Pastor's Corner

At the Bedside

posted Sep 28, 2018, 8:30 AM by Tricia Sheffield

Grace and peace to you!

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Corinthians 5.17)

Last weekend, I heard a story about the power of new creation and things becoming new and I want to share it with you. (I was given permission to share this story, but I have left out names to respect people’s privacy).

A middle-aged man sat at the bedside of an unconscious woman who recently had a stroke. Her husband of many years had died a few months ago, and now here was his beloved, soon to join him. She was not a relative of the man, but was very much family to him. She and her husband, pillars in their church and in the Reformed Church in America (RCA), had been staunchly supportive of him when he came out as gay, and their support had continued throughout his lifetime. So, it was absolutely fitting that he would be there for her at such a time as this. He held her hand, prayed, and sang hymns to her, favorites like “Great Is Thy Faithfulness, “Amazing Grace,” “How Great Thou Art,” and “It is Well With My Soul.” 

After a while, the door to the room opened and in walked an elderly man. He introduced himself, but the other man knew exactly who he was as both had been members of the same church. And he remembered him as not being welcoming and affirming of his identity as a gay man during that time. The middle-aged man, in return, told the elderly man his name and said he was aware of who he was.

The elderly man said he had heard him singing hymns to the woman, and asked if he might join in the singing. And so they did. Sitting together, they sang, giving comfort to her, and perhaps themselves. When they finished, the elderly man turned to the other man and said he remembered who he was, and he wanted to tell him something. He said that he had changed his mind about him and LGBTQ people. He now knew that God loves and welcomes all people into the full life of the church. He stated that he had a gay grandson and a bisexual granddaughter, and that he was so happy that his grandson had found love and partnership with his husband. And he wished the same for his granddaughter and for others. After a pause, the elderly man said, “I imagine it’s been very lonely for you.” The middle aged man agreed it had been. They continued to sit together, holding the woman’s hands, a tentative, new creation of welcome and affirmation having been born around her bedside.

This is the power of transformation that only God’s encompassing love can bring. This is the power of the Holy Spirit to change the hearts and minds of people. This is the power of the Holy Spirit to change us.

I’m pretty sure the woman heard the exchange between the two men, as the ability to hear is the last to go in such a waning state. As a loyal and beautiful supporter of LGBTQ people in the RCA, I imagine she must have been very happy to be not only a witness to this reconciling act, but a catalyst for it at the end of her life. She died last Sunday. Rest in peace and rise in glory, faithful servant of God.

But, Lord, ‘tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,

The sky, not the grave, is our goal;

Oh trump of the angel! Oh voice of the Lord!

Blessèd hope, blessèd rest of my soul!

It is well, with my soul,

It is well, with my soul,

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

In gratitude for the privilege of being your Pastor, and the holy call of loving you,

Pastor Trish

Rally Day This Sunday: The Spirit is Moving!

posted Sep 14, 2018, 8:29 AM by Tricia Sheffield

Grace and peace to you in the name of God our Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ, and our Advocate the Holy Spirit!

Over the summer, I’ve been planning and dreaming, asking afresh what God wants MRC to do and where God wants MRC to go in our local and global communities. I’ve been wondering what is the Holy Spirit up to now for the fabulous church of love. As you are aware, Red Bank Pre-K is no longer with us, and we are currently seeking a new ministry partner for the Education Building. At the same time, though, we are already enjoying having more space for events and classes, and a dedicated room for our Youth Group. 

That said, I remain committed to the vision that over time (It ain’t gonna happen over night!), we will become financially self-sufficient through our generous giving, have the space we need for the spiritual life of the church, AND have a partner in the Education Building. In a letter I sent over the summer, I asked all of us to pray, look at our budgets, and discern how we can increase our tithes and offerings so that we can become self-sufficient. I have complete trust in God for this vision because I’ve been sensing the Spirit moving in our congregation over the summer . . . that is for sure. 

