of Charles Hodge of Princeton Seminary, who had hoped the Old School would join the Southern church. The New School was more revivalist and open to reaching out to African Americans, and this Old School-New School reunification set the stage for the Social Gospel movement to come.

Thank you, John O’Brien for a fascinating class!

From Rev. Heather Shortlidge

Dear Friends,

Much has shifted following last week’s CDC updated guidance on masking and distancing. As we begin to re-emerge from fifteen months of restrictions, I look forward to a more relaxed summer. Worship will still continue online, however, there will be several opportunities to physically gather together throughout the summer months. Stay tuned for updated events and a summary of the recent congregational survey.

For the time being, masks will still be required inside the church. While it is true that many people are getting vaccinated, it is also true that many are not – including children and those at risk, all of whom are important parts of our community. Continuing to wear a mask indoors is a way we can honor and respect the community as a whole.

Currently, our Facilities Staff is working inside the building, managing the HVAC construction project and readying the 5th floor for our tenant, the McClendon Center, to return in a couple of weeks. The rest of the NYAPC church staff, including your pastors, continue to work remotely with occasional trips to the building.

In worship this Sunday May 23rd, we’ll celebrate Pentecost, the day the church celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit, which came with wind and flame, empowering the disciples to proclaim the good news of the risen Lord to all people. Worshippers are encouraged to wear red as part of Sunday’s celebration. Guest preacher, Rev. Larissa Kwong Abazia, currently serves as the pastor at Hillsborough Presbyterian Church in New Jersey and works as a consultant with Vandersall Collective. Previously she served as the Vice Moderator of the 221st General Assembly. This Sunday’s worship is one of our simplified summer services, still live on Zoom, but with a more streamlined liturgy, recorded guest preacher, and a few less bells and whistles.

Join us on Zoom at 10:00am
Dial: 1-929-436-2866 with Meeting ID: 150 620 342

Finally, a Pentecost blessing from Jan Richardson to nourish your spirit this week:

This Grace That Scorches Us
A Blessing for Pentecost Day

Here’s one thing
you must understand
about this blessing:
it is not
for you alone.

It is stubborn
about this.
Do not even try
to lay hold of it
if you are by yourself,
thinking you can carry it
on your own.

To bear this blessing,
you must first take yourself
to a place where everyone
does not look like you
or think like you,
a place where they do not
believe precisely as you believe,
where their thoughts
and ideas and gestures
are not exact echoes
of your own.

Bring your sorrow.
Bring your grief.
Bring your fear.
Bring your weariness,
your pain,
your disgust at how broken
the world is,
how fractured,
how fragmented
by its fighting,
its wars,
its hungers,
its penchant for power,
its ceaseless repetition
of the history it refuses
to rise above.

I will not tell you
this blessing will fix all that.

But in the place
where you have gathered,
Lay aside your inability
to be surprised,
your resistance to what you
do not understand.
See then whether this blessing
turns to flame on your tongue,
sets you to speaking
what you cannot fathom

or opens your ear
to a language
beyond your imagining
that comes as a knowing
in your bones,
a clarity
in your heart
that tells you

this is the reason
we were made:
for this ache
that finally opens us,

for this struggle,
this grace
that scorches us
toward one another
and into
the blazing day.

—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

Peace and Courage,


May 16 Is Youth Sunday

Worship this week is Youth Sunday. The middle school and high school youth have written liturgy, recorded special music, and prepared to lead us all in worship this week. Linda Kelly prepared the sermon, with help from Leo Brigham, and will preach on John 8:2-11 about the woman accused of adultery. There is a youth choir piece, along with some solo and duet hymns. Gather on zoom to experience God at work in this congregation. Linger after worship this week for fellowship and conversation with the youth and one another. It’s been a privilege to walk with them in planning and developing this worship service.

Join us on Zoom at 10:00 am
Dial: 1-929-436-2866 with Meeting ID: 150 620 342

We had an extensive response to the congregational survey. Thank you for your intentionality and time in articulating your perspectives. This information is one of several sources of input for the discernment and planning of church life this summer and fall.

I will be on vacation this week and on a personal spiritual retreat the week after, returning to work on June 2. Email me today or tomorrow if you need anything before I leave.

May you experience God’s love surrounding you this week.



