Entering Autumn

Dear South Church Members & Friends,

     Earlier this year the congregation completed the “New Beginnings” process which helped us look toward the future of South Church. I was pleased to discover that there was a clear consensus on a new missional emphasis: Living out our Christian faith by caring for the world on God’s behalf. Encouraged by this new direction, we started planning to offer GriefShare, a grief recovery support group ministry where you can find help and healing for the hurt of losing a loved one.
     We will begin this ministry of care and compassion by offering “GriefShare: Surviving the Holidays” on Sunday, November 12 from 3:00—5:00 pm in the Church House auditorium. Please let your friends and neighbors know about this important program.
    In January, we will offer GriefShare, a 13-session program that uses video presentations and small groups for people who have lost a loved one. GriefShare helps people embrace the grief process and start rebuilding their lives as they go through the process of dealing with the pain and the hurt that comes with losing someone. The program will begin on Tuesday, January 9 at 7:00 pm and will be held every two weeks. Please look for more information and for sign-ups coming soon.
     I also want to give an update on the exterior restoration work that’s being completed on our historic 1799 sanctuary. There are some photos on the cover page of this newsletter and also on our church Facebook page. The steeple and weathervane has been painted and most of the repair and painting of the wood trim will be finished this week. The round window in the tower had the frame replaced and the etched glass will be reinstalled in it. Look for that installation to occur in the next week or so.
     The new Vermont slate has been installed on the east side of the roof. The west side will be completed over the next two weeks as some adjustments were need to deal with a 6” dip along roof surface. Thank you for your patience as this important project is completed!

Peace and grace,

An On-Going Task

I read a news story a few years ago about the completion of the largest dictionary in the world—the 40-volume Dictionary of the Dutch Language. Work on the dictionary began in the 19th century and took almost 150 years for Dutch and Flemish lexicographers to complete! It has more than 45,000 pages and documents words going back to the year 1500.

There’s just one hitch. The Dictionary is only current to 1976, meaning that it is now more than 40 years out of date. Never fear, though, the editors are back at work on a second edition—just don’t expect it to be completed in our lifetime.

I’m sure there are many lessons that can be drawn from this story, but mine is this: Some tasks are never done. They just keep going and going and going. I know I feel like that sometimes on Sunday afternoon when I realize that there’s yet another sermon to prepare in the less than a week!

The life of a congregation is also an on-going task that’s never quite done. While this can lead to weariness and inertia if we’re not careful, it also points to the continued life, work, and ministry that we are privileged to share as the body of Christ. Our enduring task of the church is perhaps best summed up in Jesus’ last words in Matthew 28: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”

This disciple-making work is foundational to all that we do—in worship, mission and outreach, faith development, the care of neighbor, and fellowship. So, I’d like to commend to you the wonderful, on-going work of this congregation that you will find listed in the pages of this edition of the South Church Life. I also want to highlight a couple of projects:

The month of October brings us to the beginning of our annual Stewardship season. The theme for this year is Live Generously. Sunday, October 15 is the kickoff of our Stewardship emphasis and more details are provided on the cover page of this newsletter.

In worship, we are moving back into the sanctuary on Sunday, October 1 after four months in the Auditorium. We will soon be dedicating our new hymnals, which arrived over the summer. We are also in the third year of using the Narrative Lectionary, which guides us through the Bible from September through May.

The Property Committee has been busy over the summer supervising the exterior renovation of the sanctuary. The repair to the base of the steeple tower is complete, with new copper roofing and new lights for the spire. The old slate has been removed from the main roof. The next phase of work will focus on the tower wood restoration, removal of the protective glass on the windows, wood trim restoration, and the installation of the new slate. In addition, new wood louvers in the tower and damaged wood parts for soffit are being fabricated as well as a new round window frame for the rose window.

Peace and grace, Mark

Moving into Summer...

As we move into the summer season, I’d like to share some updates and news. Below are a few items of interest—please let me know if you have questions or comments.