Now, though, summer is gone and we are moving into fall. Now is the time to put our faith into action, relying on God’s faithfulness as we “write the vision and make it plain” (Habakkuk 2.2). I’ll admit it. I’ve been so looking forward to all that God has planned for us, especially for this Sunday which is Rally Day. If you’ve been away for the summer, or maybe even longer, I invite you to come “home” to MRC. As you are aware, all of God’s beloved are welcomed, all are affirmed, and all are celebrated. And if you know someone who is looking for a church to attend, this is the perfect time to invite that person. I know many in our congregation have come because they were extended a personal invitation from a member of MRC. That’s how the Holy Spirit works. That’s how we build the reign of God here on earth, by telling someone that we know a place where they will feel the love of God in a meaningful and profound way. Then that person brings all their gifts for ministry to the community, and the concentric circles of God’s love and grace keep going out and out and out  . . .

And, look at this! We still have all our regular programming, but we’ve also added a few new ministries this year.

  • Sunday worship, 10:30 AM. First Sunday of the month we gather around God’s table of welcome and grace for the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Afterwards, we will extend the  hospitality of grace and gather around another table for First Sunday Brunches. A free will offering will be taken to support the ministries of the church.
  • New Member classes will be held September 23/30, 9 AM, with new members joining on October 7. If you have been thinking about officially joining MRC, please come to these classes.
  • Middletown Reformed Church invites the entire community to a mid-week worship of prayer, healing and hope on the second Wednesdays of the month, 7 PM. In a world that seems so divided, come and have your body, mind, and soul refreshed. Come and experience the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. Worship dates: October 10November 7December 12.
  • Momistry, a once a month meeting of New Jericho Choir mothers and any other mother for a time to be together for good conversation and to talk about how our faith informs our parenting. Time is 6 - 7:30 PMon a Monday TBD.
  • World Communion Sunday, October 7. Worship will be Scripture and litanies that reflect the celebration of World Communion: “The Communion of Saints: Resources from the Worldwide Church” by Anne E. Zaki. This will be a multi-vocal, multi-gender, intergenerational worship.
  • MRC Rummage Sale, October 12-13, 9 AM - 3 PM on the Great Lawn of the Church and in the Education Building. We will have coffee, beverages, and hot dogs for sale for our guests. There will be face painting for the young ones, and church tours for those who want to learn more about us. You may bring any items for the sale to the Education Building. Please see Dara Steele or Patty Gallagher for more details.
  • Confirmation Class begins on October 28 and will meet twice a month through April. Students will join in May.

So, come to worship this Sunday at 10:30 AM to see what God is up to at MRC. Our New Jericho Choir will be leading us in song with several selections, and we will have a very special Blessing of the Backpacks with invited guest Suzanne Dice of The Backpack Crew. Beverly Bova Scarano has sent a flyer asking if we could please bring any of the following items for The Backpack Crew’s ministry: Snack Bars, Juice Boxes, Boxes of Cereal (large and small), Soups, Mac ‘n Cheese, Granola or Snack bars that kids like, Boxes of Raisins, Peanut Butter, Jelly, Cookies, Pop Tarts, Packages of Cheese and Crackers, and/or any other kind of snack or food. I will be preaching from James 3.1-12 and my sermon title is Speak Words of Wisdom.

I am excited to welcome you back to church this Sunday. The Spirit is up to something here; indeed, everywhere, and I can’t wait to see what it is!

In gratitude for the privilege of being your Pastor, and the holy call of loving you,

Pastor Trish

I hope you will join me in praying for all those in the path of Hurricane Florence. We have been there; we know the damage and sadness such a storm can cause. Lord, in your compassionate mercy, keep all people safe. And may we do everything we can to help clean up and support those in the aftermath. No matter our differences that seem so highlighted now in our society, we are always stronger and better together as one!

A September to Remember

posted Sep 8, 2018, 7:25 AM by Tricia Sheffield

Grace and peace to you in the name of God our Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ, and our Advocate the Holy Spirit!

On September 8, 2013 I was ordained as Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America.

On September 30, 2013 I was divorced and officially free from what I will graciously call a very unhealthy marriage.

Two life changing events in one month. Two life-giving events in one month.

