Pastor’s Letter September 21, 2022

Man accepting the grace of God.

Hello Beloved,

I pray you are all well and healthy on this beautiful day. And it truly is a beautiful day as we continue to pass through the storms of this world. Through faith, we have made it through. Thank God. 

Sometimes, we forget that simple prayer of gratitude; yet today it is important to remember. It is important to remember because God has given us the tools and gifts to make it through the storms of life. It is important to remember because this moment of God’s glory is not only in the present, but also all around us. It is important to remember for the twelve families of our community who came down with Covid recently have all started to heal without a need for anyone to become hospitalized. Thanks be to God.

Beloved, we know this reality may or may not have been the case two and a half years ago. But now, the virus has become not much more than a cold to many, the vaccines and medications are helping to heal people, our community, our nation, our humanity continues to be revealed in our mutual care and love for one another. What a blessing, today is now that the storm of Covid is passing. For all of these graces and the blessings of all of you, I am truly grateful now and always to God. 

With this in mind, let us return to worship, fellowship, and our ministries with gracious hearts for God is carrying us through the storms of life. Guiding our wisdom and quieting our fears. Yes, be cautious and careful if you feel you need to be; but know, that we are held in God’s Loving hands – now and always. We are held by these hands; so, we may be the hands of Christ living out our love every day in the world, through faith. 

Thank you, God, for carrying and healing us through the storm of the Covid outbreak. The one thing each pastor has been concerned with for the last number of years. Thank you, God and blessings be upon all, of you throughout the community. Thank you, God, for revealing to us how this fearful virus has become not much more than a cold in our world.

May God’s healing love continue to bless and care for each and every one of you as we return to worship God together through our faith, ministries, and worship.

Your pastor and teacher, Brian

During the fading summer and early fall, let us consider how to live out our love each day. Remember love and faith is not just a feeling but an action we do every day. Feel free to text, call, or email me always to share as I am here to support you and your relationship with God wherever you are on the journey. My number is (207-350-9561) if you need anything or simply want to talk. Next week, my pastoral care hours are Tues. 12-5, Wed. 11-3, Thurs. 10-2. Many blessings to you all.

Pastor’s Letter September 14, 2022

An image of a man siting and praying with a mask on.

Good Morning Beloved,

I pray you are all well and healthy on this beautiful fading day of summer. A time which brings us a new year of school and with it all the reuniting of friends, returning of cooler weather, and, of course, resurgence of colds, flu, and Covid. This latter reality has come into the life of our church community as someone who was in church on Sunday has tested positive for Covid. May God continue to keep their case mild and heal them quickly along with all who may come down with this illness. As such, it seems reasonable to assume all who were in church this weekend were exposed. Sadly, this reality is what we can and should expect from time to time in our current world. 

That said, vaccines, good health practices, as well as a virus which has mutated to become less lethal has lessoned the risk for all of us; therefore, I am praying this outbreak will remain limited and everyone affected will heal well.

Speaking of good health practices, I would invite everyone to follow the CDC guidelines to the best of their ability. The explanation of exposure can be viewed here and the guidelines as to what to do if exposed  can be viewed here. Guidelines which suggest mask use for anyone who has been exposed for 10 days. Day 1 would be Monday if you were in church. I also encourage everyone to take a Covid rapid test after day 5, or on Friday. Next, please let me know if you come down with Covid; so, we can continue to do contact tracing and determine the risk to our community. We are also encouraging (not mandating) everyone wear masks while at the church this week and next to hopefully limit any additional spread. Finally, please remember that if you are feeling ill or are homebound, we will find a way to share worship with you. So stay home, rest and recover; so, you can come back healthy and join us in community sooner.

The church will currently remain open as the exposure seems limited and contained. If anything changes, I will share the information with all of you immediately via email and Facebook. Again, I am thankful we have various tools at hand and talented members in our faith family to adjust to changing situations which may come up during these times of expected surges. Sadly, it simply is today’s Covid reality.

Many Healthy Blessings,
Pastor Brian 

During the fading summer and early fall, let us consider how to live out our love each day. Remember love and faith is not just a feeling but an action we do every day. Feel free to text, call, or email me always to share as I am here to support you and your relationship with God wherever you are on the journey. My number is (207-350-9561) if you need anything or simply want to talk. Next week, my pastoral care hours are Tues. 12-5, Wed. 11-3, Thurs. 10-2. Many blessings to you all.

Pastor’s Letter July 24, 2022

The image is of two hands palm up praying to God in front of a sunrise. The glow from the sun is highlighted in the palms of the hands.

