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.

Peace,

Rachel

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

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: https://kathleenotoolepoetry.com/


Mindful

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
https://kathleenotoolepoetry.com/

Celebrating Easter in Triangle Park

Reports from Parish Associate Rev. Dr. Beth Braxton and member Anne Laroche. Photos by Morgan Brown

The Easter service in Triangle Park for our Radcliffe Room* guests was a joy! Our Creator gave us perfect weather!! 

David Smoot set up the microphone system and provided two music stands. Rev. Beth brought a watering can full of flowers, white table cloth, oil lamp and two baskets of bells. When “Christ is risen” was proclaimed in word or song everyone gathered was encouraged to ring their bell and say “He is risen indeed!” There was only one ambulance siren break in Rev. Beth’s message.

Anne Laroche reports she counted 74 guests and a dozen church members/Radcliffe Room volunteers, and that “Rev. Beth’s sermon encouraged us not to be afraid to share the love of Jesus with others and in all types of situations.”

Bob Braxton was a one man tenor choir on his guitar; he played for two verses of two Easter hymns – opening with “Jesus, Christ is Risen Today”  and closing with “The Day of Resurrection.” HIs solo anthem was “Because He Lives” – in which several members of the “Radcliffe Room congregation” sang along on the chorus.

At the close of the service; Rev. Beth played a CD recording of Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus on her boom box. And John and Cathy Schultheis passed out the most fantastic Easter Treat Bags to each Radcliffe Room guest and volunteers. The bags were filled with daffodils, jelly beans, chocolates of all sorts, and homemade cookies!!! 

Alleluia, He Is Risen. He Is Risen Indeed.

*The Radcliffe Room is a ministry for our neighbors experiencing homelessness.

Urgent Appeal for Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba

from Ruling Elder Marilyn Seiber, who leads our partnership with First Presbyterian Church in Havana, Cuba, part of the PCUSA Cuba Partners Network.

At a webinar on March 4 with leaders and pastors of the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba, we have learned that the economic situation in Cuba is dire and that the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba is in extreme financial straits beyond its ability to resolve.

As a result, the PCUSA’s Cuba Partners Network (CPN) has sent out an appeal to help meet the Cuban church’s $75,000 shortfall. CPN has called for an immediate response in order that funds can be transferred to Cuba by Easter Sunday, April 4. 

To support our Cuban Presbyterian Church friends and partners, go to www.nyapc.org/give-now, select credit card/direct debit, and use the drop down menu to select “Cuba Appeal 2021 Fund.” In order to meet the April 4 deadline, all donations should be made no later than Wednesday, March 31.

Background: 

The economic situation in Cuba is now dire—especially for the churches.

Cubans have been hit by the “perfect storm” of Covid, tightened U.S. economic sanctions, and the Cuban Government’s implementation of transitioning to a single currency. Cuban Presbyterian pastors have said that conditions are reaching the same as during the “Special Period” decades ago with shortages of food, medicines, and basic living supplies. The Cuban Government’s monetary policy has quadrupled prices, and the Government has increased subsidies for those employed by the Government and mandated an increased minimum wage for all Cubans. This has left the churches in an untenable financial situation because of increased costs, mandated salaries, and loss of income from congregations because of closed churches. Churches are “outside” the Government’s support program and are unable to pay pastors the mandated wage; pay for electricity, water, other utilities; continue with Synod printed communications; secure supplies and keep mission activities functioning.

The PC(USA) Cuba Partners Network has asked partner churches and individuals to participate in raising $75,000 for the Synod that will support:

  • Pastoral staff – as church employees they dd not receive the recent national pay raise given to state employees and are now at a monthly deficit
  • Printed communications – accurately sharing announcements and news as well as God’s word
  • Food and supplies – the church is negotiating directly with the government
  • Synod activities – children’s camps, electricity at the seminary

Please help our Presbyterian brothers and sisters in Cuba in this time of extreme need for the church!

Dreams, Visions and Apocalypse: Alternative Realities in the Old Testament

God calls us through dreams, interrupts our lives through visions, and we learn through apocalypse to see more, hear more, and imagine more into a future where we make more space in our reality for the divine. – Dr. Judy Fentress-Williams, Virginia Theological Seminary

“It’s been a really good year for the Old Testament,” said Dr. Judy Fentress-Williams as she introduced her McClendon Scholar webinar Saturday March 20. With the experiences over the past year of pandemic and confronting the realities of racism in this country, we are in a place of disorientation, she said, and these ancient scriptures “can help us understand what we do when the world as we know it goes away.”