Summer Worship Plans

In anticipation of returning to the sanctuary for worship this fall (Alleluia! Amen!), the Session has approved a summer worship schedule that has us continuing to worship virtually through at least the end of August. (Our return depends not only on the pandemic but also completion of the HVAC replacement currently underway.)

See the full summer worship schedule here

The summer schedule includes a mixture of regular Zoom worship services (what we’ve been doing throughout the pandemic), simplified Zoom worship services with guest preachers, and two virtual visits to experience how other congregations are worshipping. Each of these visits will be followed the next Sunday by a time of conversation facilitated by Rev. Shortlidge, so we can share our experiences.

Going ‘Hybrid’
This summer worship plan allows our pastors, tech team, and Worship & Music Committee members the space and time they need to think through and build what’s next—a hybrid worship service, broadcast from inside the NYAPC sanctuary.

Throughout the pandemic, a wonderful virtual worshipping community has been cultivated, and we don’t want to lose our virtual worshippers by returning to what was—a one-way livestream from the balcony.

The plan is to use the summer months to organize, build, and practice a hybrid worship service, which includes installing new technology inside the sanctuary. Eventually, the congregation will be welcomed back to the sanctuary for a hybrid service consistent with health guidance at the time.

We understand that some of you are hungry to return to in person worship. This summer plan allows us to do that as quickly and comfortably as our staff, our building, and health guidelines all allow. In the meantime, we’re excited by the variety of voices you’ll be hearing from our virtual pulpit this summer.

Grace and Peace,
The Worship & Music Committee
Co-Chairs, Don Campbell and Meg Neill

What’s Going On? Worship Plans, Youth Sunday, Breeze How-to

Plan to stay after worship this Sunday, May 9, for an information session with our Worship and Music Committee, chaired by elders Meg Neill and Don Campbell. The committee has been hard at work planning our summer worship schedule and preparing for our return to in-person worship in the fall. There will also be an update on the HVAC project, which of course affects our return to the sanctuary.

And if you haven’t had a chance to complete the survey about summer and fall programming, please take the five to ten minute survey now.

Speaking of worship, Sunday, May 16, is Youth Sunday! Pastor Rachel reports that our youth are planning, writing, and recording music for the service, which will focus on the story of religious leaders trying to trick Jesus as they condemn a women accused of adultery (John 8:2-11).

Finally, if you missed last Sunday’s “Intro to Breeze,” the new membership database that the office uses to track membership, directory, and pledge and contribution information, never fear. You can see a pdf of the presentation here. Email or with questions.

From Rev. Heather Shortlidge

Dear Friends,

Join us for Zoom Worship this Sunday, May 2nd at 10:00am. I’m preaching from John 15:1-8, and we will celebrate the sacrament of communion. Immediately following worship, there will be an introduction and training for our new church database, Breeze, conducted by Elder Meg House.

Join us on Zoom at 10:00am
Dial: 1-929-436-2866 with Meeting ID: 150 620 342

Yesterday, in a separate email, you should have received a brief survey about worship and programs for this summer and early fall. Your session and staff are working together to help create meaningful in person gatherings this summer and in person worship this fall. In order to plan, we want to hear from you. Please take a few minutes to provide your feedback before Sunday May 9th. You can access the survey here.

And some words about prayer to nourish you this week:

Every day I want to speak with you.
And every day something more important
calls for my attention—
the drugstore, the beauty products, the luggage
I need to buy for the trip.
Even now I can hardly sit here
among the falling piles of paper and clothing,
the garbage trucks outside
already screeching and banging.
The mystics say you are as close as my own breath.
Why do I flee from you?
My days and nights pour through me like complaints
and become a story I forgot to tell.
Help me. Even as I write these words I am planning
to rise from the chair as soon as I finish this sentence.

-“Prayer” by Marie Howe

Peace and Courage,


It’s a Breeze! Our Move to a New Membership Database

Want to find a phone number or email of a fellow church member? Check on your contributions when you can’t find your latest giving statement? Change your own address or phone number in the church directory?  Now you can do this, with our new church membership database!

As many of you know, our church office recently transitioned to a new system, called Breeze. The old system, state-of-the-art 20+ years ago, was no longer serving us, and new database technology, linked to our online giving system, now makes it easier for the office and our finance manager to keep our membership directory and contribution records up to date.

