By Rev. Julie Sterling, appearing in the “Bridge” November, 2020
Seasons greetings! I hope you are enjoying this holiday season. As we prepare for our Advent Journey to the manger, our paths have taken some twists and turns. It may even feel like we are taking an extended detour. This year has been quite a challenge for most of us. With all this “newness”, we look forward to many of the traditions of Christmas. No matter what December brings, rejoice in the assurance that we are on this journey together.
Advent is a liturgical celebration of the promise of our living God. The word “Emmanuel” is defined in Hebrew as “God is with us”. Throughout our story of faith, believers have longed for the promised “Messiah” and the closeness of our father in heaven. In our readings from Isaiah to the Gospel of Luke, we hear the promise of Jesus, our Prince of Peace, King of Kings, and Good Shepherd; brought to us as a humble child. As we make our way to Christmas Eve, Advent prepares us to embrace the gift of this living promise with open hearts and open minds. Our themes of hope, peace, joy, and love help us to stay focused on our faith during a time of business and over consumerism. In our time of worship together, we will grow in faith and love and greet the promise of God’s love clearly.
I know this year feels different. It breaks my heart to know that we will not be able to worship together in the sanctuary this year. Still, we will do our best to stay connected online and we hope to have more outdoor worship experiences in the coming month. I also realize that this year has been difficult for most of us. Our “new normal” has been hard to transition to. Remember, the holiday season is filled with emotions. We are humans, moved by emotion, and the holiday season often magnifies the struggles that lie in our hearts. With all the joy this season brings, it can also be a sad time for those who have dealt with illness, loss, anxiety, or depression over the past 12 months. This year we hope to share with you both heartfelt worship services and fellowship events that reflect many of our traditions. The Chrismon Tree, Advent Candles, and poinsettias will fill our sanctuary and be present during weekly online worship. We will invite families to come decorate the Chrismon Tree on individual evenings and take part in online Advent candle readings. We will continue our support for Edmarc with alternative gifting opportunities and will support the PCUSA Christmas Joy Offering. There will also be an online Tuesday Night Zoom Advent study, “Incarnation” by Adam Hamilton to help us stay connected and grow in faith.
Be assured that we are working hard to make this season meaningful for everyone. If all goes as planned, we hope to gather in person on Christmas Eve. The logistics of this will all depend on the Covid 19 infection rate and the weather. Please continue to pray for the SPC leadership and we search to find safe ways to share in this holy season.
May the hope, peace, joy, and love of Emmanuel guide you through the detour of this holy journey. Know that you are not alone. This promise is a gift we receive as together, given to us by God.
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by Rev. Julie Sterling. (Orginally appearing in the “Bridge” November 2020)
Blessing friends. As we navigate through another month, I am prayerful that you are doing well. November signals a shift to fall and the beginning of our holiday season. Things will be different this year. We may not be able to do the same cherished family traditions. Our way of worship together may be different as well. Still, with all the changes, we know that there is much to be thankful for.
This month our leadership will start making plans for the coming year.
Budgets will be set, and new leaders will be called. With all that has happened this last year, our ministry has not wavered. In fact, in many ways it has grown for the better. The challenges we have tackled in the face of Covid 19 have made us grow into a stronger community. It has called us to work harder and strive to reach beyond our church walls. It is amazing what we can accomplish when we put our trust in God. It has not been easy. Never less, God has not and will not let us down. I am constantly comforted by the passage from Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous righthand.”
Friends, we are called to be good stewards for God. God made us to care for
God’s creation and this month you will be called to support our living ministry of Christ Jesus. This past week during our quarterly Presbytery meeting we were challenged to pass a “budget of hope”. As members of Suffolk Presbyterian Church, I request that you do likewise. Believe and give from the heart. For Jeremiah 17:7 states “…blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him”. Through your personal commitment to our church, we will be able to continue to live out our mission as a bridge of faith and service. Your gift of time and talents will help assist in the good work of this church for the coming year. Your gift of hope will help inspire our congregation to continue to grow in faith and love locally and globally.
I do not know what the coming year will bring. I do know that our church
is working hard to maintain a spirit driven ministry. Nothing has or will keep up for living our ministry of hope. I pray you will join me with excitement in this stewardship season. Let us thank God by committing to his ministry with open hearts and open minds. Let us pledge a gift of trust, not only to God but to one another.
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