From Pastor Harry

May 1, 2017

We had a great Holy Week and Easter around here. In worship, song, and message we reviewed the heart of the gospel. That review can be exhilarating and renewing. The attendance at both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services was just a little above last year.  The attendance Easter Sunday was approximately the same as last
year.
On the Saturday following Easter Sunday, we engaged in an activity that, on the surface, might seem a lot more mundane–the church Garage Sale. The Garage Sale went well–we took in just over $2,000. That amount has several significances. It represents participation on the part of a number of people–those who provided material for the sale, and those who helped set up/work the sale, take down and clean up. The leaders tell me we had a record number of
people to help in one way or another. And that’s important to note about the morale of the congregation. More important was the purpose of the sale–100%–to pay on our Benevolences. And that’s where I would like to make a comment or two.
In the last century, the ideal of church finance was the so-called unified budget. Almost all of the expected income was to come in through cash or check through the offering plates that were passed in worship on Sunday. Let me hasten to add that, in the Reformed faith, the ideal of church finance is still to base it upon thanksgiving for the grace (undeserved love, unmerited favor) of God. The proportion of our giving is based upon the way God has blessed us–not a portion that we can conveniently spare–but a worthy return of what we have received through the providence of God. That notion is still what we are called to as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Alongside is the notion that Jesus expressed in Matthew 10:16 as part of his marching orders as the disciples were sent out, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, or the lament of the dishonest manager in the parable of Luke 16:8, for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. I’m not sure that we followers of Jesus have an unblemished record as being innocent as doves, but we’ve still done a better job than we have being as wise as serpents.
Here’s what I mean. We do well to honor and promote the time-honored methods of the past in financing the mission God has given us to do. At the same time, we also do well, in dealing with the children of this age, to be as wise as serpents in finding additional ways–we call them streams of income. If we consider enabling the mission God has given us to do as of primary importance, then we will approach it in the way the ordination vows have us approach all
our work–with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love. The garage sale isjust one case in point.
So, as we maintain our steadfast commitment to being innocent as doves, let us also be as wise as serpents, so that as First Presbyterian Church marches resolutely forward into “the land which (God) will show us” (Genesis 12:1), we may do so in all our heart and soul and mind and strength. And this mission field where God has placed us be blessed by our efforts.
See you in Church. Harry

April 1, 2017

April is here, and whether it feels like Spring or Summer as you read this is anybody’s guess. The weather has been warm, and Easter is on the later side, but for me, the idea that Holy Week is upon us still seems a bit abrupt.
Holy Week is one of the most momentous in the history of humanity. We see in it both the depth of human depravity and the depth of the Love of God. The week in Jerusalem begins and ends with a shout–“Hosanna!” and then “Crucify Him!”  The depth of human depravity is shown through the actions of the religious leaders of Jerusalem. In the One whom we Christians claim as Lord and Savior, they had found someone with whom they vigorously disagreed, and therefore must be eliminated, even if doing so compromised and invalidated many of the things they professed to believe and hold dear. We shake our heads at such hypocrisy today…even as our own disparity between professed belief and behavior may at times be at odds.
The crowds in Jerusalem during Holy Week subscribed to the notion that “It’s easier to cheer or boo than to think.” The cheers of Palm Sunday were turned to the boos of Good Friday…but no one seemed to notice. Crowds are like that at times. But Jesus, “the Word made flesh who dwelt among us full of grace and truth,” rode resolutely into Jerusalem to face his ordeal so that the love of God could be manifest in sacrifice, and humanity offered
redemption from its worst, in spite of itself. The cross is important, but it’s not the last word.
On Maundy Thursday, we will remember the supper Jesus shared with his disciples in his last night before the horror of the crucifixion. There he instituted the memorial meal that we still share frequently in order to remember. On Good Friday we will remember the last hours that our Lord spent on the cross. Then on Easter Sunday morning we will celebrate the rest of the story. Each of these services will mean a lot more if we participate in all of them.
I’ve just talked about the most important week. But there are some other highlights in April. Our Rise Up with Jesus Easter Egg Hunt is Saturday, April 8 (before Holy Week begins). This is both a learning and fun experience. The
Church Garage Sale is Saturday, April 22. It’s time to get serious about gathering up material for this sale and attending it, because this will be a major component in our benevolence payments for the first 6 months of this year. And then we end the month with Youth Sunday on April 30.
April is an important month in some of the high points of our faith. It is full of other important events. It’s a month to give an extra measure of attention and an extra measure of commitment. The old hymn had it: “I gave my life for thee; What hast thou given for me?”… A real good question.
See you in Church.  Harry

March 1, 2017

Thus you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. [Matthew 7:20, 21]
So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. [James 2:17-18]
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. [John 14:15]
There has always been a conflict of emphasis among followers of Jesus as which is more important: correct belief or correct actions. Well, they are actually interrelated. This year, in the Lectionary cycle, the gospel readings will be mostly from Matthew. In telling the story, Jesus had no sooner been baptized, the disciples gathered, and his public ministry begun than we were reading from the Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew usually seems concerned about correct actions. He gets pretty hard on the Pharisees for their obsessing about the fine points of the ceremonial law, while apparently missing the point. And he may have something there. Probably the greatest embarrassment among professing Christian disciples are those who passionately love and worship Jesus, but whose priorities, affections, and decisions are opposite what the gospel writers tells us Jesus taught and lived.
I was impressed with reading through the Scripture passages that are associated with Ash Wednesday. Here is the prophet Joel exhorting: rend your hearts and not your clothing…[Joel 2:13a]

And then Matthew (again) reporting Jesus as saying: Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven…and your Father who sees in secret will reward you…And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting…and your Father who sees in secret will reward you… [from Matthew 6]. (I would encourage you to go back and read the whole passage, so that nothing will appear to be taken out of context.)

It seems that Christian faith is neither for show nor respectability, but that those within our sphere of influence are blessed and enriched by the influence. I have often said that you can tell what someone is praying for by their manner of living. I believe that God will honor and answer any prayer that accords with his plans and purpose. So our doing may be the best indication of our (sincere) praying. In the same way, our belief is more accurately discerned by what we think, say, do—what we are.
In the prophet Isaiah’s description [in chapter 11] of the peaceful kingdom, he adds: and a little child shall lead them. There are all sorts of inferences, but the general principle is often true. Let me tell you an incident I heard about a 5-year-old child named Caleb. (And this is just as I heard it.) Caleb and his mother were getting his lunch ready to take to school the next day. The only thing they had on hand that night with which to make a sandwich was peanut butter. Caleb wasn’t happy with this news and he received it with bad grace. So his mother gave the stern talk about starving children who would love to have a peanut butter sandwich to eat. Caleb was non committal as he went to bed. But when he was handed his lunch the next morn-ing, he asked his mother, What are their names? She asked back, What are whose names? Caleb replied, The starving chil-dren. Caleb had thought about what his mother had said. His world is the kindergarten in his school. If they were starving, and he knew who they were, he could share his lunch with them. (I seem to remember another story in John 6 about a boy who offered his lunch in the feeding of a multitude.)
I think all of our worshipping, and studying, and praying are wonderful things. We emphasize those during Lent. But if the things our Lord taught and lived have come through…if we have really assimilated you shall love your neighbor as yourself…then Caleb’s question might become our question: What are their names? Maybe we can even be a part of the answer to many of our authentic prayers. I think that’s what Matthew, James, John, and Joel seem to have in common.
See you in church. Harry

February 1, 2017

“…you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” [John 8:32]   

Jesus was talking to a group who had come to believe in him. He said, if you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples… and he went on to say, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.  So the quote above has a particular context, but the truth of that statement has often been seen as more universal.