Our stories resonate – with stories of wilderness, of Noah’s flood, of Israel’s exile. The stories form a kind of virtual reality. We can “try on different personalities, complaining with the Israelites in the desert, experimenting with theo-politics with Israel’s kings. But these alternative realities are not a monolith, she said. On Saturday, she reflected on three: dreams, visions, and apocalypse.

Sharing Sacred Encounters
She started with a look at Psalm 126, which begins “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.” This is a pilgrimage Psalm, composed to sing on the way to Jerusalem. This dream is a memory of the past, of a time that God made things right. It “evokes the memory of a feeling when God showed up.”

Dreams function as important literary devices in the Old Testament. Jacob’s dream of a ladder with angels ascending and descending in Genesis 28 confirms that Jacob will carry God’s promise forward. And it does more: Jacob’s encounter is not on a mountain, not where he or the ancients would have expected an encounter with God. The good news for us? “Sacred encounters can take place in the most unlikely of places.”

Fentress-Williams explored how dreams function in the story of Joseph in detail, showing how dreams don’t belong to just one person. Joseph accurately interprets Pharoah’s dreams, and saves the nation (and his own family), from famine. “Our dreams are not just for us, but we must invest in other people’s dreams,” she said.

In another dream story, young Samuel hears God calling, but needs Eli to help him understand. This story is not only about God calling Samuel, but about God calling on Eli , an old priest with mistakes in his past, to invest in the dreams of others. The story shows us that “God can use what we get wrong and what we get right,” she said, and helps us consider when it is time to “stop building our own storehouses and invest in someone else’s future.”

Visions as Touchstones
With a vision or visitation, God’s realm enters our own reality. After reading Isaiah’s call narrative from Isaiah 6:1-8, Fentress-Williams pointed out how the words paint a picture of an alternate reality – seraphs with six wings – reminding Isaiah that “he is earthly and this is not.” Prophetic calls are often visual, she said, as if God has to both show us and tell us.

And, just as dreams are not for one person alone, Isaiah’s vision is not for him alone. As a prophet, he must struggle to find language to communicate God’s vision, but with this work, Isaiah helps his people get through, and the vision reminds us that what happens on this earth is only a part of the entire picture. “The vision is Isaiah’s touchstone, … and the vision is shared with us so that it can be our touchstone as well.”

A Glimpse of God’s Realm
Apocalyptic literature also reminds us that our current reality is not the only possibility. This literature comes out of persecuted communities, communities whose experience of their worldly reality is so painful that they develop a dual consciousness. “There is no room to exist in this world, and so the space where they exist is in this other realm,” she said.

The term apocalypse means to reveal or uncover, and these narratives reveal this other realm of God. These communities are also interested in stories that point to a time when God will make things right. When we read them, we should remember the dynamics of power in our own worlds, she said. And these narratives also “remind us that God’s realm is real, revealing things to us that we all need to remember about what it means to be people of God. “

After a Q&A with Rev. Heather Shortlidge, Fentress-Williams concluded by reading Psalm 126:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.

You can see the full video, including a question and answer Session, on this video recording.

From Rev. Heather Shortlidge

Dear Friends,

Join us for worship this Sunday, March 14th, as we celebrate the one-year anniversary of worshiping online. I’m preaching the story of Nicodemus interrogating Jesus from John 3:1-17. There will be space to reflect upon the past year and our experience of virtual worship, and we’ll also celebrate the sacrament of communion.

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

Do remember your communion elements and that it is Daylight Savings time. And at 2:00pm on Sunday, you are invited to return for a Zoom Memorial Service to celebrate the life of Kathy Walter.

This week, your Session moved forward with several exciting new initiatives, including approving a new, more nimble governing structure for the church. Please plan on attending one of the upcoming “Conversations with the Session” on either March 21 or 28 immediately following worship, in order to hear more from our Elders about the new structure and how it will unfold.

Some poetry by Ellen Bass to sustain you this week:

“The Thing Is”

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

Peace and Courage,

Heather

Rev. James Lawson Gives New Year’s Message to America

Civil Rights Leader Rev. James Lawson focused on the power of vision and nonviolence in his presentation for a McClendon Scholar in Residence webinar on Feb. 10.

Our nation’s founding documents provide “monumental and miraculous” visions for our nation, but forces of sexism, racism, violence and “plantation capitalism” have prevented the United States from realizing these visions, said Lawson. And the “nonviolent campaign” of the mid 20th century provides a model for realizing those visions today.