I am still in awe of God calling me to ministry. I remain grateful that God’s presence and love never left me, even when I had walked away from God. Even though I didn’t recognize it at the time, I look back and can see God’s guiding hand, transforming my sorrow and pain to a place of joy. I am thankful for all I have learned, including how to do ministry and how not to do ministry. I think of all the people God has put along my path to encourage and challenge me, and I see the face of Christ in each one. And now, five years later, I am filled with peace and gratitude for God leading me to MRC.

I still get emotional when I re-read my vows, especially the part that says, Trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ for strength, I pledge my life to preach and teach the good news of salvation in Christ, to build up and equip the church for mission in the world, to free the enslaved, to relieve the oppressed, to comfort the afflicted, and to walk humbly with God. 

To express my thankfulness for God’s faithfulness, and to remind myself of my pledge to God, each year I watch a certain musical portion of my ordination. It’s a song written and composed by my friend Dionne McClain-Freeney that she sang at my ordination. I have always understood this as my love song to God as I took my vows. It’s called “Imperfect Me.”

Take me as I am, with all my faults, and all my scars from battle. I am who I am, and I am real, the one who loves you still. Take me as I am, broken but here, with all I have, I give you. All that I can give, and nothing less; I would give more, if I could. 

My heart is yours; my soul as well. My flesh, my blood, I give you. No sacrifice, too great to give. You have my vow; I am here. 

Take me as I am, imperfect me. Imperfect love is given. I stand strong with you. I’m here right now, my hand I give to you. 

My heart is yours, my soul as well. My flesh, my blood, I give you. No sacrifice, too great to give. You have my vow; I am here.

I am here. Imperfect me.

After I was ordained and divorced, I wanted to mark these occasions with something. I wanted to buy myself a ring, but I never got around to it. Yesterday, though, as I was walking around Sears waiting for my car to be serviced, I stopped by the jewelry counter. They were having a big sale on gemstones. 

It was time to buy that ring. 

It wasn’t expensive; the setting is a bit crooked; it’s not from a fancy jeweler. The ring is imperfect, just like me, but it’s my favorite gemstone -- an emerald -- and what I chose to symbolize two events that gave me hope. It’s what I wanted to remind me of God’s amazing grace for me; indeed, for all of us.

Beloved, how have you seen God’s continuing presence in your life? What transformations have you experienced because of God’s providence and guiding hand? Where in your life has God restored and renewed your sorrow to a place of hope? Thanks be to God that God takes us as we are, just as we are, loves us, and molds us into a more holy and human shape. 

In gratitude for the privilege of being your Pastor, and the holy call of loving you,

Pastor Trish

The God of Lights

posted Aug 31, 2018, 9:49 AM by Tricia Sheffield

Grace and peace to you in the name of God our Creator and our friend Jesus Christ!

Did you see the full moon this week? Even though it has been quite warm in the evenings, it has been worth it to sit outside to catch a glimpse of its haunting beauty. My view of the moon rising begins with a faint glow amidst the pine trees. It starts low, and then as it rises, its light burns brighter as it begins to skim the tops of the trees. At last, it  it hovers majestically, seeming to command the night sky with its watchful gaze over the earth.

As I was sitting out back the other night, I waited patiently for its rising. I turned off the back porch light so as to appreciate better the contrast between light and dark. After a while, as one does in our culture of 24 hour social media, I got distracted by scrolling through Facebook and texting with friends. Finally, I looked up from my phone, and I was surprised at what I saw. The grass that had once been bathed in darkness was now flooded in a blue-white light. The leaves on the trees were shining too, fluttering ever so gently in the soft breeze. What a difference from shadow to light, and from what seemed like just a few minutes ago! I couldn’t help but think of a portion of our Scripture text for this Sunday:

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures (James 1.17-18). 

The Father of lights. 

The God of the sun, moon, and stars. The God who created us very good. 

In this God there is no wavering. In this God we only find steadfast love and faithfulness, having giving us new life through the word of truth in Christ Jesus. As one scholar said, “In antiquity the motions of the stars were thought to be eternal and, unlike earthly things, never subject to decay or alteration. God is greater than the eternal astronomical bodies because no type of change occurs in God. Consequently, God’s goodness will never change.”

Great is thy faithfulness, O God Creator, There is no shadow of turning with Thee; Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not; As Thou hast been Thou forever will be.

