Pastor's Corner


The Most Holiest of Weeks

posted Apr 12, 2019, 9:38 AM by Tricia Sheffield

Blessings of God’s holy love to you!


We are a few days away from beginning Holy Week. Judy, I, and the Worship Committee have planned what we hope will be a meaningful time of worship as we journey with Jesus through his final days. As I’ve been preparing for Holy Week - creating bulletins, writing liturgy and sermons — I am keenly aware of how full this time of year is for those who are called to ministry. Deep down, something is whispering to me this ought not to be so. 


Recently, it was mentioned to me how busy our culture is, especially here in the Tri-State metropolitan area. It seems the more busy we are, the more importantly we are regarded. I have been sitting with this observation for a few weeks now, wondering how we can do the work of ministry to which we are called, and also create a space where we are quietly resting in the presence of God. I think if ever there was a time to slow down and think on God’s grace for us — Peace, be still! — it is Holy Week.


My hope for us as a congregation for the next week is just that. Slow. Down. 


Take time to pray, go for a walk, sit in a park, meditate. Carve out the space in your schedule to observe the beauty of spring singing out the song of new life. Did you know there are Scripture readings for every day during this most holiest of times? You can find them here. Read, and listen for a word from God. Let us resist the temptation to hurry and scurry, thinking that “doing” is more important than “being.” Instead, I invite you to approach this very well-known story of Jesus’ death and resurrection in a manner that encourages seeing God with a fresh and joyful perspective. Perhaps, just perhaps, we will not only see the holy power of resurrection around us; we will feel it too.


Come this Palm Sunday at 10:30 AM in as we remember Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on his courageous way to the cross. And come early to witness the children parading with the Potter donkey. The Joyful Noise Adult Choir will be singing the anthem “Hosanna in the Streets” with featured musicians Sarah Gordon, Alan Rubenfeld, Eli Thorpe, and Jacie Thorpe. I will be preaching from Zechariah 9.9-10 and John 12.9-15 and my sermon title is Blessed is the One. After worship, we will have a light lunch in the Education Building, sponsored by the Dorcas Circle.


And now, beloved of God, receive this prayer as we walk with Jesus into Jerusalem: Now, O Lord, calm me into a quietness that heals and listens, and molds my longings and passions, my wounds and wonderings into a more holy and human shape. - Ted Loder


May God bless your journey of — Peace, be still — this Holy Week. I will be praying a joy-filled calm for you.


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


Pastor Trish

Blessing the Seed

posted Apr 5, 2019, 11:31 AM by Tricia Sheffield

Lenten greetings of peace be with you!


Perhaps it’s the grass that suddenly turned green on the lawn.


Or maybe it’s the tulip and grape hyacinth bulbs that I planted in the fall that have appeared.


Still yet, it might be that Holy Week is soon approaching that has me aware of the lessons of death and new life.


But really, I think it’s Jan Richardson’s work “Blessing the Seed,” based on John 12.24, that caused me to appreciate how a seed must die and remain dormant for a time in order for new life to be called forth — Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.


Blessing the Seed

I should tell you at the outset: this blessing will require you to do some work.


First you must simply let this blessing fall from your hand, as if it were a small thing you could easily let slip through your fingers, as if it were not most precious to you, as if your life did not depend on it.


Next you must trust that this blessing knows where it is going, that it understands the ways of the dark, that it is wise to seasons and to times.


Then—and I know this blessing has already asked much of you—it is to be hoped that you will rest and learn that something is at work when all seems still, seems dormant, seems dead.


I promise you this blessing has not abandoned you. I promise you this blessing is on its way back to you. I promise you—when you are least expecting it, when you have given up your last hope—this blessing will rise green and whole and new.


As I’ve been pondering this blessing during the week, I’ve been asking God what is most precious to which I cling, and which, I believe, my life depends on? What is it that we hold to, not letting it go to die, so that God may give us new life? Perhaps the most difficult part, once we release whatever it is we need to do, is to rest and be still, trusting God with whatever is needed for our spiritual nourishment. This is not just difficult, but can provoke fear in us. But, this “grain” must fall and die if we expect the blessing of transformation from death to life. The tulips bulbs had to be planted in the ground, not left in the bag, in order for the flowers to bloom.