* New Beginnings Process – I reported in the newsletter last month that we had received the report of our group facilitators. Based on what we heard in the small groups, there was a clear consensus on a new emphasis: Living out our Christian faith by caring for the world on God’s behalf. The Session has established an Implementation Team to work on the details of living out this new call. If you would like to be involved, please contact me, Flo Lilley, or Bill Henderson.

* Sanctuary Renovation and Restoration – Our historic 1799 sanctuary is in remarkably good condition given its age. However, we have known for several years that there are some problems at the base of the Spire, that the roof is aging, and that the exterior woodwork needs updating and repair. Our architect, C. Michael Campbell, reported at the May Session meeting that he has completed his drawings and plans and we are now in the process of bidding out the work. We expect the restoration work to begin this summer and it should take 2-3 months to complete.

* Summer Worship Schedule - Like last year, we will have a full summer of worship here at South Church. The Worship and Parish Life Committee anticipates that we will move Sunday worship to the Church House Auditorium on June 11 and remain there for the summer. We will have two short sermon series this summer—six weeks on Ephesians and the five weeks on the book of Revelation. More details on both series can be found inside this newsletter.

* Vacation Bible School It’s time for VBS—the week of June 26 from 5:30-8:00 pm at Clinton Avenue Reformed Church. The theme for this year is “Maker Fun Factory—Created by God, Built for a Purpose.” Volunteers are always welcome and needed, so please consider helping out. More information is available on page ___.

* Old Manse sale: We have run into an unexpected roadblock with the prospective buyer of the old Manse property/subdivision in regard issues with the title. It’s not clear at this time when this will be resolved. The Session is also considering another proposal that would involve a lease agreement. Look for more news soon.

Please have a safe and enjoyable summer!

Grace and peace, Mark

New Beginnings Update

For the past few months the congregation has been involved in a discernment process called “New Beginnings.” At the heart of this process is a question: “What is God calling our congregation to do and to be in this time and this place?” We began last Fall with an assessment of our church’s mission, finances, facilities, and programs which were compiled in a 71-page report.

On the first Sunday of February, we gathered for a special worship in the Church House auditorium when some of the elders led worship to kick-off the small group meeting phase of the New Beginnings. Since then, four small groups met to have conversations about the assessment of the congregation and to explore possible future options. A total of 35 people (participants and facilitators) took part in the lively conversations.

The next step is to gather the information and ideas generated by the small groups and to begin discerning how the Spirit is moving among and to move toward a decision for our future. The facilitators are currently meeting and working on these questions:

  • Based on these conversations, what would you say were the points of agreement?
  • What seemed to be the greatest opportunity for ministry in our context?
  • After listening to all the groups, which decision do YOU think is best for us?
  • Next steps and writing the report to the congregation.

A report to the congregation will be completed soon and there will be another special worship service to give thanks for the New Beginnings process and to hear the report. In the meantime, if you have any comments or questions about the process, please feel free to contact me.

Please also note the events coming up this month. Our annual Cooper’s Pond Clean Up, we join with the community in a “spring cleaning” of Cooper’s Pond is scheduled for Saturday, April 8 at 9:00 am! The next day, Sunday April 9, is Palm Sunday and marks the beginning of Holy Week (see the schedule on the front page), with Easter Sunday on April 16.

I will close with the words of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who invites us in a prayer of patient trust to: Above all, trust in the slow work of God:
Only God could say what this new spirit
            gradually forming within you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
            that his hand is leading you
 and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
            in suspense and incomplete.       

Grace and peace, Mark

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

As the last of the Thanksgiving turkey and leftovers are finally cleared out of the refrigerator and we recover from another “Black Friday” of shopping, we can now turn our attention to the season of Advent.

Believe it or not, Advent is not about endless Christmas parties and frantic shopping! The word “Advent” comes the Latin word adventus (which mean ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’) and is a time for the faithful to prepare for the celebration of the feast of Christmas, the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ, and also to prepare for the second coming of Christ.