Before I went inside for the night, I went out on the Great Lawn and took one last look at the moon. As I did, I thanked the God of lights for the gift of the light at which I was gazing, and the light of Christ that guides us every day. Great is thy faithfulness . . . 

In gratitude for the privilege of being your Pastor, and the holy call of loving you,

Pastor Trish

Lessons from Hopping Hazel

posted Aug 24, 2018, 12:17 PM by Tricia Sheffield

Grace and peace to you in these final weeks of summer!

Olivia’s Forest has not seen the birth of many fawns this year. I’m not sure why; I reckon these things go in cycles. But there is one special fawn that has come up with an even more special doe.

The other day I looked out the window and saw Hopping Hazel. You may recall she is the doe that “hops” or stumbles through the world due to a mangled front leg. In whatever weather, brutal heat, drenching downpour, or a snowy chill, she manages to get around, albeit slower than the rest of the herd. But, still, she does get around. Even though it breaks my heart to see her struggle, her tenacity always makes me smile. Go, Hazel!

I’ll be honest. I was surprised to see her with a baby. But, when I thought about how strong she is despite the odds being against her, I realized I shouldn’t have been shocked. She does what she can, when she can, and how she can, trusting her Creator to take care of her. Or, at least I’d like to think she does.

Where do you see God in your life right now? 

It was a question asked of me several years ago and every once in a while I’ll ask it of myself, as I did today. And I thought of Hopping Hazel and her little fawn, whom I’ve named Harriet. Whenever Hazel visits she continues to teach me about the fierce power of the Holy Spirit. That is to say, in our struggles, our limping along, or in our fears, we can trust in a God to take care of us, a Christ to redeem us, and a Holy Spirit to walk continually beside us. Because despite what may be going on in our lives, the Spirit will always show up for us in tenacious ways. 

Where do you want to see God in your life? 

That was the second part of the question I was asked. Oh, I’m sure many of us would answer too many things to mention. But, even though we may not see God as readily, we can have the same trust in our Triune God to hold us, care for us, and move us toward a world where the leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of the nations, and a great river of the water of life runs through the city, and the city will have no need for moon or sun, but the glory of God will be its light, because God’s grace will be extended to all people (Revelation 22.1-5).

I not only see God in the beauty of creatures such as Hopping Hazel and Harriet; I see God all around us as the persistent Spirit continues to bring forth the reign of God, even when our world may seem to be hobbling along. I am grateful for this truth of God’s steadfast nature. And I am thankful that I am given opportunities to see God, but more importantly, I have deep gratitude knowing that God sees me.

Where do you see God in your life right now? I look forward to hearing your answers when I see you on Sunday. 

In gratitude for the privilege of being your Pastor, and the holy call of loving you,

Pastor Trish

The Spirit Knows

posted Aug 17, 2018, 12:06 PM by Tricia Sheffield

Grace and peace to you in the name of God our Creator and our Savior Jesus Christ! 

I’ve been reading a book on The Heidelberg Catechism (HC), one of the four standards of unity in the Reformed tradition, and my favorite one of them all. The author is pastor and President of Princeton Theological Seminary, M. Craig Barnes, and the title is Body & Soul: Reclaiming The Heidelberg Catechism. It’s a refreshing look at the HC. It’s not an academic or historical study, but rather, it’s a pastoral study and a statement of faith that interweaves aspects of our everyday lives with the theology of the HC. It is a book about comfort, assuring us that we belong, body and soul, “in all things, both wonderful and horrific” to our God.

This book has been just what I’ve needed to read in these times for our congregation. For as much as we share joy with one another on Sunday and throughout the week, our fabulous church of love has been experiencing some deep sadness. We have witnessed tragic and sudden deaths of loved ones and pets; unexpected diagnoses of illnesses and hospital stays; struggles in caring for aging loved ones; worry about young adults as they maneuver through their world; and concern over lack of employment and finances. I’ve been praying often, asking the Holy Spirit to be the Advocate and Comforter who was promised, as I’ve listened to people’s concerns and watched them cry. At times my heart has hurt, as I’ve sat silently, attempting to be a witness to the Holy. 