But the system is not only for the office. Over the last weeks, we’ve been gradually rolling it out to members of boards and committees, and this Sunday, you too can learn how to have access to Breeze, during a short demonstration after worship.

Here’s why you might want to attend: To learn how to access a searchable database of members, so you can easily find contact information. You can even download an app for your phone. The system also allows you to see your own contribution history and to edit your own contact information.

To answer some questions you might have:

Can anyone have access? No – only those invited by the database administrators (the office and the team supporting the office) can have access to the database. Administrators control who has access and how much those who have access can see.

Yes, what can members see?  Once you set up your account, you’ll be able to see contact and family information for other members and see all the information about yourself in the system, including own personal pledge and giving history.  See something wrong in your contact information? You can fix it yourself right there.  Need to find a phone number or email for a fellow member?  Just type part of their name in the search bar and up they’ll pop!

What about a photo directory?  This can be our online photo directory. All you need to do is upload a photo of yourself. We’re encouraging everyone to do this.

What are other uses of the database? Members of boards, committees and teams can be granted special permissions depending on their needs. A small “data edit” team is checking on the accuracy of our listings, and the clerk can change membership status, for example. Our Sunday School program can use it to make lists of families and children, and our Diaconal Ministers will use it to keep in touch with members in need of pastoral care. Our Finance Manager and Stewardship Committee use the system to track pledges and contributions.

Are my contributions records confidential?  Yes! Access to contributions is kept confidential, shared with only a few key roles (our Finance Manager, the co-chairs of the Stewardship Committee, e.g.) exactly as it was with our previous database.

How is this secure?  Breeze uses the same security standards that are used for transferring credit card data. For more information, see this explanation.

Is this a brand new system?  Only to us! While this is one of the newer entries to the church management software market, it is well established, with many users and many high ratings from a variety of churches.

Is this how I see my program’s budget and expenses? No, this database is solely for member and contribution records. Program budgets are tracked in QuickBooks by Finance Manager Lance Jameson and the Finance Committee.

Can I still get a paper or pdf directory? Yes, the office will make pdf directories periodically. But please note that because the directory is constantly changing, these will not always reflect the latest updates.

How much does this cost?  Breeze charges a flat $50/month, which is less than we were paying for our previous system.

Do you have other questions? Want to access the database yourself? Please come to the short demonstration this Sunday, May 2, after worship.

From Rev. Rachel Pacheco

Dear Friends,

Earlier this week, in anticipation of a verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, downtown churches were in conversation and preparing for protests. Pastor Heather heard a request for a landing place for clergy, community leaders, and care providers if protests broke out. Leaders in our congregation were in conversation and were prepared to say yes; however, the verdict came a little sooner than anticipated.

In order to get into the city before it was potentially shut down, Heather immediately headed to the church and remained there throughout Tuesday night, meeting and praying with local leaders, providing our first floor bathrooms and outlets for cell phone charging, and making space for people to process the verdict and the work that remains.

NYAPC has practiced and learned from experience over the past year (and is still learning), which enables us to say yes when these unexpected ministry opportunities arise. This is messy and faithful work.

There is a bit of relief and gratitude in the accountability that the guilty verdict provides. While this has a real impact, we know that police violence against black, indigenous, and people of color continues, even on the day of the verdict. And so, we continue to cry out, to work for justice, and to pray for peace. We follow the way of Jesus to embrace and listen to those on the margins. And we hope that this will save lives.

This Sunday, we will gather on Zoom for live worship to sing, pray, and hear God’s story. This week, we will hear a recorded sermon from Rev. Ashley McFaul-Erwin on 1 John 3:16-24, a passage about loving through both word and deed. A few organizations are creating and curating worship resources to lighten the load for worship leaders as we keep navigating the challenges of the pandemic. Rev. McFaul-Erwin’s sermon is one such resource prepared for churches this Sunday. You can read a bit about her below.

Join us on Zoom at 10:00 am
Dial: 1-929-436-2866 with Meeting ID: 150 620 342

After worship this Sunday, we will remain on Zoom for a virtual reception for former Associate Pastor Alice Tewell. Since Alice’s last Sunday was the first Sunday of virtual worship, there wasn’t an opportunity to have the traditional celebration. A year later, we will gather to express gratitude, share a few memories, and hear an update from Alice. There will be a collaborative video, time with the children, a gift to open, and time for open conversation, lasting 45 minutes or so. If you could use a few moments of joy, I encourage you to join this celebration.