One of those isolated things that I remember from long ago is a conversation that took place in a dorm room at the University of Texas at Arlington. My roommate had just made a declarative statement to someone else in the room, and then he added, I know it’s true, because I just said it. We all chuckled at the time at the outrageous nature of that assertion.

I have to say that I am troubled–and I am speaking in a broad and general sense–at what appears as a lack of regard for truth that seems to be growing in our society, even among professing Christians. The tongue-in-cheek quip of a college student from another era is proffered and all-too-often accepted as truth. We may not deliberately want to believe distortions and half-truths, but may find them attractive if they tell us what we want to hear, if they confirm our own predispositions and even prejudices. Some accept uncritically what they read on the internet. Others fixate on one or another “news” outlet that offers the particular slant on the facts that may sound most palatable to us. As Christians, we are commanded against bearing false witness–another phrase that originally had a particular context, but has been seen to include a broader idea.

If the truth will make you free, then it follows that a lack of regard for truth may lead to the denial of freedom. Freedom is too precious an asset to let slip away because seeking after truth is too daunting or too troublesome a task. Truth is something that can stand fact-checking. The theologian Elton Trueblood once gave three tests for determining truth or fact–the number of witnesses, the character of the witnesses, and the degree of agreement among the witnesses. We might add an assessment of the motive for someone making an assertion or statement.

A cousin of mine once said to me, “Whoever wrote “Reality Therapy” should have put your picture by it.” I’ll own that. It may have to do with my being raised by a father who was almost fanatical about telling the truth. I heard him say, more than once, “Anybody who will lie, will steal.”

And there is probably something to that. My own fixation has to do with reality. I have often said reality may not be attractive (I may have chosen an earthier way of saying that), but it’s all we’ve got.  Oftentimes not being truthful is just a way of dodging reality.  You will know the truth and the truth shall make you free–that has to do with slavery to sin, to our own fantasies, or to the questionable motives of someone who might say (and mean it), I know it’s true, because I just said it. We take the easy way of holding truth (and reality) with little regard at our own peril. 

See you in church…where you’ll always hear the truth! (I’m kind of like Mark Twain, who once quipped, I’m better than George Washington…He said he couldn’t tell a lie…I won’t.)

Harry

January 1, 2017

By the time you read this newsletter Christmas and New Year’s Day will have passed. What can you say about the New Year? I remember a toast given during an episode of the old “M.A.S.H.” television show.  The toast for the new year was something like: Here’s to the old year, the hope that the new one will be a darn sight better, and next year we’ll all be home. (The toast didn’t actually use the word darn, but I thought I’d keep it appropriate for a church newsletter!)

We all know that the morphing of New Year’s Eve into New Year’s Day is really of no more significance than the end of any day turning into the dawn of a new one. But particular times represent symbols…and the beginning of the new year is one of them. We hope for better days ahead than the ones behind. And sometimes that happens. Maybe you remember some of the superstition that surrounding the coming of the new millennium. some people, including some professing Christians thought it was going to be all over as the new millennium dawned. I heard of one couple that refused to attend their accustomed New Year’s Eve celebration because they feared that the car wouldn’t start in the new year and they couldn’t get back home. Well, the new millennium may have had its challenges, but they have, so far, fallen short of the apocalypse.

The new year may offer new hope, but it will surely also offer new challenges. The thing is, we have just celebrated or may still be celebrating the birth of the Savior that came to reveal something concrete about God who both creates and sustains time, and the God who is above all time.  Whatever the new year may bring, that God has not gone out of business or ceased to care. Our hope that the new (year) will be a darn sight better is based upon the conviction that God is a part of it. One of the old familiar hymns voices our prayer for us: …change and decay in all around I see. O thou who changest not, abide with me.

 Some of our challenges are within our control. Our church runs on faith, but it also runs on commitment. The Session asked me to give a report on the state of our financial commitments for 2017. Through December 19, we have received 84 financial commitments totaling about $286,000 for the year 2017. That compares to 107 commitments totaling about $335,000 for the same period last year. Your church leadership hopes that our financial support for 2017 will remain at least at the level is has been during the last 1/3 of 2016. But the commitments will cause the Session to move ahead cautiously in 2017 until we see what the actual income will be. We know that God will not stop blessing us. The only question is how faithful will be our thanksgiving to him. We say once again: we will not call a pastor without reasonable assurance that we can pay that pastor what we promise in the call, as other things must be planned around that commitment. We have spent less than budgeted in most program and administrative areas this year, and while we have not paid our benevolences 100%, we have paid the majority of them, which is a little better job than we did last year. We can be proud of the leadership and stewardship of our church leaders.

So we move into the new year having sung the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. I am thankful for the faithfulness of much of the membership of First Presbyterian Church over the past year. I am thankful for the support and expressions of support that have been vouchsafed to me personally and as your Interim Pastor, especially during Christmas-time. I should be out of a job sometime during the coming year…and that’s a good thing!

Meanwhile, see you in church!