Come this Sunday at 10:30 AM ready to release that which needs to die and be given new life. We have special music from our quartet — Diane Grady, Sarah Hanvey, Dan Pannebaker, and Izaak Thorpe — singing “Give Me Jesus” and “In Christ Alone.” Brian Kolins will accompany them on percussion. I will be preaching from John 12.1-8, the moment when Mary anoints Jesus’ feet, and my sermon title is A Needful Extravagance


One assurance Richardson’s blessing gives is that the very act of letting go of this something, and waiting for it to come back to us re-shaped, resurrected, and new is courageous. 


In fact, simply put, it is faith.


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


Pastor Trish

In the Caring Community of God

posted Mar 29, 2019, 1:56 PM by Tricia Sheffield

Blessings of peace and grace be with you!


In my Lenten devotional Pastor Emily Heath writes this: During Lent our first inclination is often to turn inward and to reflect spiritually on ourselves. That’s certainly not a bad thing, but I often wonder if we aren’t a little short-sighted. We do not take our spiritual journeys alone, so why don’t we spend more time in Lent looking at our whole communities as well?


During Lent, it’s a good time to reflect on the communities that we are a part of, and ask whether they are healthy or whether they need a little extra care.


Too often our rugged individualism convinces us that we just need to improve ourselves. In Lent, though . . . we remember that God does not call us out alone. Christ calls us into community with one another.


I carried this reflection with me as as I visited and prayed with people this week, as there were more pastoral care moments and concerns in our congregation than usual. It did indeed seem that our community was in need of a “little extra care.” At one point, my heart was grieving for those who were in pain, and at another, rejoicing with those who were sensing God’s renewing, healing light. 


And here is the holy moment. 


Whenever I was with a person, I knew we weren’t alone. To be sure, I felt the hovering presence of the Holy Spirit, but I also felt you all with me. Even though you were not physically present, I could sense your praying for the person, holding them up to the nearer presence of God, offering support whenever it should be needed. 


As our Vision Statement says, “We are a church on the side of love for all God’s people – providing for those who are in need, advocating for all oppressed peoples, and caring for our earth – we love because God first loved us.”


Truth told, right there.


So, thank you, beloved ones. I’m grateful that we are a congregation that understands we don’t travel our spiritual journeys in solitude. I am thankful that we know that it is not right that the human should be alone (Genesis 2.18), but that we need each other; indeed, we are called, if not commanded, to be in communion with God and one another. And it is with gratitude that I can say the people who needed care this week felt supported and held by your commitment to Christ and to our church, as did I. 


Yesterday, I took a moment to sit out on the front porch and put my face in the Spring sun. As I did, I breathed in, thanking you all for turning inward during Lent, but also for turning outward and seeing all the ways the body of Christ needs a little extra care. And I prayed that you would also take good care of you.


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


Pastor Trish

Beloved

posted Mar 23, 2019, 6:15 AM by Tricia Sheffield   [ updated Mar 23, 2019, 6:16 AM ]

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


We are now halfway through Lent. How is your Lenten journey going so far? How has it been to “take nothing with you” as we walk with Jesus his last forty days?


I was thinking about leaving things behind on Wednesday when I was clearing out brush in the Meditation Garden with Elder Beverly Poyner. There were so many branches, twigs, and pine needles to be scooped up. There was so much decay and clutter to remove. As I rolled out the heavy-laden wheelbarrow to the street, I thought, we carry so much stuff with us. We carry our rigidly held beliefs, our opinions on whatever topic is the flavor of the month, our hurts, our fears, our past hauntings. What does it look and feel like to let this all go during these days of Lent, and to listen to God and rely on God’s grace, instead of clinging to the clutter and listening to all the chatter around us? Can we approach a very well known story — the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus — in a different way that makes sense and gives us new meaning for today? I don’t pretend to have the answers to those questions, but I’m hoping we can try and find out together.