Hello Beloved,

With all the love God has placed within me, I pray you are each doing well. I would like to invite all of you to do the same. Let us pray: Holy God, bless and care for the people in this fellowship and in our community. Care for those in our state and in our world. Watch over all of your Creation, O God, and heal us with your eternal love. Holy one my prayers and love go out to all people but especially Kathy Zecchini, Brenda and Carol Cross, Moe, Granddaughters travelling and children who are crossing the countryside. We pray for Ivan and the loved ones we have lost as well as Audrey, Toni, and Kyle and all those souls who are sick today. Savior, send your healing light into the lives of your people who are angry, hurt, or feeling lost; bless them God with your forgiveness and open their hearts to be forgiving. God, please also heal our world of the divisions and violence as we pray you will care for our President and all people who have Covid in this world, today. In the name of your son, our Christ we pray. Amen.

Beloved, I bring this gift of communal prayer to our thoughts as the gift itself, in recent years, has been minimized to something meaningless or trivial. Some people have criticized this gift as condescending. Yet I believe, prayer is far from meaningless for so many reasons. Most importantly, it is our primary way to speak with God. That alone is a gift and our joy.

However, there are other benefits to prayer. When we pray as one people, we are focusing on the individual person. Letting them know we hear them and see their pain. We are letting them know that they are not alone in this world and having to deal with their struggle by themselves. We are hearing them and being lifted also by their joy. If nothing else, the Covid pandemic revealed to me how important our community is – how much we need one another – how much better life is when we can feel our community caring for us in our everyday lives.

That said, someone recently asked if we came back to church too early as at least one church community in the area is still avoiding fellowship, our President has been diagnosed with Covid, and members of our fellowship have gotten this disease though, thank God, not from anyone else in the church as far as we know. My response to this question (which I am very thankful for Gary) is “no, no I do not believe we came back too early.” I believe this beloved because of prayer.

Because we need one another in our lives and our community holding us now more than ever before in our lives. We need to laugh and question. Feel loved and forgiven. We need to be held in the love that God offers to all people equally right now because we do not know what tomorrow will bring and we are so much better with one another. I am so much better when I have Ed Dacey in my life who has an unbelievable gift and understanding of the by-laws, I am so much better when I have Betty Sears in my life with her institutional memory of our church community, I am so much better with Merri, Emily, Johnny, and everyone of you as we learn and pray together. I am so much better with Philathea and the choir. Everyone of you and our interactions together through prayer, fellowship, and worship of God, makes me a better human and for that I am grateful. I can only believe that this truth is the same for all of us.

So no, I do not believe we came back too early as we have done everything to prevent the worst of outcomes from happening and our community needs each of us in fellowship, worship, and prayer more than we need any fear or conflict. Therefore, I pray you – each of you – are well and will return to be wholly part of this fellowship so we can all be better human beings and disciples of God’s Love – together.

Your pastor and teacher, Brian

During summer, let us consider how we each love God. Remember love is not just a feeling but an action we do every day. Feel free to text, call, or email me always to share as I am here to support you and your relationship with God wherever you are on the journey. My number is (207-350-9561) if you need anything or simply want to talk. Next week, my pastoral care hours are Tues. 12-5, Wed. 11-3, Thurs. 10-2. Many blessings and Love to you all.

Pastor’s Letter March 9, 2022

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up…”

  • Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 (NRSV)
image of a rustic alarm clock on a wooden table.

…but, why now?

Why now? These words keep fluttering about in conversations throughout our world. Why now, indeed? If you, Beloved, have not heard these words lately, I expect you have at some point in your life. Words of frustration when everything seems to be just a bit off. When it’s pouring rain outside, the dogs meet a new friend – the skunk, and you get locked out of the house trying to get them back in…Why now, seems like a great response along with some other choice words. But we also ask “why now” when everything seems to be going right and we feel some calling – some movement of spirit – some undeniable sensation to do something which moves us from the status quo and into a place of uneasiness. Why now? Why did I feel the need to upset the balance, now?

I have heard those words come from my own lips, beloved, as I prayed to God, often throughout the years. However, in my prayers the words from Ecclesiastes also kept coming back over and over: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” What this scripture does not say is we get to decide what time it is. In fact, the words of scripture remind us that we are not in control. We are the “matter under heaven.” And there is a time for us as individuals, as a fellowship, as a community. So, maybe now is that time and maybe it is not? That is why we pray and discern. Because we do not know for sure what season or time it is right now. We can only look around the world and witness the invitations to grow and learn.

Oh, and faithfully trust in God while it’s happening (whatever “it” is). That may be the most important part. For, anxiety over the future will not bring us peace nor will the sadness for the times now gone, peace is only found when we live in today – praying, discerning, and faithfully following wherever Christ is leading us. 