Harry

December, 2016
Time seems to be doing what time does so well–passing quickly!  This is the last newsletter for the calendar year 2016. We are knocking on the door of Christmas. I realized the other day that, as of November 1, I have been here for a year and a half! Here we are again in that most blessed time of the Church year–the celebration of the coming of God into our midst, as one of us, in Jesus the Christ. And, by the way, I wish you all the joy that is the possibility of this season.
As we look toward 2017, we anticipate welcoming a new pastor to First Presbyterian Church. It will have been a half-century since that last happened. A lot has happened in half-a-century. The world has changed. Mesquite has changed. Aspects of the church have changed. The prospects ahead have changed–for the world, the community, and the church. We may feel that we would be a lot more comfortable if things didn’t change…but there would be less adventure. When Abram and Sarai (eventually to become Abraham and Sarah) set out for a new life in the Promised Land, yet to be revealed (cf Genesis, Chapter 12 ff), at age 75. Abram may have questioned how much adventure he had in him. But in God’s plans there was a lot ahead. And I believe that, in God’s plans, there is a lot ahead for the First Presbyterian Church of Mesquite (approaching age 136).
There’s one thing: How many challenges will a new pastor face? The History of First Presbyterian Church Mesquite Texas 1881-1981 (I’ve mentioned this before.) tells that the congregation’s commitment had declined in the months before Tom Wilbanks became pastor in 1967. When he began as new pastor in 1967 he began with the challenge of about $4,000 in unpaid bills (multiply that by about 7 to see that figure in 2016 terms). We do not have any unpaid bills at this time, but our expressed commitments at the date of this writing are falling short of our needs. They are falling short of those expressed at this time last year. I think that when a new pastor arrives, on this time around, he/she could wish to spend time in more productive activity than “catching up.” Oh, we can probably expect to
receive approximately what we are now receiving…but it would be nice to have some confirmation of that through commitments that have been and will be turned in. And, to finish the year 2016 in good shape and begin the historic 2017 year on an “up” note, the ministry of FPC will especially benefit from your typically generous year-end giving.
FPC is blessed with a number of children and youth. A too-large number of Presbyterian Churches cannot make that claim. The Christian Education Committee has developed a job description for a part-time interim Director of Children’s and Youth Ministries. A staff member actively promoting those activities would be a definite plus to disciple those we have, plus seek to increase that number. But your Session will need indication that a new pastor can actually be paid before filling even that part-time position.
We are actually doing pretty well for a transition time. There is “a land that (the Lord) will show (us)” ahead. God has a plan for First Presbyterian Church. We may begin to see that plan play out sometime in 2017. God has given us all the resources we need to accomplish what God calls us to do. So if we use those resources to accomplish what God has planned, there is another bright historic year ahead in 2017.
Let it be.
See you in Church,
Harry
November, 2016
If I haven’t told this story in a sermon already, I probably will before I am through here. It’s about a vivid illustration of grace.
I was driving down Interstate-30 one day when there were a lot of patches of ice on the road. (Remember the times when it has been cold enough for patches of ice on the road? We may see a time like that again…someday!) The traffic was generally moving too fast for the condition of the road. So I was going with the flow, when I came upon a
large patch of ice. The car went out of control for a moment, did a complete 360o spin, and wound up heading the correct way, but on the ice-covered median between the Interstate and the service road. There was nothing wrong with the car. In fact, it was still running. But the tires just spun as I tried to drive forward. There was nothing to do but open the door, try to push with one foot and see if I could get some forward movement. This was complicated by the fact that the car was a stick shift.  About that time, a car pulled off the service road and onto the median
behind me. He got out of the car and yelled, “Just get back in your car and drive, and I’ll push you forward. That worked. As I steered my car onto the service road, I looked back to see my “Good Samaritan” give a wave as he got back in his own car. I realized, with a pang of regret that I hadn’t had opportunity even to thank him for helping me out of my predicament. But then I thought to myself, “Well, if I can’t thank him in words, maybe I can do so by doing something to help someone else.
I have thought about that incident as I have thought about God’s grace. I can’t adequately thank God for all God has done for me, but maybe I can make a stab at it by helping someone else and by enabling his church.
Our Commitment Season theme this year is Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, which is simply Five Practices of Fruitful Christians, who band together to make a fruitful congregation. We’re learning them together: radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service, and extravagant generosity. For the historic witness of the First Presbyterian Church of Mesquite to continue its witness in this mission field where God has placed us, to be able to employ someone to lead us in the priority of children and youth, and to find and call the new permanent pastor/leader that God has for us is going to take uncommon and perhaps unprecedented generosity in the gifts God has given to all of us. Part of our giving thanks to God is the enabling and empowering of the move of FPC to be a more and more fruitful congregation.
Our Budget Committee has met to construct, not a dream budget, but a very basic budget to make our dreams of ministry and service come true. In dollars, that budget totals $411,972, divided between personnel costs ($303,287), administrative costs ($5,450), property maintenance ($49,300), Christian education ($19,800), Worship expenses ($10,415), outreach ministry and miscellaneous ($1,200), benevolences ($22,520). You should have received a pastoral epistle and commitment materials. This congregation is exhibiting amazing willingness to serve, a willingness to give, and a creative willingness to try some new ideas and ways of thinking.
God has exciting ministry possibilities at 1028 South Belt Line Road. God has given us a “push” when we were stuck–as individuals and as a congregation. The level of our determination to express our thanks for that Divine love and grace will show in our bearing fruit [Matthew 7:17] or being cut down and thrown into the fire [Matthew 7:19].
Those are our choices. And the community around us will know where our determination lies [Matthew 7:20].
See you in Church,
Harry
October, 2016
I began September with a 5000 mile trip “across the pond” to spend some time in England, in the United Kingdom. It would seem like shallow visiting indeed not to find some observation or insight from travel to another country.
We spent part of the day in the British Museum where a new exhibit–Egypt Underwater–is in place. About 1200 years ago, the city of Thonis-Heracleion, founded in the 8th Century BC, disappeared under the Mediterranean. It was caused by some combination of factors–soil subsidence, rise in sea level, and possibly an earthquake. It is believed Heracleion served as the obligatory port of entry to Egypt for all ships coming from the Greek world. Discovered in the year 2000, the exhibit gives a picture of the life and times of people who lived there. It reveals how much a part of life their religion played in their lives.
Then, we saw again the spectacle that is Stonehenge–that religious site for sun worshipers that was in its heyday about the same time the He-brews were slaves in Egypt. Stonehenge is composed of a circle of huge stones (each weighing several tons), some of which were brought from possibly as far away as southern Wales. They are arranged so that, on the day of the seasonal solstice, light will be focused upon the altar. Stone-henge (and several other henges) is surrounded by nearby burial mounds.
On Sunday, we attended a service of Choral Evensong at Salisbury Cathedral–built in medieval times, whichboasts the second highest steeple in Europe. By the way, at that 4:00 p.m. service, with the 6 hour time difference, we were in church about the time you were in the middle of Sunday School here.
The ancient peoples’ purpose of reaching out to God seems to focus on discovering ways to curry the favor of the deity, so that the people were not hurt or destroyed by the uncertainties of life, and to make provision for whatever exists beyond this physical life. That is the lesson from Heracleion and Stonehenge. The Christians who built Salisbury Cathedral were aware of the love and grace of God, known through Jesus Christ. In that medieval time, they were building a monument to the glory of God.
In all three of these ancient expressions of religion, one must be impressed with the time, energy, and devotion that was given to their religious faith. We still have the artifacts that testify to their faith.
And here we are at the First Presbyterian Church of Mesquite in the 21st century. We are in a transition period between the retirement of one pastor and the coming of a new one.  On vacation, I finished reading the book History of First Presbyterian Church, Mesquite, Texas that was written to mark the occasion of the church’s 100th Anniversary in 1981.
There is a passage in the book telling of Tom’s coming as pastor: Because of the months that elapsed while there was no pastor, things had reached a low ebb spiritually, financially, and in attendance. The faithful few were carrying on, but it was a struggle…But slowly the church began to come out of this. (p. 117)
We may be repeating an earlier pattern, but as we approach another stewardship season in a time of transition, what does the level of attendance, the financial condition, and our sense of commitment say about us? At any time, and in all conditions or circumstances, God is faithful. Are we? We know of the religious devotion of ancient peoples by what
they left behind–monuments to their understanding of God. They performed feats of strength and engineering in a pre-technical world that we still marvel at today. I wonder what we are leaving behind will say about us?
