Why the Jamboree?

In February it can be hard to get excited about the Jamboree.

In February, all we can think about is how many volunteers we need and how much planning goes into making the day go smoothly.

In February, we might be tempted to wonder – is it really worth all the effort?

It can seem like an insurmountable task.

         But then the meetings begin and there is laughter and anticipation and building excitement as we remember cherished aspects of this special day.  Everyone has their favorite part – for some it is the parade, for others it’s all about the food – strawberry shortcake! – or the sound of children running and laughing.  It’s the amazing tag sale, thousands of books, the hay ride through beautiful East Woodstock, an invitation to relax in the shade while listening to music.  And of course, the water polo and cake walk.

After a two year Covid-caused delay, the Jamboree was back!  Throughout the day many people came up to say thank you. “We’ve missed this!”  “I’ve been coming here for years.  It wasn’t the Fourth of July without the Jamboree.”  “This is our first time here.  We’ll definitely be back next year!” There was a sense of gratitude that we were able to share this day together.

Looking across the common, there were people of all ages enjoying the festivities. Children thrilled with the bounce house, balloon animals, and frog jumping contest. Young adults enjoying spontaneous reunions with others who had grown up attending the Jamboree. There were several people who hadn’t missed a single Jamboree in its 66 years. The East Woodstock Common was a sea of red, white, and blue with an abundance of good cheer.

In July we remember why we do this.

In July we celebrate the feeling of community and fellowship.

In July we enjoy the simple pleasures of an old-fashioned holiday.

In July we are thrilled to hear the laughter, share the welcome and hospitality, and celebrate a day together.

I am grateful for the intrepid women who dreamed up the Jamboree in 1957 as an emergency fundraiser for their small, financially strapped country church.  I am grateful for the – literally – thousands of volunteers who have pitched in over the decades to continue this tradition.

Next February be on the lookout for an announcement about a Jamboree organizational meeting. And join us as we share our memories and dream of another chance to celebrate the East Woodstock Fourth of July Jamboree.

How do we respond?

How do we respond?

What worries you the most these days?

Is it

  • Gun violence?
  • The repeal of Roe v. Wade?
  • The ongoing division in our country?
  • Racial injustice?
  • The war in Ukraine?
  • Your own family concerns?
  • Health issues?

 There is an abundance of concerns right now in what feels like an ongoing unsettled time in our country. It’s hard to watch the news but it feels somewhat negligent to simply ignore everything going on. What to do?

I don’t have solutions for these complex, heart-rending problems. But I would like to offer some encouragement about tending to our mental and spiritual health while navigating these emotional challenges. I believe we must take care of ourselves so that we can engage in facing these issues and searching for positive solutions.

Here are some steps that might help.

  • Name your fears. Make a list. Get it out of your head and onto paper (or a screen). Otherwise we keep rehashing the same worries; it’s like riding a never-ending rollercoaster of emptions.
  • Acknowledge your concerns.  They are real and they are valid.  Ignoring the issues or pretending that they are not serious will not help. If part of your acknowledgment includes crying out to God and the universe, do it.  Talking about our concerns opens up space in our spirits so that we can be renewed.
  • Replenish your spirit.  We are not alone. We don’t have to rely solely on our strength or wisdom. God promises never to leave us or abandon us. Seek God’s comfort and strength.
  • Go to the well and drink deeply. God’s love is described as streams of living water (John 7). Our spirits are parched by a parade of bad news and heartbreaking events. Before we can address them, we must replenish our energy with God’s renewing hope.

What will that look like for you? How will you seek God’s love and be reminded of God’s presence?  Will you sit quietly, go for a walk, read the Bible, journal, garden, meet with friends to talk and share?  Try different ways of encountering God.

            The problems of this generation will not improve without our efforts. We can remember a wise Jewish saying, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” With God’s help we will receive the strength and comfort we need to navigate each day filled with the reassurance that God is always with us.

Nothing to say

I have no words.

I have nothing to say after the murders in Uvalde, after the racist killings in Buffalo, in response to the ongoing grief and loss in Ukraine.

There are enough people talking.  A lot of people making noise that sounds like “never again,” but without any accompanying action.

There are many people who say that this is unpreventable, unstoppable, inevitable.

There are some people who are offering profound, heartfelt prayers and tender words to comfort those whose lives have been changed forever.

But I have no words.

I have no original, insightful, wise words that will make this better.

I do believe that we must draw close to God, to the source of life and love, so that our spirits will not be drained by the hate and evil that surround us. Let us fill our souls with the promise that God’s love is stronger than our fear.  Let us remember that God has promised never to leave us or forsake us.

And armed with those promises and filled with God’s love and new life, let us go into those places of loss and sorrow to offer not words, but a listening ear, a caring heart, and a supporting hand.