And then I read HC Question and Answer #53 and Barnes commentary on it and it resounded deeply within my soul, almost reverberating throughout my body.

Question: What do you believe concerning "the Holy Spirit"? 

Answer: First, that the Spirit, with the Father and the Son, is eternal God. Second, that the Spirit is given also to me, so that, through true faith, he makes me share in Christ and all his benefits through true faith, comforts me, and will remain with me forever.

Barnes says, So as a pastor, when I consider the diverse needs of the people I serve, I have to trust the Holy Spirit to do for them what I cannot . . . By adopting us into the Son’s beloved status with the Father, the Spirit restores our created identity as children of God. And nothing can take that away. We can’t even take it away from ourselves. That’s because the Spirit remains with us forever.

Through the Spirit they [the congregation] receive solace from someone who doesn’t just know how they feel, but who has the power to heal and restore their hearts. The Spirit knows how life is.

Yes, the Spirit certainly does know.

I am grateful for the Spirit who knows just where we are and what we need. I am grateful for the Spirit who does for us what we might not necessarily know what to do for each other. I am grateful for the Spirit who remains with us forever, despite all of our best efforts to shake free or go it alone. 

But mostly, I am grateful for the Spirit who knows how life is

I will see you in worship on Sunday. Know I am trusting the Spirit to bind herself to you and never let you go.

In gratitude for the privilege of being your Pastor, and the holy call of loving you,

Pastor Trish

While Snapping Beans . . .

posted Aug 10, 2018, 7:14 AM by Tricia Sheffield

Grace and peace to you in this season of summer!

Our church campus has been a hive of activity. Last Sunday was our Lt. Dennis W. Zilinski, II Youth Group Memorial Scholarship BBQ on the Great Lawn of the church. And this week the lawn is still covered in tents for Vacation Bible School: Splash Canyon. It has given me great happiness each day to welcome 60 campers, along with our teenage helpers and adult volunteers, and to share the good news of God’s love with them. Anywhere you go around the church property you will see people and hear chitter-chatter and the delighted squeals of our little ones. It has been a busy, joy-filled time, and I love it! 

But being busy also means the need to rest and be still, and I found myself doing that the other night. As I was sitting in a chair outside snapping the ends off farm-fresh green beans, watching the deer eat their corn, noticing the outside cats snooze in the grass, and the birds swooping in for seed, my thoughts traveled to my maternal grandmother. How many times I had watched her snap beans, while telling me stories of growing up on a farm. I felt her presence, and smiled, looking around at the church’s little “farm.” With tears in my eyes, I stopped what I was doing to thank God for the gift of my grandmother and for that moment of peace. “Always be grateful,” I said out loud. And I was.

It occurred to me then that the gratitude we have for the grace God has given us through Jesus can spill over into all of our life’s activities and turn worship into an everyday experience. Or can turn everyday experiences into worship. 

In that moment, snapping beans became for me an act of worship.

Episcopalian priest Barbara Brown Taylor eloquently said: Salvation is a word for the divine spaciousness that comes to human beings in all the tight places  . . . regardless of how they got there or whether they know God’s name. Sometimes it comes as an extended human hand and sometimes as a bolt from the blue, but either way it opens a door  . . . This is the way of life, and God alone knows how it works.

As people of faith, we are encouraged to be on the lookout for that divine spaciousness and how God is moving in our lives, even when we least expect it. As we do, our path toward salvation becomes a path that is Spirit-filled, a path of song and joy and wonder, and a path that leads us to a place of gratitude and worship.

And from this song of gratitude, all that we offer to God, to each other, each seemingly ordinary thing we do, becomes a place of spectacular grace where the divine spaciousness can fill up our lives. Each part of our lives become a potential space for worship, because God created us for worship. Worship is not something that just happens once a week . . . gratitude turns worship into an everyday occurrence.

As you go about your everyday acts of worship, as you walk in the path of gratitude, I pray you will be filled with the Spirit, making melody to God in your heart, and giving thanks to God at all times and for everything. I will see you on Sunday!

In gratitude for the privilege of being your Pastor, and the holy call of loving you,

Pastor Trish


posted Jul 30, 2018, 10:49 AM by Tricia Sheffield

Grace and peace to you!