A sermon series will carry us toward our commitment to the health and future of the First Presbyterian Church of Mesquite. The series is entitled Five Practices of Fruitful Churches. Our Lord calls us to be fruitful–as individuals and, I believe, as churches–in places such as Matthew 7:15-20, Luke 6:43-45, and in the parable of Luke 13:6-9. I hope this series and this season will lead us to faithfulness and fruitfulness that will carry us to the coming of a new pastor. May it be so.
See you in Church,
Harry
September, 2016
It is true that Protestants mostly agree on the major doctrines of our Christian faith. We are more similar than we are different. Our differences are more nuanced and are often a matter of emphasis.
We have often said that the Reformed (standing in the theological tradition of John Calvin) is a fairly radical emphasis on the grace (unmerited favor) of God. In a Reformed service of worship, we begin by acknowledging our need of God’s grace (since we do a lousy job of trying to save ourselves from being our worst self), confessing that need and where we fall short, and then hearing of God’s forgiveness and offer of renewal. In the light of God’s forgiveness, love, and acceptance, the only valid response is one of thanksgiving and gratitude. It is gratitude that motivates us to reach for the image of God, in which we were created, and to be what God wants us to be.
Maybe you recognize in that description the beginning of our service of worship. We begin with an “evangelical moment” — Call to Confession, Confession of Sin, Declaration of God’s love and pardon. Since gratitude for God’s grace involves more than the immediate snippet of praise (although that’s a start), that evangelical moment is followed by the reading and preaching of God’s word, so we are instructed how to respond to be what Gods wants us to be and do what God wants us to do in this new life that God offers us.
We learn in worship and we learn in Sunday School. At First Presbyterian Church we take an extra opportunity to learn on Wednesday nights. The adult study for this first session of Wednesday Night Live is entitled Grace and Gratitude. Estle Powell will lead this study to help us under-stand both grace and gratitude, how we play it out in worship, and what it does in our lives. Those who participate in this study will understand all the more this aspect we emphasize in our Reformed (Presbyterian) approach to the Christian faith.
Since we have mentioned Wednesday Night Live, we might also remember the fellowship “around the table,” the two dynamic youth group experiences, the children’s activities, and the opportunities for expression through artistry. Wednesday night is the time for much of our musical growth, as we learn how to use this powerful tool for praise and prayer. Wednesday night is important around FPC, because through its activities, we grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord. There’s a place for all, and you might just be surprised by grace.
On a more mundane note, I am going to take a couple of weeks in the middle of this month to jump “across the pond” to spend a couple of weeks in England. I have been on enough trips to this “green and pleasant land” so that it is familiar enough as almost to be a visit “back home.” I hope this trip will be a time of refreshment and renewal in the broadest sense, so that I can more effectively do my part, as we all do our best serving in this mission field where God has placed us. The Fall will include the selection and election of church officers, stewardship season, the celebration of the hope and fulfillment of God coming into our midst as one of us, and the ongoing work of our Pastor Nominating Committee.
Exciting days indeed.  See you in Church,
Harry
August, 2016
First Presbyterian Church has taken another significant step for-ward in the march into God’s future. The election and commissioning of the Pastor Nominating Committee (PNC) begins the actual process of searching for a new permanent leader. The results of that search will have a tremendous impact on the future direction and final story of this congregation of God’s people.
One of the Foundations of Presbyterian Polity (found at the beginning of our Book of Order) is expressed–in constitutional language–as follows: That though the character, qualifications, and authority of Church officers are laid down in the Holy Scriptures, as well as the proper method of their investiture and institution, yet the election of persons to the exercise of this authority, in any particular society, is in that society. In other words, we have al-ways cherished the notion that we, as a congregation, choose our own leadership. The congregational call process is neither the most efficient nor the quickest method of selecting a pastor, but we, as Presbyterians, have always been willing to go deliberately through this process in order to choose our own leaders. And, for that matter, this is generally the same system that most churches have, except for Catholics and Methodists (where pastoral leaders are “assigned”).
We believe that God calls people to service, and that God has a leader in mind for First Presbyterian Church. Therefore we believe our call process in a Spirit-led process. The highest and noblest calling of the members of the PNC is to discern where God’s Spirit is leading. As a congregation we have, first of all, the responsibility to pray for them.
At the same time, while the work and deliberation of the PNC stays within that committee, the members of the PNC are your representatives. As such, you have a right and responsibility to express your own hopes, dreams, and concerns to them. In some ways, those who participated in the Reach Out and Touch process have already begun to do so. The PNC has the synopsis and summary of that process. They also have the Mission Study that the Session approved.
The first step for the PNC will be to produce a Mission Information Form (MIF) to be able to tell the world who we are, what we believe, what we’re about, and some sense of what kind of a leader it might take to lead this congregation to the next step in its mission and history. When that MIF is made public, then possible candidates will be suggested by the General Assembly computer matching process, by suggestions that may be made by Presbytery leadership, by suggestions made by people in the congregation or by those who know us, and by self-referral of pastors who read the MIF and may believe this is a place God may be calling them to.
When MIFs have been considered, conference calls held, interviews by face-to-face visits accomplished, the PNC will come to a unanimous decision as to the person God seems to have in mind. That decision will be presented to the congregation for its call. Then, for the first time in nearly a half-century, this congregation will have chosen its new pastoral leader.
Exciting days ahead!
Harry
July, 2016
Several people, from time to time, have expressed a wish for newer hymnal than the one we currently have in our pews. Our Presbyterian women, coming from women’s conferences where our newest hymnal, Glory to God, has been used, have commented that there are some lovely songs they have heard sung, “that every-one else, but us, seem to know.” Many of them have expressed a hope that we might have this resource at our church, and some have contributed along the way to materially express and help fulfill that hope. The prospect of a new hymnal made it to a Worship Committee agenda in May and, with the enthusiastic endorsement of both of our FPC music staff, the Worship Committee voted
unanimously to recommend purchasing Glory to God to the Session. At its June meeting, Session subsequently voted, by a substantial majority, to move in that direction.
Our present hymnal—The Hymnbook—was published 61 years ago, in 1955. It contains about 600 hymns and pieces of service music. It has served the church well over the decades. Of course, The Hymnbook has been out of print for some time.
There have been three hymnals published by the Presbyterian denomination since The Hymnbook—in 1972, 1990, and 2013 (the present one). Glory to God contains 853 hymns and pieces of service music. Because of the greater number of songs and responses available, while the new hymnal contains about 95% of the hymns we are used to singing at FPC, and in the form we are used to singing them, it also contains a smattering of “gospel music,” some world music, and a number of hymns and songs that have been written in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Because of newer technology, all of this can be contained in a manageable-sized book that has clearer print, and is therefore easier to read. Many of the”standard” hymns are written in a slightly lower key, to account for modern voices. Some have commented that they would feel more confident in the search for a new pastor—who many hope will be younger to middle aged—if our primary congregational music resource were not one published before he or she was born.
The Session decided to move toward the purchase of the new hymnal if the congregation indicated that they wanted it. That indication would be given through the purchase of one or more hymnals. (Of course, we would hardly want hymnals purchased at the expense of regular general fund giving! Their purchase would be in the same category as Christmas poinsettias, Easter lilies, or weekly flower arrangements…and if the longevity of the present Hymnbook is any indication, they will last a whole lot longer than the day or week or two, that is the case of the flowers!) Some may want to purchase one or more hymnals as a gift or as a memorial, and memorials would be marked with a memorial plate.
While we need about 250 hymnals to furnish the pews, etc as they are now, the Session voted that 200 be the minimum number to place an order. The new hymnals cost $21.00 each, including shipping. We have enough cash already in hand to purchase 110. When and if we reach 200, we will place the order. Since Glory to God has proved extremely popular across the country, additional copies will be available for purchase for some time.
If the congregation indicates “with your pocketbook” that you want the new hymnal, when the copies are received, the old red ones that were given as a memorial will be available to those who gave them, and the rest will be available for purchase for $5.00 each as a historical artifact…which will help buy some more new ones!
So, do we want a new hymnal at First Presbyterian Church? Well, that’s for you as a congregation to decide through your giving enough to make it possible. If you wish to purchase a hymnal, just use a pew or other envelope, enclose cash or check and mark it “new hymnal.”  During July, a form to indicate a gift or memorial will be available in the Sunday bulletin or from the church office.
See you in church.
Harry