Let us embody the love of God, who is always with us.  

Instead of my words, I will share a prayer that speaks to my heart.  This is a “caim” prayer – a  prayer for God’s love and blessing to encircle those in need.  These words can be offered for anyone we carry in our hearts, especially when we have no words.

Circle them, Lord. Keep comfort near and discouragement far.

Keep peace within and turmoil out.

Circle them, Lord. Keep protection near and danger afar.

Circle them, Lord. Keep hope within, keep despair without.

Circle them, Lord. Keep light near and darkness afar.

Circle them, Lord. Keep peace within and anxiety without.

The eternal Creator, Son and Holy Spirit shield them on every side.

Amen.

Caim prayer: (Celtic Daily Prayer, p. 297).

Let us pray

I think we can all agree – we live in overwhelming times. The relentless pursuit of the Corona virus in all of its variations, the ongoing war in Ukraine, climate change and reports of evaporating lakes, wildfires, and warming oceans. There is seemingly endless division and conflict amongst our political leaders that trickles down to infect local and state governments. Prices are up. Shortages are growing. Rents are climbing. Affordable housing is difficult to find. Racist violence is rampant.

            Add to that your own personal worries about loved ones, employment, finances, and health. It is no wonder that rates of anxiety and depression are growing in our country.

            What to do?

            How should we respond?

            What’s the best course of action?

            Let us pray.

            I can almost see you rolling your eyes.  Pray?!?  What good will that do? Why should I waste my time muttering words to God?  If God is all-knowing, God doesn’t need my reminders about today’s dismal state of affairs.  If God is all-caring, God shouldn’t require me to convince him to tend to the sick and the dying. If God is all-powerful, God won’t be helped by my encouragement and entreaties.  

            You’re right.

            So much of prayer is not for God’s benefit, but for our own. It is not to convince a grudging, reluctant God to act. Prayer brings our parched spirits to the ever flowing streams of God’s love and presence. We can find renewal there. We can find hope.

            Here’s the invitation – let us pray. We have started gathering on Fridays at noon for prayer. You are invited to join us – in person in our sanctuary or in spirit wherever you happen to be. You can also send me prayer requests.

 This brief service reminds us of what is true – we are not alone as we face the challenges of this world.

            Prayer is an invitation to listen to God’s life-giving words. If we fill our ears solely with the latest news reports and urgent (and often depressing) text/social media messages, our minds and hearts will be filled with despair. Taking time to pray offers moments of quiet and peace in the presence of love. It is not about denying or running away from the truly awful state of affairs. Instead, prayer feeds our spirits so we can be strengthened to act.  

When I take time to listen, I hear assurances like these:

  • God cares deeply for the stranger, supports the widowed and orphaned, and ruins the schemes of the wicked.  (Psalm 146)
  • You know me, God. You know me. You see me working, you see me resting.

You know what I think about; you know what I do.  

You are everywhere – near and far, and all around me. (Psalm 139)

  • Turn from evil, love what is good, and you will be at peace;

God is a lover of justice who will never abandon the faithful.   (Psalm 37)

We are called to respond to the needs of the world. Let us begin with prayer.

Celebrating Friendship

 My recent trip to Scotland provided gorgeous scenery, unusually sunny weather, moving and thought-provoking worship, an opportunity to live and learn with the Iona Community, and the delights of scones, shortbread, and endless cups of tea.  But even more than that – it allowed me to spend 10 uninterrupted days with my best friend.

            Patti and I grew up within a mile of one another and participated in everything from Brownies to Sunday School to Girl Scout camp, church youth group, and the emotional roller coaster that is high school.  For the last 40+ years we have lived in separate states but have made it a priority to plan at least a quick visit every year so that we could catch up.

            The chance to be together for an extended time was a rare treat.  And the fact that we got to explore a different country and share moments both of laughter and profound spiritual insights was a real gift.

            As little girls we rode bikes and climbed trees together. Now we ruefully acknowledged aging joints and aching knees as we strolled over cobblestone streets and the remote island pathways of Iona. But what a privilege to share all of these years together.

            Some of our conversations looked back. There is an ease talking with someone who shared your childhood. No explanations were necessary as we remembered our parents, meals with each other’s families, building forts in the backyard, dodging my teasing siblings, and sleepless nights during cherished “sleepovers”. There was a lot of laughter and a few poignant moments as we cherished those memories.

            Other times we discussed our children – now adults – as we shared our hopes, worries, and dreams for them in the challenging world they are facing. We acknowledged the challenge of being parents to adults and agreed that it was more fun being the young person embarking on new ventures than being the parent waiting for news.