So, perhaps the question we could ask in this season of Lent is not, “why now”; but what are these things happening around us revealing to me – now? What is God calling me to do – now? What season and time is God bringing all humans into – now? For, I hope you remember, beloved, that our spiritual faith journey is both as an individual as well as part of the community. We affect each other in ways that we cannot even imagine. We learn from each other and grow as one body by witnessing the things affecting each other’s lives. It is in this journey together, we are called to discern where Christ is leading us as well and what time God has brought us into, as that one body. 

I pray you take a moment to pray this week to discern where you see Christ leading us as a people; so, we may come together and fulfill Her ministry and His Mission – together.

your pastor and teacher, Brian

Please consider the ways you care for your own spirituality and faith throughout Lent. If you would like, you may text, call, or email me always to talk and discover ideas to help you refresh your soul. As I am here to support you and your relationship with God wherever you are on the journey. My number is (207-350-9561) if you need anything or simply want to talk. Next week, my pastoral care hours are Mon. 9-4, Tues. 12-5, Wed. 9-4, Thurs. 10-2 to provide some time for visiting. Many blessings and Love to you all.

“How do we stand?”

The image is of one hand reaching down to multiple hands reaching up. In the background is a multi colored sunset and a cross in the distance.

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem August 18, 2021

I used to love reading old mysteries like Sherlock Holms by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. You know the old “Who-Done-It” stories or ones like it. The ones which reveal some crime before the hero is called in to discover the criminal. Personally, I enjoyed figuring out who that adversary was before the hero stood up and confronted them; and, I was quite good at figuring who they were well before the hero stood up. That is until I realized it was all a trick. For you see, writers have to show you the adversary many times – give reasons – point out clues to make the eventual confrontation believable.

But in life, not every adversary has a face. Sometimes our adversary is nature – is the world – is a destructive force like War – Strife – Famine – Pestilence and Death. How do we stand against these destructive forces let alone confront these adversaries when they are not people? How do we stand when each day brings another issue? When each moment becomes harder and harder to get out of bed – deal with depression – or manage a mental illness? How do we, as a people, stand against the destructive forces in life?

Before we continue, would you pray with me:

Holy God, help us to stand against those forces in life which tear at our minds, hearts, and bodies. Help us, God, and teach us how to be your hands helping others to stand as well. May all that is spoken and meditated upon this day be pleasing to You.

The reality is Beloved – you alone – cannot. Cannot stand or confront these forces – alone. I say this with all humility and please know that it is not just you – it is me as well – and everyone in the world, I imagine. None of us can stand or confront the personified adversaries of destruction – alone. We are speaking about things like the destructive war in Afghanistan, the divisive politics in the US, the fires in California, or even the pandemic which is affecting everyone. 

But these destructive forces can be smaller as well. They can also be something as tragic and personal as mental illness. Even this personified adversary cannot be confronted alone. It is an adversary who is recorded to be affecting 20.56% of New Hampshire’s population, that is about 221,000 people, in 2021. Those, Beloved, are only the recorded cases, let alone the people who have not sought help. Furthermore, mental illness has been growing in this state well before Covid 19 began with major increases between 2017and 2019. Of course, the pandemic has exacerbated the problem. As of yesterday, The Washington Post reported that there were four times more children admitted for mental illness from June 2020 to this past spring. These facts, beloved, means, we really do not know how many people are dealing with mental illness right now in our community. But it is at least one in every five people you meet every day.

Moreover, most people cannot stand up and confront this adversary alone. We need help from time to time. We need help to witness how we have changed emotionally, physically, and spiritually. For, we do not always see the loneliness in our eyes as we make jokes – the cuts on our thighs when we dance through the kitchen – the anxiety on our face when someone asks us to go out into the world. We do not see, because sometimes we cannot see beyond our own anxiety, stress, or depression. Others may not see, because people may be dealing with their own personified adversary.

And there have always been personified adversaries and destructive forces working in our world as revealed in our continued reading from the book of Revelation. In this scripture, we witness the lamb open four seals and call forth the four most destructive forces the world knew at that time. Each one is personified as a rider on a horse which the theologian William Barclay explains is reminiscent of the book of Zechariah. Which makes sense; because we know the prophet John is writing through symbols to avoid persecution. So of course, the destructive forces – the personified adversaries – the horsemen would be a symbol which the Jewish Christians understood from the Old Testament. This goes along with the descriptions of War on the white horse with a bow which is symbolic of military strength, Strife on the red horse destroying peace and turning neighbor against neighbor, Famine on the Black horse which the living creatures refute as one who takes food from the poor yet does not touch the wealthy person’s “oil” and “wine.” Finally, the last force is Pestilence and Death on the pale horse. For the prophet John, these are the most destructive forces which assault humankind. Historical evidence supports this as each one of these destructive forces were assaulting the people of Asia Minor during the time when Revelation was written. Therefore, I imagine the people must have felt like these forces were heralding the end times – the apocalypse – the final judgement by God. 