June, 2016

I recently read an article written by Clifton Kirkpatrick, professor at Louisville Seminary and stated clerk emeritus of the PC(USA) General Assembly. The article seeks to explore the question, Who are we as Presbyterians? I think appropriate to review parts of his article to remind ourselves that as Presbyterians we are distinct, and not just Baptists (although there is certainly nothing wrong with being a Baptist!) who just don’t get quite as excited.

I’ll just quote the first paragraph: The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), at its best, has modeled its life and ministry on the Biblical image of the body of Christ. The very first chapter of our Book of Order captures this ethos when it states, ‘God has put all things under the Lordship of Christ and has made Jesus Christ Head of the Church, which is his body.’ Everything about the church—its faith, polity, worship, and mission—seeks to be a faithful reflection of the body of Christ.

He goes on to point out that the New Testament church was diverse beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. Paul took the 12th Chapter of I Corinthians  to help a troubles church celebrate its diversity. As Presbyterians we celebrate our diversity, while living with the sometime conflicts that are its by-product (as it was in back in Corinth).

But there are core values that we do share. They are the lordship of Christ in everything we do, honoring diversity, shared leadership (spiritual leaders are elected by the people of God), being one church (we are part of the broader PCUSA, which is part of the church ecumenical), a holistic ministry (our concerns are the concerns Christ had for the world, shown in his teaching and actions), and discerning the mind of Christ (The purpose of our governance…is not to balance political interests in the church, but to enable elected spiritual leaders, together in prayer, dialogue, and reflection on God’s Word, to best discern the mind of Christ). Because we are fallible human beings, we may not always discern the same way, but we keep plugging away at it…just as the church has from New Testament times.

See you in Church! Harry

May, 2016

You may remember, in the dim recesses of last year, we announced a Reach Out and Touch effort to  solicit the input of the congregation on a number of points. The results have been tabulated and I am going to give the summary here that will also appear in our Mission Study. Both elders and deacons will receive the full tabulation at their respective May meetings.

It appears that we received about a 22% response. Statistically, if the responses are representative, they may be a somewhat accurate reflection of the congregation as a whole.

A review of the results indicate that about 81% of the respondents are active to somewhat active, 88% project their future activity as the same, or would like it to be more. 93% felt the church was very or at least somewhat relevant in their lives, and 90% feel very or fairly comfortable in their church. Some of the younger members would feel more comfortable with more families and activities their age, and with more contemporary music. Several respondents would be more comfortable with a more predictable future. The present worship schedule is fine or all right with 99% of the respondents, with about 18% of them affirming the early service. Major strengths of the congregation were perceived to be the people and their friendliness, music, Christian education and youth programs, the number of activities, longevity/history and traditions, leadership, traditional worship, and our message. Beneficial changes might include more outreach/visitor follow-up, embracing change, identifying a permanent pastor, and improved young adult programming.

In describing an ideal new pastor, the top responses, in order of appearance, described: an outgoing/people person/shepherd, dynamic speaker, someone who can relate to all ages, an innovator/relevant to today, a conservative/traditional person, a pietistic/conservative Christian, has experience, has energy, and will be around for a while. As to age and gender, about 25% called for middle aged (over 40), and half of those added “with family,” while around 20% specified younger (under 40), again half added “with family.” About 16% preferred a “male,” while about 8% said, “either gender.” Right at half of the respondents said they would or might use online or electronic giving. Another 10% said they probably wouldn’t use it, but favored having it available for those who would. (The Session has just taken action on this matter and you will shortly be hearing about it.) There were individual messages sent to the church leadership but there was no preponderance of any of them.

All of this reminds us of a story I am sure I’ve told. At a revival meeting, the pastor stopped in the middle of the service, and asked how many were too hot. About a third of the congregation raised their hands. He asked how many were too cold. Another third raised their hands. Then he asked how many were just right. The other third raised their hands. He said, “Looks like we’ve got a good meeting.” I think that story speaks about any survey we might take. Of course, we know and are comforted by the notion that the Holy Spirit gets to cast the deciding vote.

See you in church, Harry

April, 2016

On Easter Sunday the candles reappeared on the communion table. The Easter bulletin explained that this was a great conclusion to the symbolism of Good Friday—the crucifixion of our Lord. On Good Friday the candles were all extinguished, symbolizing the life going out of the human Jesus. But on Easter Sunday, candles are back on the table…burning brightly! This symbolism reminds us that the life did not go out of our Lord. Sin, darkness, evil, and death are never the last word. The final triumph goes to goodness, light, and life. Thus, we have the symbolism of the burning candles.

I say reappeared because someone brought me a folder with some old church pictures. It may have been the anniversary celebration of 1976, but there they are burning on the communion table—the candles. And we still have them. So when the Worship Committee voted to use the candles on the table on a regular basis, they were not doing something new, but something old!

Why would we have candles in worship? It has to do with something to see as well as something to hear. Our Lord instituted two sacraments— Baptism and the Lord’s Supper—to marry visual symbols with the words, to convey powerful truths. The central focal point of our worship is the Lord’s Table and Cross. Our sanctuary has beautiful stained glass windows, which speak to us in symbols. So the candles speak to us as well.