As of this week, the Trustees learned that our contractor has prepared a detailed schedule of the HVAC project. As it now stands, we expect the build out to be completed by mid-August, and commissioning and full staff training completed by September 1st. This date is later than anticipated. The schedule is primarily being driven by equipment manufacturing and delivery and thus there is little opportunity for our contractors to speed up completion. This impacts our plans for returning to worship in person, and more detailed information about this will be shared over the next few weeks.

May this poem strengthen you as you keep facing the world this week.

They Have Threatened Us With Resurrection
-Julia Esquivel

There is something here within us
which doesn’t let us sleep, which doesn’t let us rest,
which doesn’t stop pounding deep inside,
it is the silent, warm weeping
of Indian women without their husbands,

it is the sad gaze of the children
fixed beyond memory,
in the very pupil of our eyes
which during sleep, though closed, keep watch
with each contraction of the heart
in every awakening…

What keeps us from sleeping
is that they have threatened us with resurrection!
Because at each nightfall,
though exhausted from the endless inventory
of killings since 1954,
yet we continue to love life,
and do not accept their death!

…Because in this marathon of Hope,
there are always others to relieve us
in bearing the courage necessary
to arrive at the goal which lies beyond death…

Accompany us then on this vigil
and you will know what it is to dream!
You will then know how marvelous it is
to live threatened with resurrection!
To dream awake,
to keep watch asleep
to live while dying
and to already know oneself resurrected.



Update from the Trustees

By Karl Hoffman, president

Tasked with oversight of the property and assets of the church, the Trustees have a busy 2021 ahead of us.

The Trustees want to communicate with the congregation the numerous activities the Board is engaged in now and throughout 2021. To start, the new corporate officers of the church are: President, Karl Hoffman; Vice President, Aryn Myers; Treasurer, Doug House; Secretary, Tom Dunlap. The other Trustees are Craig Berry, Hal Hiemstra, Karin Lohman, Edie Snyder, and Richard Snyder.

HVAC Update
As the congregation knows, we have finally started on the major renovation of our 70-year-old Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning (HVAC) system. This process started almost eight years ago. At the time, the project seemed daunting with a price tag of several million dollars. The 2015 capital campaign started the financial ball rolling, raising funds to pay for the Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) system installed on the fifth floor, benefiting both the congregation and our tenant, McClendon Center. In 2018, as part of our agreement with the DowntownDC Business Improvement District (BID), we paid for the installation of a VRF system in the Park Level (basement) using our Line of Credit. Per the agreement, the BID is paying back the cost of the HVAC over 180 months (15 years), the total length of the lease agreement we signed. This installation was completed in early 2019.

All of this work still left floors 1 – 4, including the Sanctuary, reliant on our old and failing system. Built with four compressors, each has failed at one point or another, each has been refurbished/rebuilt, and now two are permanently offline. The coolant our system uses is no longer made and our mechanical contractor must call around the country to find supplies. Other components are in various stages of failure. Even with the repairs, the system cannot adequately cool and heat the building. This has led to several instances of mold growing throughout the building, most seriously in the organ pipes. Remediation over the last several years has cost almost $300k. Starting in late 2019, a path forward was identified. With a few twists and turns along the way, and with a tremendous boost from the employment of John O’Brien as Interim Facility Manager, our new system has been designed and is now being installed.

What are the specs you ask? Floors 1 – 4, not including the Sanctuary, will utilize a VRF system, like the Park Level and the 5th floor. The Sanctuary system will be supported by one Air Handler Unit (AHU) using an air-cooled chiller and electric heat. The Sanctuary air will pass through a MERV 13 filter, and, at maximum, the air can be replaced 6 times per hour.

What is the impact on the building? The basement work area will see a number of changes. Work will remove significant amounts of asbestos piping and ductwork. An old boiler will be removed. The removal of old equipment will allow for the creation of a new room out of space freed up in the mechanical room in the Park Level. The electrical closet in the Park Level, along the H Street side where the nursery used to be, is undergoing some reworking so that the church’s electrical service can be upgraded to 2000 amps from a current 1200 amps. The roof above the elevators will see some significant construction to install cooling units and decorative screens to conceal the equipment.

