This article appears in “The Bridge, ” October, 2020.
“Peace of Christ be with you”! Each Sunday we share these words with one another in our passing of the peace. It is our way of greeting one another during morning worship. Just a few little words and actions can mean so much!
Over the past several months passing the peace has taken on a new importance. During our online worship events, passing the peace is an opportunity to connect with others while socially distancing. It is nice to see friends and loved ones and hear messages of goodwill and hope. People are craving to be seen and heard and this simple act fills a void. I have been told that the best part of our in-person 4th Sunday outdoor services is the fellowship time with friends.
Right now, we need peace more than ever. Peace is defined in the Bible as “the notion of totality or completeness, success, fulfillment, wholeness, harmony, security and well being.”As Christians we know that peace is more than a feeling. It is an active way of showing love to one another. In Isaiah 32:17 it states, “The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever.” With the added anxiety and fear from the current pandemic we hunger for the love and support from each other. Our new normal is creating economic and social divisions that only our acts of peace can heal. Our political climate is also causing some unhealthy division. With one month until our presidential election, we need all the peace we can get.
Fortunately, we are in the midst of the “Season of Peace”. On October 4th we will celebrate World Communion Sunday online and take part in the Peace and Global Witness Offering. We have also designed individual “Season of Peace” events which will start during the month of October. We plan to designate one of the trees on our church property as a “peace tree” and invite members to make peace notes and paper cranes to decorate it. We hope to have a Tuesday night fellowship where we can make our notes and cranes together and talk about active peace initiatives, we can take part in locally. We will send out “peace note” templates in the next week for you to use and will hang our notes and cranes on October 26 during our in-person worship. We also plan to start a discussion of the book “Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mr. Rogers” as part of our Tuesday Night Fellowship.
We know that active peace is important in our personal lives and we invite you to use our new church Prayer Trail. Walking through the different stations is a relaxing way to reconnect to God and it is nice to enjoy our church yard. Most important, it helps both our bodies and spirits renew.
Friends, until we meet again. Shalom! Peace be with you.
Rev. Julie A. Sterling
By Rev. Julie Sterling, published in the “Bridge” September, 2020
Blessings to you, dear friends. I hope all is well with you and yours. As I write this article today my thoughts drift off to plans for the fall. A new church year is only a few weeks away and I am excited to see what possibilities await us. This summer has been rich with ministry. I am amazed with all we have accomplished online and during our 4th Sunday worship services. The Spirit is working hard within our church family. Matthew 18:20 reminds us “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Whether online or in person, we are the church.
Some things this year are different, yet so much of who we are is very much the same. It made me so proud last Sunday to see the amount of food we collected for the SCF food pantry. Your love and kindness collected a trunk load of food. We are a mission church. This is what we do! We like to use our hands and hearts to share our faith in God. So how do we maneuver the challenge of mission during social distancing? What can we do together safely that reflects our mission for the community and the larger church? I think we are ready to get back to work, but what does that look like in terms of our new normal. How do we live out our mission to be a “bridge through faith and service”?
This week the church will be sending out a survey to the congregation, asking for an evaluation of the past 6 months. We want to know what worked well and what we may need to change. Please be honest, we know that each member experiences their faith with God differently. We want to do what we can to make your worship and mission experience meaningful. We are also asking questions concerning things you might interest you in the fall. We would like to offer revised experiences of traditions we know you love. I am sure we could find a way to have a “Trunk or Treat” experience that would be safe for everyone. I would also like to try a Rally Day picnic to kick of the new year. We really do need to hear from you so we can start to put plans into action. Do not worry, any plans will include small group pods or clusters and procedure for social distancing.
Friends, I look forward to the next few months with you. I know your heart and I believe that we can do some great things for our neighbors. Our community needs our support more than ever. Last fall our Rally Day included a challenge to be a Matthew 25 Initiative church. I think that is challenge is extremely relevant today. We see more than ever the need for the faithful to support the least of these. We may be in a “new normal” but we are still Suffolk Presbyterian Church. We will do everything we can to continue to support the missions and fellowship activities that have defined this church community.
Once again, I am excited to see what God has in store for us this year. Please fill out your surveys and contact me or your flock leader if you have any ideas or concerns for the future.
Peace be with you till we meet again.
Rev. Julie Sterling
Today’s worship is from the from lawn of Suffolk Presbyterian Church
by Rev. Julie Sterling, from the “Bridge”, July, 2020
Brothers and sisters, I send you peace in the name of Christ Jesus and hope all is well with you and yours. Another month has passed since we started on this path of a “new normal.” I thank you for your patience as we have worked to maintain the ministry of Suffolk Presbyterian Church in an age of social distancing. As spring turns to summer, our church is transitioning to new opportunities and great hopes. God is awesome. It is clear His spirit is at work.
I know that many of you miss the one on one contact of our church community on Sunday morning. I can understand. I feel the same way and long for the day we can meet in the sanctuary and join in worship and fellowship. Starting June 28th, we will take our first steps toward on-site worship by hosting an outdoor communion service in the church yard. A procedural list has been developed by our Covid-19 team and has been distributed to our congregation. We will follow CDC guidelines to maintain the safety of our congregation during worship. We understand that our members have different comfort levels with social distancing. Considering this, we will continue to post our weekly worship services online. Anyone who is in a high-risk category or who is feeling sick should remain home and worship online.
This transition will be a challenge. We have never had to worship this way before. Once again, please be patient with us. Even though we are in new territory, I passionately believe that in this our church community has grown stronger than it has ever been. Yes, this new normal has called us to work harder. Ministering to others is different than before. In many instances, it has challenged congregation members into uncharted territory. I am so proud of how easy it has been to transition most of our ministry online. I have also been pleasantly surprised in how fulfilling online ministry can be. I cannot imagine what it would be like to do social distancing without online worship, fellowship, prayer group, and study. Even though we are “distant” we are still connected.
The greatest blessing of all is that we have been able to maintain who we are as Suffolk Presbyterian Church within our online ministry. The inspiration for “who we are” as Suffolk Presbyterian Church comes from Acts 20:28: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God…” Our online presence and hard work of the Diaconate has allowed us to continue the nurturing of our congregation. Our prayer groups, fellowship nights, and studies have helped us feed our personal faith journey with God. I can honestly say that I feel connected to the members and ministry of this spirit filled church.
As we continue this new journey, we hope to stay true to the mission, vision, and values of SPC. As a mission church we are called to be a “bridge to Christ through faith and service”. When we live our mission, people will see Christ working in their lives and be inspired to follow. Most important, when we live our call and walk the path with Jesus, we become more accepting, caring, spirit-led people equipped for outreach and service.
Until we meet again…peace.
Rev. Julie Sterling