Then, I read a prayer/blessing from a book I just purchased. The blessings is based on Matthew 3.17, “And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’” I thought of our congregation immediately in relationship to my Lenten garden musings.


If you would enter into the wilderness, do not begin without a blessing. Do not leave

without hearing who you are: Beloved, named by the One who has traveled this path

before you.


Do not go without letting it echo in your ears, and if you find it is hard to let it into your heart, do not despair. That is what this journey is for.


I cannot promise this blessing will free you from danger, from fear, from hunger or thirst, from the scorching of sun or the fall of the night. 


But I can tell you that on this path there will be help. I can tell you that on this way there will be rest. I can tell you that you will know the strange graces that come to our aid only on a road such as this, that fly to meet us bearing comfort and strength, that come alongside us for no other cause than to lean themselves toward our ear and with their curious insistence whisper our name:


Beloved.

Beloved.

Beloved.

—Jan Richardson, Circle of Grace


Letting go for the wilderness journey with Jesus is hard, but because of God’s grace we are given strength to release and be in the loving presence of Christ. And as we do, we hear our name: Beloved.


Blessings for your Lenten journey,


Pastor Trish


The Color Purple

posted Mar 23, 2019, 6:10 AM by Tricia Sheffield   [ updated Mar 23, 2019, 6:12 AM ]


Greetings of peace to you in this season of Lent.


I am grateful that when the mind gets forgetful, or even distracted, the body remembers.


After a few days of gloom and rain, the sun came out on Wednesday. And it came out brilliantly. Eager to take advantage of the warmth, I decided to sweep the front porch. But before I did that, I wanted to collect some sticks for kindling. As I walked around the lawn, what I thought would be a simple task of gathering kindling turned into clearing brush, putting dead limbs into a pile, pulling away choking vines from trees. On I continued, cleaning out winter’s decay. And then, amidst all the brown and gray deadness, a tiny purple flower caught my eye. It was so small I would have missed it if not for the brilliance of its color against the dull colored ground. Looking at it, I remembered what the character Shug said in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.” 


I smiled at the flower, glad to see its presence; however, I kept to my task at hand. I was on a mission. Spring brush clean up was to begin in my area March 24th! Clear, clean, sweep, drag, pull.


At some point during my frenzied activity, an interesting thing happened. I began to see more new life breaking through the soil where I hadn’t before. Along the side of the driveway, there were some daffodils; further down the way were some snow drops; behind the house, the tulips and day lilies were emerging. As I kept noticing new life, I could feel energy pulse through me, and I realized I hadn’t felt that invigorated in many months. It occurred to me that even though my mind had seemingly forgotten how much I long for this time of nature’s resurrection, my body had not. It was rejoicing, singing out, humming with all of nature, knowing that amidst the decay was life just waiting to emerge when it was time to do so.


Shug continues her thoughts about the color purple, “People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it [God] always trying to please us back.” I returned to the little flower, got on my stomach, and took a few photos. I stayed that way on the ground for a while, looking at its detail, marveling how fragile it was, but also how resilient it must be to push through the dirt. Breathing a prayer, I thanked God for “pleasing me,” and showing God’s care for the cosmos through the presence of a little, purple flower. I pray you will find some time during Lent to let your body remember what our distracted minds may have forgotten during the winter months: Because of God’s unconditional love for us, new life is slowly, but surely, coming.


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


Pastor Trish




The Smudge We Bear

posted Mar 8, 2019, 2:48 PM by Tricia Sheffield

Grace and peace to you in this season of Lent!


It was with a quiet joy on Wednesday I said the following blessing by Jan Richardson from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons before imposing ashes on beloved church members:


BLESSING THE DUST

All those days you felt like dust, like dirt, as if all you had to do was turn your face toward the wind and be scattered to the four corners


or swept away by the smallest breath as insubstantial—


did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust?


This is the day we freely say we are scorched.


This is the hour we are marked by what has made it through the burning.