And then we wondered about “what’s next” in our lives as begin to enter the “senior discount” age bracket. We brainstormed about the future and wondered where our paths would lead us. Wherever that may be, we are sure to offer one another a loving and listening ear and support along the way.  We suspect that many more shared adventures await us!

So today I give thanks for the gift of friendship. In our busy lives it is too easy to lose track of one another or settle for the briefest text to stay in touch. I hope you’ll spend a few moments giving thanks for special friends in your life – and I pray that you’ll be able to call or visit with them soon.

Discovering a “thin place”

         As you read this, I am preparing to travel to the island of Iona in Scotland, which is famously known as a “thin place.”  Thin places have nothing to do with weight loss. A thin place is defined in Celtic Christianity as one of “those rare locales where the distance between heaven and Earth collapses.” In other words, a place where the presence of God is readily experienced or a place where one is more aware that very little separates us from the holy.

       It takes some effort to travel to Iona.  I will fly from Boston to Dublin Ireland and then onto Edinburgh Scotland.  Then I will take a train to the west coast of Scotland and board a ferry for the island of Mull.  From there I will travel by bus or taxi to the other side of the island in order to catch another ferry which will take me to Iona.  When I get off the ferry, it will be time to walk since there are very few cars and no public transit on this tiny island.  My destination will be the Iona Abbey which has a simple guesthouse that welcomes pilgrims from across the globe for weeklong stays. We will experience the hospitality of the Abbey and form a community together as we worship, prepare meals, and share experiences together.

      This journey is the final piece of my sabbatical. The pandemic prevented international travel last year and I am looking forward to the opportunity to have this long-anticipated trip now.  I will be traveling with my lifelong friend Patti.  We have known each other since pre-school and have experienced many retreats and adventures together; this will be our first international trip together and we’re both filled with gratitude at the prospect of sharing this experience.

        As much as I am looking forward to the trip, I realize that one does not need to travel thousands of miles using multiple forms of transportation to experience God’s presence.  Instead of encouraging you to travel to Iona (although, if you get the opportunity – please take it), here is my question for all of us – where is a thin place for you?  Where do you encounter the holy?

       If you can think of a special place or two, when do you go there? Because it does take some intention. We are blessed to live in a beautiful area with rolling green fields, flowering trees, lush woodlands, ponds, and an array of stunning scenery.  We also tend to rush through it or to dwell in it oblivious to the miraculous creation all around us.

        In order to experience the mystery of a thin place, we have to choose to slow down, unplug, and make time to notice that God is in this place.

       When I return I will have stories to tell about my encounters in the thin place of Iona.  I hope you will have experiences to share with me, as well.  Because what we know about our loving God is that God wants to be found by us.  God is not hiding. Rather, we must open our hearts, minds, and spirits to discern the still, small voice of our Creator.

Housing the Holy

We will begin our celebration of Advent on Sunday. In our congregation, uur Advent theme this year is “Housing the Holy.”  Christmas begins with the familiar story of Jesus’ parents searching for a place to stay at this critical moment in their lives. We have only the barest description of their plight; we are told simply that “there was no room for them at the inn” (Luke 2:7). We can only imagine the fear, worry, and concern they experienced as they sought for a place for Mary to give birth.

            The “innkeeper,” a popular figure in most church pageants, does not actually appear in Scripture. Our imaginations have ranged between a belligerent gatekeeper who refused entry to the inn and a creative, out-of-the-box thinker who recognized the stable as a worthy substitute for these desperate parents. Whoever directed Mary and Joseph to their hay-filled accommodations changed history forever. Suddenly it became clear that the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, the long- awaited Messiah, would enter the world humbly. He didn’t need a pristine resting place. Jesus’ arrival foreshadowed the way he would live his life – he surprised the wealthy, powerful king by being born in the simplest surroundings. He was prepared for a life of living amongst the outcasts, the forgotten, and the overlooked.

            Advent, it turns out, is an opportunity to celebrate hospitality.  In these weeks leading up to Christmas, we can wonder how we can make room for God in our lives and how we can house the holy in our lives.  How do we welcome God’s Spirit of new life? Hospitality is all about inviting someone in.  It is about making room in our hearts – and in our overbooked schedules. When we encounter an obstacle (“the inn is full”), do we imagine other ways to accomplish our goal (“the stable could be a birthing place”)? Are we prepared to be surprised by a God who appears in unusual places? 

We live in a world that is often inhospitable and which does not always welcome the outcast or the stranger.  How can we open our doors and our hearts?

The days between now and Christmas often fly by. We can get so busy with activities that we don’t notice the quiet whisperings of God. How can we make room for God who is always seeking us?  Can we pause? Slow down? Listen?

During this special season of Advent, let us make room so that we can house the love, peace, and hope of God in our hearts.  And then let us share those gifts freely with others.