The Gift of Vision. Rev. Lawson, the architect of nonviolence of the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th century, began his talk with a focus on vision. Drawing on the King James translation of Proverbs 19:18—“Where there is no vision, the people perish”—Rev. Lawson suggested adding a verse: “Where vision flourishes, the people prosper.”

“The God of history gave we the people of the USA visions,” said Lawson, referring to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. These documents represent “monumental, miraculous vision in the midst of a world that was largely under the domination of tyrannies.” And the visions of these documents can heal our community today, he argued.

According to Lawson, our current political divides stem from “the tension of a promising future against the reality of our not wanting to use the visions we have.” Four interconnected forces hold us back: sexism, racism, violence, and plantation capitalism, he said, adding to and modifying Martin Luther King, Jr.’s triad of racism, materialism and militarism.

Sexism and Plantation Capitalism. In listing his four forces, Lawson listed sexism first, emphasizing its importance, and said that each of these four forces relies on the others, with violence permeating them all, especially what Lawson calls “plantation capitalism.”

“We do not have a free market, we do not have entrepreneurship, because we are an economy that worships wealth and fame and the power and the political domination that comes from the wealth. And we are more of a plantation capitalist society today than we were in 1787 or 1789.” Currently, our nation’s politics are “more connected to these forces than … to a vision of the equality of all humankind,” said Lawson.

A Model for Today. But what John Lewis termed the “nonviolent campaign of America” from 1953 to 1973 is a model for realizing our founding visions today. Lawson called the civil rights movement an umbrella term that originates in 1866 civil rights legislation, and said the nonviolent campaigns of the 1953 to 1973 form one part of this bigger movement. These “direct action campaigns,” from the Little Rock Nine to the Montgomery bus boycott to sit in campaigns in Nashville and across the nation, were “dramatic manifestations of our determination that the United States will end its experiment with becoming a racist nation, especially in the light of the Constitution and ‘we the people.’”

Rev. Lawson made a distinction between education and training for these nonviolent campaigns. Education focused on the “why and how” of nonviolence, while training, especially the preparation immediately before an action, focused on “preparing our emotions” for the physical/psychic threats which the protestors were likely to endure. It was a disciplined people who engaged in the struggle, and part of the education was to discover the humanity of those who opposed us, he said.

The Work of the Church. Lawson prefers Lewis’ term “nonviolent campaign” to refer to the 20th century civil rights movement, but noted that these campaigns could also be called “the Black Church Movement.” They provide “an illustration of engaging Jesus’ primary teaching of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven … a major example of what it means to be the people of God, he said. “I lay it before you – if you want to talk about what the work of the church … ought to be. There it is. … That’s the message.”

This model can be updated, and that work has already begun in the Black Lives Matter movement, which, he emphasized, has been largely nonviolent. Asking Martin Luther King’s question, “Where do we go from here?”, Lawson said academia and unions, in addition to religious organizations, all have a role to play. “What the world needs is nonviolent campaigns that make the 20th century look pale in comparison,” he said.

After his talk, the program included questions and dialog between Lawson and Rev. Joe Daniels of Emory Fellowship United Methodist Church, who is a family friend of Lawson, along with Civil Rights Leader Bernard Lafayette and Historian Taylor Branch. Asked what vision should be lifted up for our nation today as the program came to a close, Lawson returned to his theme: “We hold these truths to be self evident,” he said. “That’s the most important vision and the most teachable.”

Lawson concluded the evening:

“Nonviolence is the creative energy of the universe, that created the universe, that created the human race and spread us across the earth, and it is the power we must learn if indeed we appreciate the gift of life and want to exalt that gift in every way we can.”

You can watch Lawson’s full webinar here.

Stewarding Our Gifts: How We’ll Use Our 2020 Grants

In 2020, NYAPC received several grants, totaling $140,000, to help us in “expressing God’s love, engaging in God’s justice:” They will support Radcliffe Room guests and the Orphan and Vulnerable Children program in Kenya, make worship services more accessible online when we return to in person worship, and improve our building’s security for staff, members and guests. These grants also help us begin to fulfill a strategic plan goal to diversify our revenue sources. In addition to these grants, we received a forgivable loan through the Paycheck Protection Program, a generous undesignated bequest of $400,000 from the estate of Amy Gillespie, and many smaller gifts in 2020. Thanks be to God.