What about the cost? The project will come in at $3.5 million. As intimidating as that number is, it is not a cost we could really avoid. The consumption of staff and volunteer time as well as almost $100k per year in triage and mold remediation demanded new action. The new HVAC system will also make our space more welcoming for potential tenants, building users, and members. In the short-term, we are paying for the new system primarily through borrowing from our Line of Credit. Anything above $3.2 million will be paid out of current church assets. In the longer term, the debt will be paid off via capital campaigns, bequests, and other giving. We would be remiss if we did not lift up two generous contributions made in late 2019/early 2020 given specifically for capital expenses: $100k from Tom and Karen Dunlap and $150k from Nancy Dickinson.

Many are no doubt wondering how much we will save on our electric bill. The answer: not sure. Our mechanical engineers have been reticent to provide a number. We do know by moving to an air-cooled system we will be saving on our water bill. We also know our new system will be more energy efficient. However, as noted above, in recent years we could only use our system at half power, and we may want to use our new system more vigorously to ensure comfortable temperatures. So actual savings, if any, remain to be seen.

When does the installation begin and when does it end? It has begun. Asbestos abatement, preparation work, and other breakdown activities started at the end of March. The end date is still up in the air, but we are hopeful by mid-July. The primary schedule driver is the one we can least control: equipment delivery. Our general contractor, ABM, is putting together the full schedule as we write this, and we have asked them to provide a simplified schedule that we will use to keep you abreast of the work’s progress.

Other projects this year include:

  • adding additional solar panels to our roof, once HVAC roof work is completed. This will provide additional utility savings,
  • installing a protective glass around the front desk to be completed in the next few weeks,
  • finalizing, contracting, and installing security improvements as outlined in our $100k security grant award,
  • overhauling our fire alarm system, a recently identified deficiency,
  • preparing the sanctuary for our return,
  • renovating the bathrooms of the church. Upon completion of the HVAC installation, the Trustees will turn their attention to this large project. The Trustees invite anyone who believes they can bring the necessary energy and insight to the project to reach out to Karl Hoffman, and
  • developing a Building Operations Manual. Our variety of systems, including our new security system require a manual that allows our staff and leadership to understand how things work in the building. Along with the church’s Facilities Manager and custodians, we need a few volunteers who have the time and talent to participate in this effort including writing and editing the document. If you feel called to assist, please let Karl know.

Tenant Updates
The past year was a challenging one for our tenants. Several have asked for rent abatements to which we have agreed. However, overall, many have paid at least something, and our rent collections remained strong for the year. The BID asked for use of the Radcliffe Room as a warming center during the winter which provided additional rental income.

And then recently, the BID asked to use the Radcliffe Room and their Park Level space as an overnight shelter. We agreed to terms regarding use of their space, but the HVAC project means no cooling for the Radcliffe Room, an untenable situation for overnight guests as we move through spring and summer. Currently, the BID is waiting on the city to provide some additional guidance before they can open the program.

Financial Oversight
With regards to the Trustees’ financial oversight responsibilities, we have moved to a new membership software system called Breeze, leaving our ACS system of many years. This new system more easily facilitates pledging, online giving, and membership management, and you will be hearing more about it soon. Already, the Treasurer reports hours of time saved processing weekly contributions.

Later this year we plan to transition our accounting software from the QuickBooks desktop version to the online version. This change will allow select individuals to access the books to review transactions and alleviate demands on our Finance Manager’s time. Finally, we are employing a new audit firm this year. While our previous auditors were excellent, we thought it was time to bid out our work. Our new auditors, Wegner CPAs, are both less expensive and specialists in auditing churches. We are excited to see what insights they can provide into our financial operations as they validate the excellent work of our financial team.

We will focus on some organizing actions in the second half of the year. As noted above, we will begin creating a Building Operations Manual which will be a complement to our Financial Manual created several years ago. Having lived with our Financial Manual for the past three years, our Treasurer will lead us in a substantial review to see how we can make it work better. Over the past several years, the church leadership has been using online shared drives, first, Dropbox, and now Google Drive. The Trustees will turn our attention to reorganizing our multitude of documents. The Trustees welcome assistance from any member who enjoys creating organization out of disorder.