Why would we have candles in worship—what do they say to us, as symbols? Well, our Lord promised “where two or three are gathered in my name, am I there among them” [Matthew 18:20]. He is among us through the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is characterized in the New Testament by fire. So the candles burning on the table during our worship symbolize the living presence of our Lord. He has kept his promise…as he always does!

Following Easter, there is one final shift in our worship service. We, as Presbyterians, are proud of our heritage as “people of the Word.” Scripture is read in our worship, not just a verse or two to bolster up the gist of the sermon, but the sermon properly proceeds from the reading of the Scripture and is an exposition of that reading (or those readings). Therefore, the Presbyterian Church was remaining true to our own heritage when, about 40 years ago, most of our churches followed the counsel of the Directory for Worship and began placing the reading of Scripture and the preaching deriving from it together in the service, rather than at opposite ends of it. Our service will now reflect the Biblical framework of Isaiah 6. The directory further counsels: Those responsible for worship are to be guided by the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture, the historic experience of the Church universal, the Reformed tradition, the Book of Confessions, the needs and particular circumstances of the worshiping community, as well as the provisions of the Form of Government and this directory. [W-1.4001] So, we are going to be doing the same things that we’ve always done in worship…just in a slightly different sequence. So, what else is new?

See you in church.  Harry

March, 2016

As we began Lent with Ash Wednesday on February 10 with a somewhat greater than anticipated attendance, the homily referenced the back story of this traditional beginning: The inception of Ash Wednesday itself has traditionally been a remembrance of human perversity which turn the “cheers” of Palm Sunday into the “boos” of Good Friday. This newsletter is for the month of March, whose conclusion includes Holy Week and Easter.

Our corporate memory is often short in many areas of life. We are disappointed and dismayed at many of the same people who cheered Christ’s “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem were yelling for his blood just five days later. How soon they forgot. In different circumstances, how like them we all are at times.

Perhaps we all are guilty of vacillating at times. But Holy Week and Easter are an affirmation of the consistency of God…and in a good way. If we put Good Friday and Easter side by side, we see a complete picture of the nature of God. On the cross we see displayed the breadth and depth of the love of God. At the empty tomb we see displayed the power of God. And I’ve often said that those twin attributes must stand side by side if we are to have confidence in God. The love without the power would be anemic. The power without the love would be scary.

Those twin attributes of God are reassuring at any time. But in the face of our own mortality they are  especially reassuring. Of course, we do not need to stand on the brink of eternity to find comfort in that complete picture. When we need to let go and let God in dealing with a challenge in any condition or situation of life, what we see vividly displayed on Good Friday and Easter can give us the courage to trust and use that invisible means of support.

Who knows? Maybe this year these celebrations that can be more than just “part of the season.” They might do something to help change your life! May it be so. See you in church,

Harry

February, 2016

I have often said that it may be the height of arrogance to quote yourself. And yet, that is what I will do for a beginning to this article. From the Interim Pastor’s Report at the Annual Congregational Meeting: With our Reach Out and Touch visitation concluded and the final reports coming in, a resource for understanding the hopes and vision of this congregation is in place. We will study our ministry area is it exists in 2016—you can’t separate a church from its context—and then put that information together as a mission study. The completion of a mission study…will lead to Grace Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry granting the go-ahead for the congregation to form a Pastor Nominating Committee…The culmination of the work of the Pastor Nominating Committee—to identify whom God is calling to be the next pastoral leader— will bring us to the end of the transition. Some may question the need for a mission study at all, and thus the Mission Study Task Force that was partially set in motion at the Annual Congregational Meeting. I was in conversation with someone the other day, a lifelong member, who said in the course of the conversation, This is not the Mesquite I grew up in. Of course, that is absolutely true. But it is always true. We mentioned at the Annual Meeting that this is not the Mesquite of 1881, at the church’s founding. It is not the Mesquite of 1958, when the congregation moved to this site. It is not the Mesquite of 1968, when Tom began his long tenure as pastor. It is not even the Mesquite of 2003, when a recent building boom in south Mesquite led to the church to probably reach its greatest membership and attendance. If our earlier assertion is true—you can’t separate a church from its context—then a mission study to determine what the Mesquite of 2016 looks like, and the response of our priorities in ministry to that context, is timely indeed. The Mission Study Task Force includes an elder, a deacon, a representative from Presbyterian Women, a representative from the Men’s Council, and an elected member-at-large.

This edition of the newsletter finds us at the beginning of Lent, which starts with Ash Wednesday. I once heard some say about Lent, “All I used to know about Lent was that Catholics were supposed to give up something.” We Presbyterians do observe Lent, and have done so for some time. In worship, through the lectionary telling of the Salvation Story, after the event on the Mount of Transfiguration, Lent is the journey to Jerusalem and the Cross. Rather than some “giving up of a sometimes inconsequential thing” (I once heard someone say he gave up his New Year’s Resolutions for Lent), Lent calls us Presbyterians to give up the things that keep us from the fullness of our relationship to God and to one another.

Easter is early (March 27), so Lent is early. Ash Wednesday is February 10th! We will have a service at 7:30 that evening to begin our observance of Lent. We will construct a worship service to consider those things we might need to clear away some of the things that keep us from our best. Hopefully we will take this opportunity for a period of spiritual renewal. One last thing: We know that websites are important sources of information for many, particularly younger adults. We are grateful that Stephen Leake has taken on the responsibility for maintaining our church website. One of the first things he did was find a way to post an audio copy of the Sunday sermon on the website. The Sunday bulletin has mentioned this a couple of times. Beginning with January 10th, “if the way be clear” (good Presbyterian terminology), a cumulative list each Sunday’s sermon is now posted on the church website. From the home page, click on the worship tab and then choose sermon audio. This will give members a change to hear what they may have missed, and will provide potential visitors a way to sample this aspect of our ministry. (Hopefully this will encourage a visit rather than discouraging one!) So with many blossoming events ahead, see you in church!

January, 2016

We’ve made it! We’ve made it to a new year. The new year always brings up the possibility of living in what a poet called “the land of beginning again.” It’s almost comical in a way—this matter of New Year’s Resolutions. Some people say, “I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions.” Such a statement may mean that “I’m good enough and I don’t need to improve anything about myself.” More likely such a statement is saying, “I know I won’t keep them anyway.” I once heard one person ask another what he gave up for Lent. He replied, “I gave up my New Year’s Resolutions.” Still, the New Year is, at least symbolically, a time for “beginning again.” It is for First Presbyterian Church. We open the year—the very first service—ordaining and installing oncoming elders and deacons (at least at the 11:00 service on January 3). Our Session and Board of Deacons begin a new year with 1/3 of the membership new. While we have much to be grateful for in the very effective service of the elders and deacons whose terms were completed in January, there are always the possibilities that “newness” brings.

Speaking of newness, the Committee on Committees (that’s SO “Presbyterian”) met in December to establish anew the committees for 2016, and going forward…and we have even begun a couple of new committees—Outreach Ministry and Personnel. Here again, the FPC congregation has “stepped up to the plate” in its willingness to serve though the organizational structures of the church.