“Enough is a feast”

“Enough is a feast.”

I’ve been mulling over this saying all month.  It’s hard to focus on “enough” when ads are blaring about Black Friday shopping frenzies which somehow have expanded to a month-long event.  Or when Christmas trees seem to be sprouting everywhere, as if the calendar somehow skipped November and we are on an express train from Halloween to Christmas with no time for Thanksgiving in between.

            Yet Thanksgiving is a powerful reminder of gratitude’s importance. It is a day set aside to consider what enriches our lives and gladdens our hearts. Thanksgiving avoids the pressures of gift-giving and invites us simply to offer thanks for what we already have.

            Do we have enough?   Give thanks.

            Do we have heat on a cold day?  Give thanks.

            Will we be fed?  Give thanks.

            Will we gather with friends or loved ones?  Give thanks.

Will be comforted by memories of those we miss? Give thanks.

Perhaps this quote encourages us to consider what is enough in a society that insists that we always need more.  Maybe now is the time to reject messages that focus on what we don’t have. Maybe it’s an opportunity to refuse society’s nagging insistence that we are somehow lacking or don’t quite measure up.

Here’s an idea – Maybe we could begin Thanksgiving morning by looking in the mirror and greeting our reflection with the celebration, “You are enough.”

What do you have today?  Is it enough?

Then lift up your voice and give thanks to God.

The Gospel of Christmas Fairs

“Our church no longer holds a Christmas Fair,” this minister/colleague sniffed, “Instead we concentrate on the real work of the church.”

And to that I say, “Bah, humbug!”

 I know that selling Christmas knickknacks isn’t the mission of the church. More important – so do the members of my congregation.

But in these days leading up to our Holly Fair, our church has been filled with sounds of people talking and laughing as they create displays and sort through ornaments, angels, and brightly colored candles. It is especially sweet after 18 long months of isolation and distancing. Simply being together again – even with masks on! – is priceless.

They know that they are raising money to support the mission and outreach of our church.

As people wend their way between craft tables, jewelry displays, and an array of gift items, they will see the signs and symbols of our welcome and hospitality that are the cornerstones of our ministry.   They’ll notice our rainbow flags, “safe space” signs and declarations of welcome for all of God’s people. Maybe they’ll take home a brochure about our prayers shawl ministry or be inspired by the invitation to donate sheets and blankets to the homeless shelter. Perhaps they’ll see the sign advertising our food giveaway program or fuel assistance program. 

Our Christmas fair allows us to swing open our doors and invite people inside. And while they are here, they are welcome to enter our beautiful sanctuary and perhaps pause for a few moments of quiet and rest in our pews. Maybe this low-key experience of quiet beauty will encourage them to return on a Sunday morning or tune in to an online service.

Events like these offer us the chance to embody our welcome and to live out the Good News of meeting our neighbors and sharing God’s love.

So go ahead you Winter Wonderlands, Candy Cane Bazaars, Christmas on the Hill, St. Nicholas Fairs – enjoy your gatherings!  And know that is one more way to reach out to God’s people and celebrate the Good News.

Starting with gratitude

Can I admit it?  There are days when I feel a little discouraged.  There are times when I am weary and unsure that my efforts and the dedicated work of the church are making even a dent in the myriad of challenges facing us today. There are moments when the angry voices and ugly violence that fill the news cause me to despair that we will ever experience God’s peace or come close to God’s loving justice.

The wisdom of Proverbs whispers to me, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding” (3:5). So then I resolve – again – to place my confidence in God. 

            In order to do this, I needed to remind myself of God’s presence each day. I am developing a spiritual discipline (which is just a fancy way of saying I am trying to create and maintain a new habit) of gratitude.  Now in the morning before I look at my phone, before I turn on the news, and before I look at the (online) newspaper, I jot down five things for which I am grateful. I call it my thankfulness list.

            Sometimes my gratitude reflects the weather – I am thankful to be in a warm house on a cold, rainy day. Other times, I give thanks for communications – a Facetime chat with my daughter, texts from my sons, talking with my parents on the phone. Reflecting back on a previous evening’s meeting, I give thanks for volunteers who care deeply about the church and give their time and energy to live the Good News. It is usually not hard to find five things that warm my heart and fill me gratitude. And so I give thanks to God.

            These lists do not change the bad news that’s waiting for me. But they do offer me a fresh, uplifting start to my day. They provide a life-giving perspective. They remind me that God is at work in this weary world and that I am not alone.

            These simple lists bring me back to the eternal truth, “God’s steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 136:1). “Forever” is a long time. So no matter what I am facing on a given day, I do not go forth alone. God’s love surrounds me and for that, I am very grateful.