We conclude with several thank yous:

  • John O’Brien (Interim Facilities Manager – Retired, Member) – his service over the last year has been invaluable in moving forward the HVAC project and giving insight into the day to day operations of our building. We thank him for getting us to firmer ground.
  • Elias Bazezew (Facilities Manager) – even within the few months he has been with us, we are already benefiting from his work ethic and experience in upgrading our facilities. We look forward to his leadership through the HVAC project and all the challenges, known and unknown, that our facilities will provide in the year ahead.
  • Lance Jameson (Finance Manager) – his steadfast work throughout the pandemic, meeting the challenges of our ever evolving financial system, and picking up new duties while the church has been closed, provides the Trustees great confidence in our books and our operations.
  • Doug House (Treasurer, Member) – almost two years ago, Doug offered to jump in and tease out some financial data to help Session make better sense of our situation. Little did he realize what that task entailed. Doug has spent countless hours in the weeds of the church’s books, bringing synchronicity between the Financial Manual and actual day-to-day activities, coherence between our audited numbers and our books, and clarity and humor when explaining it all. Be sure to thank him when you can. You can always buy a bottle of delicious wine from his store. If you don’t live in Arlington, be sure to ask him about his drone delivery service!

We expect to provide additional updates through AVENEWS as the year progresses. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to any of the board members with your questions. Several members will be rotating off this year. If you feel called to share your talents, especially as they relate to investment experience and building repair/maintenance/contracting, please let us or the Nominating Committee know.

And again, we are seeking volunteers to assist with developing a Building Operations Manual, renovating our bathrooms, and organizing important church documents on our shared electronic drive. We would be glad to have your help.

Jolts of Awareness: Poetry and Social Action

by Meg Hanna House

Poetry for social action can be thought of as provocation, but poetry can also be “the awareness of an encounter in our lives that we have to face,” said poet Kathleen O’Toole in her Poetry and Social Action class at NYAPC last Saturday. And preserving that experience in a poem not only recognizes the encounter but also challenges us to act.

O’Toole began the class by sharing her poem “Mindful,” written during a retreat in the Sierras of California. (The poem is reprinted below.) The class discussed the striking juxtapositions in the poem, and how difficult it can be for our minds to hold both the beauty of God’s creation and the tragedies of the world.

There are little things that cross your path in life that are like getting a splinter in your finger, that jolt you.

– Kathleen O’Toole

She described her work as “poems of poignant awareness:” Instead of trying to provoke, she hopes to strike a chord.

Another poem, “The Gleaners,” describes school children, some of them immigrants who may have known hunger, responding to a painting by the same name in the Musée d’Orsay. In the poem, “social awareness enters into a scene that’s otherwise childlike innocence,” said O’Toole.

O’Toole has had a career in community organizing, from on-the-ground local efforts to broader work with organizations like Bread for the World and VOICE, the Virginia affiliate of the Washington Interfaith Network. For her, community organizing is a discipline, focused on actionable ways to use power to make a difference. O’Toole has also done community organizing training at NYAPC in the past.

As for poetry’s power? “There are little things that cross your path in life that are like getting a splinter in your finger, that jolt you,” she said. And “sometimes those small things can be woven into something, [into] lament … or praise.”

She closed with a poem she is still working on about the Covid era, which juxtaposes counting blooming irises with counting victims of the pandemic. “Watching what’s blooming was a ritual that became a source of comfort, like a memorial ritual,” she said. “For me, noticing the little things can be a real balm in these times.”

You can find out more about Kathleen O’Toole on her website:


The moment, fleeting as a nuthatch
that alighted on the flowerbox at breakfast,
the lichen-green hummingbird grazing
the impatiens at noon. I toss them
blueberry pits, bread crumbs. This

moment, before a car bomb is planted
beside a schoolyard in Basra,
a swarm of locusts about to alight
on precious maize in Niger. Nuthatch
and nutcracker engineer whole piñón

forests, one seed cache at a time.
The hummingbird’s tongue is longer
than its head and beak, longer
than it needs to extract the dusky
pollen at the petunia’s throat.

Samsara’s in every in-breath, each
shutter click of attention: first warning
signs of famine, children lining up
for the soldiers’ candy, wolf lichen
in a gash on the ponderosa’s downed limb.

From the collection This Far, reprinted with permission from Kathleen O’Toole