Security Grant
The Homeland Security Administration granted us $100,000 for improving building security. Facility Manager Elias Bazezew is currently getting pricing for a variety of technologies to promote better security for staff, members, and guests during daily church operations and worship, including: closed circuit monitor cameras; exterior lighting; internal alarms and motion detectors; and electronically controlled door locks. Then, a committee of the Trustees will determine the configuration of these devices to get the best value for the $100,000. There will also be training for staff and the congregation on our responses to the most likely security risk situations. – from John O’Brien, Trustees

Radcliffe Room
After an employee of one of our office building neighbors, the Phillip Morris Foundation, observed our lunch service in Triangle Park, the foundation provided $25,000 for ministries to our neighbors without homes. Over the next several months, the Radcliffe Room team plans to spend its grant on:

• renovation of the sink in the first floor kitchen (contractor still needed!)
• materials for service, including tables and tents
• six months’ worth of food (meat and sandwich supplies)
• lots of winter coats, thermals, jeans, and hoodies!

– from Phil Telfeyan, Radcliffe Room Team

Sanctuary Technology Upgrades
The worship and music committee applied for and received an $11,000 grant from the National Capital Presbytery’s Church Development Committee “tech team.” The grant will cover half of the committee’s estimated cost of outfitting the sanctuary to enable hybrid in-person and online worship, including the sound system upgrades planned before the pandemic (microphones that comply with new FCC rules and a new soundboard). The worship and music committee’s goal is to provide a fulfilling way for people to participate in worship from home even as we return to in person services. The committee envisions, for example, monitors in the sanctuary that would allow Zoom worshippers to see and be seen, and better cameras and sound than our previous livestream set up. – from Meg Neill, Worship and Music Committee

Kenya Orphan and Vulnerable Children Program
We also received a $5000 grant from the National Capital Presbytery’s Global Mission Program for the Orphan and Vulnerable Children program of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa in Kenya. The grant has been sent directly to that program in Kenya so that they can purchase computers and books for their new library. – from Beth Braxton, Board of Deacons

From Rev. Heather Shortlidge

Dear Friends,

by Lisle Gwynn Garrity | Image from @Sanctified Art | sanctifiedart.org

A dear friend from seminary, who now practices ministry as a licensed professional counselor, calls it a case of the “febs”—that drop in energy and enthusiasm during the dark, cold month of February.

Perhaps you or someone in your pandemic bubble is experiencing a case of the “febs.” If so, know that you are not alone. Do what you can to stay connected to others. Reach out to Pastor Rachel or me. And, even if you’re not really feeling it, try and show up for worship. Being in community can help. And so can the Lenten journey of living simply and reflectively.

Our theme for Lent is Again & Again. During the next five Sundays, we will come to God again and again with our prayers, our dreams, our hopes, and our doubts.

This week, I’m preaching from Mark 1:9-15, the story of God meeting Jesus at the water, reminding us that God meets us where we are—in the midst of our reluctance, doubt, eagerness, weariness, or even when a case of the “febs” has settled in. The NYAPC Sanctuary Choir will be featured in “We Shall Walk Through the Valley in Peace,” a spiritual arranged by the famous African-American composer Undine Smith Moore that features elaborate soaring lines between the vocal parts, giving it an eloquent reflective quality.

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

The church has curated a variety of devotional materials for your Lenten journey. Access written meditations by church members and friends, daily devotional cards that include reflection prompts and a short prayer, and all our Lenten offerings here.

Unfortunately, the church website was down when many of you attempted to join us for Ash Wednesday worship. If you missed it, a link to the entire service is here.

I’m delighted to announce that the Personnel Committee was able to move quickly to fill the Office Manager vacancy. Maila Cardoso, our Interim Office Manager from this fall, has been hired permanently to fill this important position and will begin on Monday. Maila knows the job well and will be able to hit the ground running, ensuring a seamless transition in the church office. A warm welcome back to Maila Cordoso (maila.cardoso@nyapc.org).

Finally, a prayer to nourish your spirit this week:

God never begins letters with the words
“I hope this finds you well,”
For those words imply distance.

Instead, God begins God’s letters to you with the words,
“Remember when?”

Beloved child,
Remember when we dipped our toes into the water?
Remember when we dove right in?
Remember when the ice cream dripped down our hands
And the cicadas sang their song,
And the seasons changed,
And the days were long?
Remember when we fell in love and the world was new?
Remember when our heart was broken?
Remember the tears?
Remember the long nights?
Remember when we laughed again and the sound surprised us?
Remember when we marched in the street?
Remember when we cast our vote?
Remember when we believed in hope?
Remember when?
I do.

That’s what God’s letters say.
So on this day, and every day to come,
Remember: God is meeting you.
If you look back, you might remember when.

Prayer by Rev. Sarah Are | A Sanctified Art LLC | sanctifiedart.org

Peace and Courage,
Heather