This is the moment we ask for the blessing that lives within the ancient ashes, that makes its home inside the soil of this sacred earth.


So let us be marked not for sorrow. And let us be marked not for shame. Let us be marked not for false humility or for thinking we are less than we are


but for claiming what God can do within the dust, within the dirt, within the stuff of which the world is made and the stars that blaze in our bones and the galaxies that spiral inside the smudge we bear.


What a humbling privilege it was to smudge the sign of the cross on foreheads, look people directly in the eyes, and say, “From dust you came, and to dust you shall return. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” For in that holy moment, we both were connected by the Spirit as we remembered our mortality, our fragility, our weaknesses; and yet, we also were assured that we're fearfully and wonderfully made of God’s star dust. As each person returned to their seat, my hope was that we claimed “what God can do within the dust” and that is to bring resurrection to places we thought death lived. But before we can experience this new life, God calls us to let go and release what hinders us from a more intimate journey with God. As I prayed on Wednesday, I continue to pray for us during our journey toward the cross and resurrection: Our minds and our spirits are cluttered with many thoughts and feelings that threaten to pull our attention away from God. Let us unclench our fists and release these things: We release all that we have done today–whether for good or for ill. We release all that we feel like we should have done today, but did not do. We release all that we need to do tomorrow. We release our fear. We release our anxiety. We release our impatience. We release our pride. All of the thoughts, all of the feelings that pull us away from you, O God, we release (Spacious Faith). 


You, beloved, are made of God’s star dust. Look and see what the Holy One can do with dust.


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


Pastor Trish


A Fragile, Hallelujah-Hope

posted Mar 1, 2019, 11:50 AM by Tricia Sheffield

The grace of our friend and Savior, Jesus Christ, be with you.


This was a tragic week for the body of Christ. 


On Tuesday, February 26, in St. Louis, Missouri, in a Special Session of  the United Methodist General Conference, delegates passed what is called The Traditional Plan on human sexuality, 438 to 384. The point of the Traditional Plan was “to strengthen the denomination’s prohibitions against clergy officiating at same-sex unions or being ‘self-avowed practicing homosexuals.’ The plan also [was to] encourage those who will not obey church prohibitions to find another church home. 


Conversely, a One Church Plan was put forward, hoping to maintain unity in the denomination. This plan did not pass. The One Church Plan would have left questions of such weddings up to individual clergy and congregations — and questions of gay ordination up to individual conferences. Central conferences — church regions in Africa, Europe and the Philippines — would be able to determine their own policies” (www.umc.org).


As best as I can parse it, as there have been so many reports coming out since that day, and the Plan will be reviewed by the Judicial Committee for Church constitutionality, the bottom line is that LGBTQ ministers and other officers in the UMC will have until 2021 to adhere to the Traditional Plan, or they will be brought up on charges and subsequently told to go to another denomination. 


Yes, you read that correctly. Methodist LGBTQ people will be told to leave their denomination, their church, the spiritual community of their baptism, because of whom they love, and/or their gender identity, how God created them. 


Lord, in your compassionate mercy . . .


Since Tuesday, I have felt in my body and heard in my soul the Holy Spirit groaning with sighs too deep for words. And I couldn’t help but think this may be the “writing on the wall” for the Reformed Church in America (RCA). This is because the realist in me who has attended far too many General Synod meetings in the RCA has seen and heard the same kind of actions and rhetoric of exclusion that was at the Methodist General Conference. Because of this possible future, I think our vote to dual affiliate with the United Church of Christ was not only a stand for God’s justice, but also very wise. And yet, the idealist in me who has witnessed wondrous works by the Holy Spirit, clings to a tentative hope that God’s arms-wide-open Love and welcome for all people will prevail in the Church Universal. I go back-and-forth, to-and-fro between a sighing resignation of possible, soon-coming division, and a joyous hallelujah for hope that we can and will welcome our LGBTQ siblings in Christ. As my friend and colleague Marilyn Paarlberg said to me, “I can’t not hope until I can’t hope.” Here’s to a fragile, hallelujah-hope then, and to continuing to work for God’s justice in the world.