“What new adventures have you been up to these days?” Such was the query from Ms. Ruth, our oldest surviving member at 100 years and 6 months. What a great question to ask of someone! As I paused to think about my answer, I realized that nothing in my life at that moment fit the definition of (or at least my definition of) “adventure.” It’s summer, and things around MRC are slightly less adventurous.

In church life/ministry, it’s called the summertime-slowdown. Many people are away on vacation; regular church programming stops, except for worship and Vacation Bible School; the choir is not in rehearsal or in worship; and normally scheduled meetings for organizations/ministry partners of ours are put on hold until September. Because of the summer season, I have enjoyed spending more time in prayer and sermon study; getting administrative tasks crossed off my list that have been languishing there for a while; and planning for new ministries and fall worship. It’s summertime, and the living is eas(ier). I realize not everyone can or will have the opportunity to experience this slowdown; I am well aware it is a gift. 

But then, everything is a gift from God. Everything.

In Henri Nouwen’s book Gracias! A Latin American Journal he describes “his travels in Bolivia and Peru, [and] ponders the presence of God in the poor, the challenge of a persecuted church, the relation between faith and justice, and his own struggle to discern the path along which God is calling him.” In his time of discernment he says, And slowly I learned. I learned what I must have forgotten somewhere in my busy, well-planned, and very ‘useful’ life. I learned that everything that is, is freely given by the God of love. All is grace. Light and water, shelter and food, work and free time, children, parents, and grandparents, birth and death – it is all given to us. Why? . . . So that we can say gracias, thanks: thanks to God, thanks to each other, thanks to all and everyone.

Everything is a gift because all is grace. And because all is grace we can say gracias, even when we may find it hard to say thank you amidst the whirlwind of life. Gift = grace = gratitude.

Yes, things around MRC are not as “adventurous,” and I’ve been able to get certain items crossed off my list, but really, what this season allows me to do is what I love most about my call: I get to spend more quality time with you all. And so, during this season of summertime-slowdown, of a space to say gracias, I would like to issue an invitation. I have office hours on Tuesday, 1-3; Wednesday, 2-4; and Thursday, 1-3. Starting on August 14, come and sit on the front porch of Coventry House and let’s look and listen for God’s gifts. Come and be still, and have a conversation over a cup of coffee/tea. No agenda, just a moment carved out of the day to be still in the presence of God as we say thanks to God, to each other, to all. 

I did share one “adventure” with Ms. Ruth. I’ve seen a few hummingbirds in the area, so on Sunday afternoon, I bought a hummingbird feeder and hung it from the garage eaves next to the cedars. Since then, I’ve been eagerly looking each day for one of those tiny, whirring creatures. And then, in the early evening on Thursday, there it was, drinking happily from the feeder. “Tell your friends,” I called out as it whisked away. And I cheered.

Everything is a gift. Indeed. 

In gratitude for the privilege to be your Pastor, and the holy call of loving you,

Pastor Trish

The Moment (written 07/13/2018)

posted Jul 30, 2018, 10:47 AM by Tricia Sheffield

Grace and peace to you!

There is quite a whirlwind of wildlife activity around Coventry House these days. Baby blue jays, cat birds, nut hatches, and woodpeckers, that hatched from their shells in the spring, are now testing their wings, and foraging for their own food. Baby chipmunks are also scampering about, as well as little squirrels. Everywhere you look around Olivia’s Forest, there is new critter life, except for one category of animals that claim this space as their home. I’ve only spotted one fawn so far. None of the deer have brought their young ones to the backyard feeding station. I keep looking and hoping each time they arrive for their meal, but to no avail. Whenever Olivia, Nancy, or Lulu come up to eat I ask them, “Where are your babies? Bring me your babies so I can make them mine!”

And then I came across the following poem by Margaret Atwood.

The Moment

The moment when, after many years

of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose

their soft arms from around you,

the birds take back their language,

the cliffs fissure and collapse,

the air moves back from you like a wave

and you can't breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.

You were a visitor, time after time

climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.

We never belonged to you.

You never found us.

It was always the other way round.

You own nothing.” Oh, how I smiled at the Holy Spirit’s whisperings. 