The sacrament of Holy Communion will be celebrated on the second Sunday of the new year, January 10. On the liturgical calendar, this is the Baptism of the Lord. in telling the salvation story, we will be at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. That seems an appropriate confirmation of the “beginning again” of the ordination/installation of our own officers the week before.

Our Annual Congregational Meeting will be our first Church Night Dinner for the new year. Some may find this constitutionally-mandated meeting tedious. But I often find it heartening and inspiring as we reminisce over all we did and accomplished in the year 2015. And we’ll include a brief service to remember those of our congregation who will not make the journey with us in the “church militant.” But we do remember that their membership has been transferred to the “church triumphant.” With all our possibilities and challenges, we remember that God is in control, and has things well in hand. We celebrate our own commitment, but always in the sunshine of God’s faithfulness. That should make for a good and productive year.

See you in church, Harry

October 2015 Newsletter Article

As we now move decisively into Fall, I want to give you advance notice of an ambitious undertaking that the Session and Deacons have together agreed to take on. We’re going to call it Reach Out and Touch. In general, this will be an attempt by the church leadership to visit the entire First Presbyterian congregation over the next couple of months or so.

Session members and Deacons have been paired into nineteen teams to try to visit with each household of our membership. These elder-deacon teams will be hoping for nothing but conversation and gathering nothing but the input of those who make up this church family. They will be asking your opinion about things such as your view of the present state of the church, the direction it might go in the future, and the type of leader that might best lead us in that direction. They will be hoping to hear of your dreams and priorities as we move into God’s future.

Once the visitation teams are established, they receive their assignments for which households to visit, and they have interviewed each other, they will call to make an appointment to visit you, ideally on your own “turf.” If the distance you live is an issue, or there are other practical reasons, the visit may take place here at the church on an evening, or after Sunday worship, or even around the fellowship of food at some local restaurant.

Why are we doing this? As we begin to plan for the future, we need to have an overview from the whole congregation of the direction we may be going and an assessment of the real resources we have available in the ministry that God has called us to do together. This input will influence a mission study task force that will formulate and state our present understanding of our mission in this time and place. This mission study will then enable the election of a Pastor Nominating Committee to begin the search for the next pastoral leader of First Presbyterian Church.

* * *

On another subject, there are some few who have expressed a wish that the current session make some statement relating to the so-called redefinition of marriage amendment that came from the 2014 General Assembly and its subsequent ratification by a majority of the presbyteries. At its stated meeting on September 9, the session did take action to essentially affirm the action of last year’s FPC session in an expanded statement. Noting that the amendment itself  acknowledged that there would be different viewpoints and conclusions, like in most things Presbyterian, the session made this declaration: Though there are varieties of human relationships, the majority of this session’s discernment of the Holy Spirit and understanding of the Word of God leads us to affirm the traditional understanding of marriage. Therefore the majority of this session finds itself in dissent with any redefinition of traditional marriage implied in the amended (section of the Directory for Worship). It further affirmed the session’s intention to gather around the essential tenets of the Reformed faith, on which we are of one mind with our brother and sister Presbyterians, to move forward in unity into God’s future for us. If you would like to read a full copy of the session’s statement, copies are available in the church office.

* * *

The usual worship forecast to the right of this column will reveal that during October we will be doing another short series of sermons under the heading     Avoiding Life’s Detours. We will be looking at some things that can deflect us as individuals from the abundance of life that Christ desires for us and keep us from fully living into the image that God stamped upon us.

See you in church,

Harry

September 2015 Newsletter Article

This month will see the beginning of inclusion of the so-called “penitential acts” into worship. Translated, that means a prayer of confession. In looking through previous FPC bulletins, we find a prayer of confession, albeit a silent one, has been included in services here at times in the past. Why include it now? Because it is one of the most “Reformed” things that we do.

Biblically, we find one of our precedents for worship in Isaiah 6. Isaiah’s first awareness of his experience in the temple was of “seeing the Lord high and lifted up.” He second awareness follows almost immediately as he looks at himself, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips…” It was then that he experienced that moment of grace in the image of the “coal from the altar,” and was led to affirmatively answer the call, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?”

Jesus proclaims in the Beatitudes, at the very beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Some have translated that as “Blessed are those who know their need for God…” In Romans 3, the Apostle Paul alludes to Psalm 14 in his writing, “There is no one who is righteous, not even one…”

We stand in the theological tradition of John Calvin who believed that because of the “total depravity” of human nature, no one is ready to hear the word of God until he/she has “a right estimation of self.” (Modern psychology some 400 years later has confirmed the soundness of that belief.) So, his services in Geneva began with the prayer of confession. Of course we know that those who followed Calvin’s tradition also prayed the prayer of confession directly to God in corporate worship, whereas Roman Catholics at that time made their confession to a priest in the confessional booth sometime before mass.

All of our Presbyterian Books of Common Worship, since the first one was published in 1907, have had a prayer of confession near the beginning of worship (after the acts of praise, where one “sees the Lord high and lifted up”). So the inclusion of a prayer of confession follows a practice of  more than a hundred years, but traditionally back to the 16th Century. Hopefully, since it is followed by an assurance of pardon, it will offer a note of affirmation of God’s grace early in the service to prepare us to hear the reading and preaching of the word of God, which tells us how to live our life in response to that word of grace.

Beginning this month, the bulletin format will include a little more material. Some of us may believe of some of our usual acts of worship “everybody knows that.”  The thing is, in 2015, everybody doesn’t know “that.” Church growth experts counsel to “act as though you are expecting company.” So we are making a deliberate attempt to be “visitor friendly” and thus even more hospitable. And fear not, the length of the bulletin does not determine the length of the service!

See you in church,

Harry

August 2015 Newsletter Article

In this highly individualistic culture in which we live, there is attractiveness to the notion that what really and ultimately matters in religion is “my relationship to God.”  Well, that relationship does matter!  But along with the extremes of that notion, come questions about the validity and value of the church.  “I can stay home and read my Bible” and “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian” are a couple of the well-worn pet expressions of those who write off the Church as rather irrelevant. We are told that only about 21% of millennials  (those under about age 35) have a positive view of the Church.

In the early part of the 20th Century, the United Presbyterian Church of North America wrote into its constitution a definition of the mission of the church.  In subsequent mergers, that definition, called The Great Ends of the Church has been retained in the constitution.  It now stands at the beginning of the Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).   

The Great Ends of the Church are a handy and succinct definition of the purpose and mission of the Church for those who question its relevance.  It is also a handy reminder for the Church.  (And that reminder for us is its purpose for inclusion on the Book of Order, since critics of the Church would rarely be intimate with that document.)  We sometimes need to be reminded of what a church is and what a church does, when it is the church.

At the middle of this month, on August 16, we will begin a sermon   series in worship on The Great Ends of the Church. This series will continue throughout September.

The great ends of the Church are:

the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind;

the shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship of the children of God;

the maintenance of divine worship;

the preservation of the truth;

the promotion of social righteousness; and

the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.