In the early Church, the season of Advent lasted from November 11, the feast of St. Martin, until Christmas Day. Advent was considered a pre-Christmas season of Lent when Christians devoted themselves to prayer and fasting. Fast days were held every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday—so much for parties!

The current form of Advent crystallized in the 11th century under Pope Gregory VII, who set the current four-week length, and wrote liturgical materials for use in Advent. The primary sanctuary color of Advent is purple, the color of royalty, to welcome the Advent of the King. This points to the important connection between Jesus’ birth and death. The nativity and the Incarnation cannot be separated from the crucifixion and the resurrection.

The 20th century brought a rediscovery of the joy in Advent preparations by many Protestant denominations. This was signaled among Protestant Churches by using the color blue, which many have adopted for the season as an alternative to purple.

Please note that Christmas is on a Sunday this year! We will be worshipping that morning at 10:00 am but it will be a casual service (in dress and style) filled with scripture readings and songs.

“Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” is a favorite Advent hymn. Written by Charles Wesley in 1744, it focuses on the “long-expected Jesus” who was born to set us free. Below is the original third stanza of the hymn and the familiar final one:


Come to earth to taste our sadness, he whose glories knew no end;
By his life he brings us gladness, our Redeemer, Shepherd, Friend.
Leaving riches without number, born within a cattle stall;
This the everlasting wonder, Christ was born the Lord of all.


Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a king,
Born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone;
By thine all sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.


Advent blessings, Mark

Focus on the Future

As I write this article, we are also preparing for our Pledge Dedication on Sunday, October 30. Our Stewardship theme is “Fearless Generosity” and is an invitation to put our faith and trust in God into action. If you haven’t already pledged, please prayerfully consider your 2017 gift to South Church and know that your generosity is very much appreciated!

 I’m excited about our “New Beginnings” gathering on Wednesday, November 2, 2016 when you are be invited to share your views on the future of South Presbyterian Church. We will be using a process called Appreciative Inquiry, which is based on the idea of discovering what works best and gives life to an organization (i.e. congregation), and then building the congregation on these life-giving properties.

Thinking about our focus on the future, I want to share a story I once heard: A thoughtful, curious young man went to the desert to visit an elderly monk, who had lived in the desert for many years. Arriving at the holy man’s cave, the young man encountered the monk sitting outside enjoying the sun, his dog lying lazily at his side.

This spiritual seeker asked, “Why is it, teacher, that some who seek God come to the desert and are passionate in prayer, but leave after a year or so, while others, like you, remain faithful to the quest for a lifetime?”

The old man smiled and replied, “Let me tell you a story. One day I was sitting here quietly in the sun with my dog. Suddenly a large, white rabbit ran across in front of us. Well, my dog jumped up, barking loudly, and took off after that big rabbit. He chased the rabbit over the hills with great enthusiasm. Soon other dogs joined in—they ran barking across the creeks, up stony embankments, and through thickets and thorns! Gradually, however, one by one, the other dogs dropped out of the pursuit, discouraged by the course and frustrated by the chase. Only my dog continued to hotly pursue the white rabbit.

In that story, young man, is the answer to your question. The young man sat in confused silence. Finally, he said, “Teacher, I don’t understand. What is the connection between the rabbit chase and the quest for God?”

“You fail to understand,” answered the old hermit, “because you failed to ask the obvious question. The question is, ‘Why didn’t the other dogs continue the chase?’ And the answer to that question is that the other dogs had not seen the rabbit. The barking of my dog attracted them. But once you see the rabbit, you will never give up the chase. Seeing the rabbit, and not following the commotion, is what keeps me in the desert.”

So, I wonder, what keeps us faithful in our journey? How do we continue to focus on the rabbit and not on the commotion and uproar surrounding us? May the God of peace be with South Church and its members in our quest!


Grace and peace, Mark