As we prepare to enter the season of Lent (See below for information regarding Ash Wednesday worship), journeying with Jesus into Jerusalem, marching toward death but knowing new life is on the way, the decision from the UMC seems so tragically timed, and for me, doesn’t reflect God’s resurrection, healing power. So, I invite us during our Lenten journey to pray these words from the Belhar Confession as a witness to a fragile hallelujah-hope for a divided and hurting body of Christ: We believe that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ . . . [and] that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted (John 17:20-23). 


May new life come where the spirit of death has divided. May it be so, O Holy God.


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


Pastor Trish

Something Wise in It

posted Feb 22, 2019, 4:10 PM by Tricia Sheffield   [ updated Feb 22, 2019, 4:12 PM ]


Grace and peace to you!


There is something wise in it.


This was a response given to my friend and colleague as she reflected on watching the snow coming down this past Wednesday. She had recently moved from NYC out to the “country” of Pennsylvania to begin a new call to ministry. As she looked out at the gently falling snow, she remarked how the reaction to snow was so much different there than in the city. This is so true from my own experience living in NYC. Because of the availability of mass transit, people are able to get up and go to work or school during a snowstorm just like any other day. Nothing really stops. The only difference is they know it will be a messy, and perhaps slower, commute. Slog, slog, slog, work must be done.


But in the country, what a difference. My friend said, “I rather like the quieting of activities here in response to lots of snow. It reminds me how our worth is not in what we do, or in our productivity, but our worth is in the very fact we exist.”


There is something wise in it.


I couldn’t get that phrase out of my head as I went about my work on Wednesday. Every now and again, I’d look up at the snow swirling outside and think on that sentence. It became almost a mantra. A big project kept tugging at me, urging me to get started, but over and over again all I could hear was, There is something wise in it. So, I gave up fighting, sat down on the couch, looked out the window, and asked, “God, what is the wisdom you wish me to see, hear, and know?”


Nothing necessarily profound was revealed but I noticed that, yes, here in the "country" everything does slow down and it becomes hauntingly quiet. And I was reminded that I have loved this slower and quieter pace of being since I moved out here. It has fed my body and soul. As I continued to watch the snow, I couldn’t help but think that whenever we get a snowstorm this is God's way of saying, “Peace, be still, slow down, listen, look, let go” to our frenetic world. This wisdom was enough to sustain me, and I felt a deep sense of gratitude. 


Come this Sunday at 10:30 AM to slow down and be still before God. Our New Jericho Choir children will be singing the Word from the Children, “One Big Hallelujah”/“Song of Hope.” I will be preaching from Genesis 45.3-11, 15 and Luke 6.27-38 and my sermon title is Forgiveness. After worship, come back to church at 3 PM for All About Love: A February Showcase Concert featuring the works of George Gershwin. A free will offering will be taken and refreshments will follow in the Education Building. Invite your friends, family, and neighbors to this special afternoon of music under the direction of Ms. Judith Daugherty.


My friend ended her reflection on the snow like this: “I keep looking out my window and contemplating how gentle it is. Perhaps an invitation to us to treat each other with gentle reverence.”


Indeed, there is something wise in it.


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


Pastor Trish


Why Go To Church?

posted Feb 15, 2019, 5:13 PM by Tricia Sheffield   [ updated Feb 15, 2019, 5:26 PM ]

Grace and peace to you!


We are called a Fabulous Church of Love for a reason. So, I invite you to come to worship this Sunday at 10:30 AM and here’s why:


We are created to be in community with one another, Genesis 2.18: It is not good that the earthling should be alone . . . 


We are called to gather together, Hebrews 10.24 - 25: And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together . . . but encouraging one another . . . As we gather, you will be welcomed with joy and warmth. And we will rejoice and celebrate that we are people of the resurrection.


We will have peace, and be assured that despite what may be swirling in the chaotic world around us, we know we can have the peace that surpasses all understanding.


We will celebrate the children among us, knowing that children are not our future, but they are our now.