I didn’t find the creatures of the forest; they found me. The deer don’t belong to me; they belong to God. All who venture up for corn or birdseed have chosen to share a little slice of their world with me, not the other way round. With this poem, I was reminded to see the animals as pure, exquisite gifts from God as a demonstration of the Creator’s care and grace for all living things.

As I thought more on this poem and this lesson from the Spirit, something else occurred to me. We don’t find God; God finds us. God doesn’t belong to us; we belong to God. Again, what an exquisite and humbling gift from our Creator to be assured that there is nothing we can ever do to earn God’s love and grace. We simply have it because of the person and work of Christ. God found us the day we were born, and marked us as God’s child in our baptism. We never “found” God. It was always, and is always, the other way round.

One final observation. The other day I was walking the church property with a woman, and she remarked how peaceful it was, noting a bunny on the lawn and a deer across the way. I agreed, and said how welcome this place was to me after many years in frenetic NYC. I shared how I prayed to God for a new call, yearning to be out of the city and to serve a smaller congregation where I would know each person’s name and their story as they came forward for Communion. 

It was a long and hard voyage to get here, I told her, but I am constantly amazed that at the appointed time God gave me the desires of my heart: a beautiful church in the forest filled with loving and dynamic people. “Knowing at last how I got here,” I am grateful that God found me and continues to find me anew each and every day. Be assured, beloved one, we are not our own, but belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

In gratitude for the privilege to be your Pastor, and the holy call of loving you,

Pastor Trish

For the Beauty of the Ocean

posted Jul 9, 2018, 7:21 AM by Tricia Sheffield

Grace and peace be with you!

I’m back from my vacation in Florida where I had a restorative time. 

Above is a photo I took of Juno Beach. (My sister used her water color app to create the effects you see). On the day I went to that beach, the ocean was pristine, flat with no waves, the water moving out from the shore in varying shades of blue-green. The sand was bursting with all manner of shells, and I, being a shell collector, was delighted. With my face down, I scoured the shore, hunting with anticipation for the elusive perfect shell. As the waves hit the shore, the shells made a tinkling sound, almost like glass chimes. 

After a while, feeling rather hot, I waded out into the perfect water, dipping underneath at knee-high level in order to cool my body. But that’s all I did. No swimming for me. I don’t swim in the ocean because when I was seven years old I saw the film Jaws and that terrified me so much that I refused to go out where I couldn’t touch the bottom. Since then, every time I have ventured out into the water, all I can visualize is the opening scene from the film and fear grips me. So, a quick dip in, and back up on the beach I go.

The next day I went to the beach of my youth, Palm Beach. Again, the water was perfect, even flatter and calmer than the day before. And then I did something I haven’t done in over forty years. 

I swam in the ocean.

Oh, sure I could still touch the bottom, but something or someone released me from my fear. Perhaps it was my nephew who as with me. Or maybe it was the still, gentle beauty of the water. But my terror left, and I began swimming out and then flipped over and floated, the lulling motion of the salty water carrying me away. I paused to listen to the murmuring underneath me. It was quiet, almost monotonous, a sense of the eternal in its murmuring even rhythm. As I was being held in the arms of the ocean, I could feel my body and soul being restored, and I let go of all those frightening images from my impressionable youth. After some time, I stood up in the water, and watched little fish dart back-and-forth around me, and every once in a while they bumped into my legs. I remembered this routine from childhood and how it had scared me then. But this time, I giggled at their fish antics. In the hour-and-a-half I was at the beach, I stayed in the water for most of it, not even giving a second thought to Jaws and my previous trepidation. 

I wonder how much we miss because of fear. How are we not hearing God’s voice or feeling God’s presence due to memories, people, events we cling to that stifle the child of God in each one of us? What beauty I had missed because of fear. Certainly, it was a very real fear, nursed from the tender age of seven. But it was a fear that held me back from experiencing the wonder of God’s creation right in front of me, and perhaps many opportunities to have my soul restored.

I hope to see you in worship on Sunday. Oh, and you know what? I can’t wait to go swimming in the ocean again.

May God’s love surround you,

Pastor Trish

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