I believe the reminder of what we’re about as a church is a useful     prelude to our looking at the future of our mission as a church as the process of seeking new pastoral leadership continues to unfold.

See you in church,

Harry

July 2015 Newsletter Article

Upon recommendation by the Worship Committee, the Session has authorized that in the months following July, the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper will be celebrated on the first Sunday of each month in both services, (the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is already celebrated in both services in the month of July.) Of course, a monthly celebration is already the norm of the 8:45  service. I believe that it is appropriate that the whole FPC family celebrate the Lord’s Supper at the same times.

This action will lead to a more frequent celebration of the Lord’s Supper at the 11:00 service than has been the custom. When more frequent communion is brought up, there are often some who voice concern that the sacrament may seem less “special.” The section of the Directory for Worship that relates to the Lord’s Supper includes the following statement: The Lord’s Supper is to be observed on the Lord’s Day, in the regular place of worship, and in a manner suitable to the particular occasion and the local congregation. It is appropriate to celebrate the Lord’s Supper as often as each Lord’s Day. It is to be celebrated regularly and  frequently enough to be recognized as integral to the Service for the Lord’s Day (W-2.4009). That statement has been a part of Presbyterian directories for worship at least since the early 20th Century.  We have never really seen the Lord’s Supper as something “special” (not “officially,” anyway) that was only occasionally included in worship. (And the next section goes on to say that it is also appropriate to observe the Lord’s Supper on other occasions of particular significance in the life of the    Christian community, as long as the celebration of the Sacrament is open to the whole believing community.)

Our Reformed Faith derives in part from the theological tradition of John Calvin, who believed that the Sacrament was a sign and seal of the Word preached. He preferred it celebrated as the    sealing of the Word on each Lord’s Day. Tradition has it that he didn’t get his way in Geneva, where the city leaders decreed that it be celebrated monthly. I have heard it said that as Calvin preached among the churches in Geneva, he would preach only at the one celebrating the Lord’s Supper that Sunday. He therefore received the Sacrament weekly.

In most Presbyterian Churches today, the norm tends to be a monthly celebration of Communion. There are a growing number of congregations who do it more frequently. Most people have found that the more regular and frequent celebration as a part of worship has made the Sacrament seem more meaningful, rather than less.

As we join the majority of fellow Presbyterians in our practice concerning the Lord’s Supper, we pray that the Sacrament will assume its significance as a “regular” part of our worship life. And when a new installed pastor comes on board, he/she will therefore find a familiar tradition.

See you in church.

Harry

June 2015 Newsletter Article

There is a renewal program that many churches are participating in. The program is called New Beginnings. While we at First Presbyterian Church are not participating in such a program, as we find ourselves in this startling time of transition, we are at a similar place of considering our own new beginnings. Over the coming months we will find ourselves going through some similar processes and asking some of the same questions as we would if we were in the formal program.

In discussing this program with a colleague the other day, I learned that one of the big questions that come toward the end is: What is your passion? I think that’s a pretty good question for us to ask ourselves, because the answer will shape our immediate future and may determine the long-time future.

As you consider the mission and ministry of First Presbyterian Church of Mesquite, what is at the forefront of your mind? What is your focus? Where are your interests? What are you most concerned about? And how does your own passion contribute to the health of the building of the Kingdom of God in this place?

We recently celebrated the Ascension of our Lord. His parting command was stay here in the city until you have received power from on high (24:49). The account in Acts adds a promise:  You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses…(1:8). It is from Matthew that we hear of his great commandment: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you…(28:18-20). The Apostle Paul told the church at Corinth of his own passion: For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified (I Corinthians 2:2).

We all have our passion as it shapes our work in the kingdom of God as it is expressed in our ministry area in Mesquite. Our collective passion, what we’re most excited about, will show how we answer our Lord’s promises and commands. And it will shape our future as a church.

Here I have been among you a little over a month and will tell you that I’m going to be gone a few days on vacation in June, which will include Sunday, June 14. The Interim Pastor Nominating Committee knew, and the Session was made aware that vacation plans with family had been set, reservations made, and deposits paid before any conversation about the possibility of my becoming Interim Pastor here had even begun. I will be heading to “cool, colorful Colorado” from June 8-17.

I know where the psalmist was coming from when he wrote: I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. I hope to bring back a renewal of both physical and spiritual energy from this long-planned trip to the “hills.”

In a recent committee and from some other individuals, I have heard a wish that an affirmation of faith, like the Apostles’ Creed, be a part of our Sunday worship experience. I know that such an affirmation of faith has been included from time to time in the past. Beginning in June, we will include the Apostles’ Creed or some other affirmation of faith, at least from time to time, in our acts of worship.

See you in church.

Harry

May 2015 Newsletter Article

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Many of us have already met as I served as pulpit supply on April 26th. On May 1st I “officially” become your Interim Pastor, and our first Sunday together in that relationship is (or was, if you’re reading these words after) May 3rd.
Since the saints at First Presbyterian Church of Mesquite have not dealt with a time of being “between pastors” for a time approaching half-a-century(!), you might wonder just what an Interim Pastor is. Well, first of all, I am your Interim Pastor. A pastor performs a wide variety of functions, but they group under three broad functions. The first is preacher/leader of worship/resident theologian—you’ll see the same face in the pulpit most Sundays (Whether that is good or bad news is yet to be determined and in the eye—and ear—of the beholder!). The second broad function is pastoral care—you’ll see the same face in the hospital room or your living room, as you may have particular need of pastoral care. The third broad function is administration—you’ll see the same face behind the office desk, moderating the session, or sitting with deacons or committees.
But I am also your Interim Pastor. You may remember that a group once came to John the Baptist asking, “Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?” I sort of fulfill the role of John the Baptist for you—preparing the way, making the paths straight for the one who is to come. After at least four stints on Grace Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry, I have some working knowledge of the dynamics surrounding saying “goodbye” to a previous leader and “hello” to a new one. I have come to stand in the gap between pastors, and as an interim pastor, everything I do will point to the time when a new installed pastor will be called by this congregation.
In the interim time we will be looking in a mirror to learn who and what we are at this present time, looking out the window to learn what our ministry area is at this present time, and looking at the possibilities for the future ministry of FPC, and what qualities are needed in a leader to move us toward those possibilities. (If the foregoing wasn’t a “run-on” sentence, it was a complex one. You might want to go back and read it piece-by-piece. Hopefully sermons will be better constructed.)
One last thing: there is no way in which things will not look different, smell different, and feel different than the have been in these past years. I’ll promise to try to keep things as comfortable as I can as we seek to accomplish the interim tasks in preparing for a new future. Meanwhile, we can pray with the hymn writer: Change and decay (well, hopefully not decay) in all around I see. O Thou, who changest not, abide with me.
I have included an autobiographical sketch in another part of this newsletter. It may tell you more than you wanted to know, but read the parts that seem pertinent.
See you in church,
Harry