We will experience forgiveness of sin and rejoice in the grace that is given to us daily.


We will have music that will stir your soul with the Joyful Noise Adult Choir singing a song; a prayer really, called “I Wonder” with Marie Howlett as featured soloist, and this song/prayer will continue to move your spirit throughout the week.


We will hear the word preached from Luke 6.17-26, the famous passage of the Sermon on the level place called Blessings and Woes.


We will pray for ourselves, each other, and the world, knowing the Holy Spirit is our Advocate and Comforter, and despite what we may see and hear, God is sovereign.


Upon hearing the word and praying, we will go out into our community to be the hands and feet of Christ, our Lord, Savior, and Friend.


Most importantly, I invite you to worship this Sunday because God’s grace is irresistible, freely given, and available for all people. And because you are loved by God more than you can ask or imagine. This is affirmed in Scripture by the prophet Isaiah 43.1, 4: I have called you by name, you are mine . . . You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you . . .  Because of this assurance of God’s love, we confirm that all are welcomed, affirmed, and celebrated by our God whose love is expansive and unconditional and unending. The world tells us we will only be accepted if we meet certain conditions; but God says, no conditions, you are mine.


So, come to church this Sunday. I look forward to worshiping God with you in our beloved community.


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


Pastor Trish


The Place I Want To Get Back To

posted Feb 8, 2019, 9:33 AM by Tricia Sheffield

Greetings of peace on this wet, chilly day in New Jersey.


As I awoke this morning, I had no idea what I was going to write to you. ‘I got nothing,’ I thought.


Little had necessarily inspired me this week. My focus was my concern for some in our congregation who are in need of physical and emotional healing. And my head was more in my sermon writing than in taking the time to listen and observe God’s holy hauntings for my Friday email. 


But, as God would have it, while waiting for my car to be repaired, I scanned Facebook, and read a poem posted by one of my colleagues called “The Place I Want To Get Back To” by the recently deceased Mary Oliver.


The Place I Want To Get Back To

is where

in the pinewoods

in the moments between

the darkness

and first light

two deer

came walking down the hill

and when they saw me

they said to each other, okay,

this one is okay,

let’s see who she is

and why she is sitting

on the ground like that,

so quiet, as if

asleep, or in a dream,

but, anyway, harmless;

and so they came

on their slender legs

and gazed upon me

not unlike the way

I go out to the dunes and look

and look and look

into the faces of the flowers;

and then one of them leaned forward

and nuzzled my hand, and what can my life

bring to me that could exceed

that brief moment?

For twenty years

I have gone every day to the same woods,

not waiting, exactly, just lingering.

Such gifts, bestowed,

can’t be repeated.

If you want to talk about this

come to visit. I live in the house

near the corner, which I have named

Gratitude. 


After reading it, I felt like she had witnessed a snippet of my life with the creatures of Olivia’s Forest. For just this week, I found myself grudgingly going out to feed them. It was early; it was cold; I was still sleepy; I had just settled in to have my morning coffee, and there stood the herd and the outside cats looking in the window, waiting expectantly. And not only expectantly, but they were also waiting patiently, because they were assured I would come out as I do every morning. Putting on my coat, out I went, and as I filled their troughs and bowls, I called to them by name. As they walked up to me, I forgot my previous tiredness and ignored the chill in the air.


Oliver’s words were a reminder of the joy these animals give me in a frenetic world: peaceful beings reflective of God’s presence, even if it's cold, dark, and I'm weary. This was the nudge I needed to make sure I do take the time to listen and observe, for sometimes we are offered unexpected gifts from God that are simply never repeatable. Those gifts become a holy touchstone for us when our lives become untethered or distracting. It is then we can look back on those moments with a gratitude that will ground us once again. 


Oliver’s poem was my gift this morning from the Spirit. I wonder, what gift — unrepeatable, unexpected, holy — will God bestow on you in the coming days? Look for the holy . . . it’s always humming around us, beckoning us to get back to the place we need to be.


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


Pastor Trish

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