The same way I imagine it feels for someone who is suffering with mental illness. They can feel a war rage mentally as internal strife tears apart their emotional abilities to cope. Famine, or a lessened appetite, can weaken a person’s health forcing them to be more susceptible to the pestilence and the plagues of today. Yet, it can also work slowly – ripping at our mental, emotional, and physical lives. So slowly in fact that we cannot always see what is happening. For, the clues – reasons – adversary may not be obvious as we go from day to day. Therefore, we may not even realize there is a crime happening before the adversary of mental illness has destroyed us entirely. 

However, these destructive forces – big and small – are what we are called to stand up and confront in ourselves and within all of Creation. The book of Revelation goes on to share this truth in that we, the Beloved, are the only ones who can stand as we are the only ones who will be free of the destruction coming from these adversaries. 

Yet, I would like to turn our attention to the Gospel of John so we may witness the Good News of how we are able to stand when we feel the forces destroying us or each other. The Good News which shares that we are not alone – when we believe. When we believe in God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, we will have a place for us in the kin-dom to come. Wherever Christ goes, we will be there, as well. That truth by itself is powerful, beloved. The thought that no matter how bad things, may get. How destructive those forces, may be. How far we spin into the abyss of mental illness, we will not be alone in our suffering; for, God is always with us when we believe. And although this thought is comforting to me, I humbly submit it may not be to everyone, especially our beloved who are facing the war of depression or the strife of anxiety. But remember – remember the words of truth – the words which say, WE will be there also. We – as one beloved people – will be there also with God and you; and this truth, beloved, is the Good News of how we stand.

We stand with one another through the Holy Spirit – with God – and with Christ to confront these destructive forces – together – as one people; for, we are not alone. That truth is how we stand – as one people held together – lovingly – through God. But this message, Beloved, is also a call to action. A call to rise up and stand for one another as there are destructive forces eating away at our lives – tearing apart our mental – emotional – and physical lives. It is our call to listen – hear – love one another in their frustrations. Hold – support – care for one another in their grief. It is a call to kindly and lovingly reach out to our sisters and brothers to witness who they are – now. Witness their reality and ask, have they changed from yesterday, last month, a year ago? Are they now short fused – succumbing to hate – losing weight? I pray that each of our beloved friends are not as these can all be signs of mental illness and the destructive forces at work. And this truth, Beloved, is the Good News that we are called to reveal to one another – every day of our lives. The Good News that they are also not alone – we will confront the destructive forces together because we all believe together in God. The Good News of a higher call which we need to do as we each care and love one another through the struggles of life. May your week be a blessing of giving and receiving this care from our beloved fellowship who loves you – every part of you. In the name of Christ who showed us the Way, Amen

“The Fruit of Love”

The image is a blue, partly cloudy sky over an ocean looking through a vine wall. The opening is in the shape of a heart.

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem on May 2, 2021

I would like to begin today by sharing my gratitude to all of you – gratitude for granting me some time to get away and nurture other relationships in my life. Relationships like the one I have with my friend, Daniel. 

Although our homes are only an hour and a half away, we rarely see one another. And this reality is not only due to the pandemic; for, we went almost a year without talking. Not that we were upset with each other; but because our lives had become busy – so busy that it was not easy to find time for even a phone call. Yet last week, we were able to meet and nurture our friendship. As I consider our relationship today, I can testify that his friendship has and continues to enhance my life. I can see the outcome, or fruit, of our friendship in the joy we share when we challenge each other intellectually, share the mutual interest of a good superhero flick, or comfort one another over the loss of a family member. These fruits of love have brought us closer together over the years.

That said, our friendship is not perfect, none are. Daniel and I often disagree. However, we accept each other for who each other is and that – that is how we have nurtured the fruits of a true friendship based on Philia, or brotherlylove. 

Before we continue would you pray with me

Loving God who reveals Love through Creation and by sending Your Son, our Christ, to save us – reveal Your Love to us again; so, we may become the fruit of Love for the world to witness. May the words from my lips and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing to You God.

Now Beloved, the type of love I described earlier is not the only form of love in the world. Countless poets and storytellers have defined love through their works. Every human being on earth, I pray, has or is experiencing love in a different way; for, it is the most powerful positive emotion we can express as human beings. Even the ancient Greeks believed love was so important that they used different words to define the different aspects of this beautiful emotion like Philia which I reflected on earlier. Yet, there is also Storge which is the love between a parent and a child; Eros which is the romantic love between people; and many more detailed definitions of love throughout the Greek language. However, there are three particular aspects of love which bind all forms of love together. Three aspects which are central to the divine Love of God – or the selfless love called Agape. Three aspects which reveal how the fruit of love is not only possible but nurtured throughout our lives.

However, to really explain these three aspects of Love, let us turn to our reading from the Gospel According to John. Here, Jesus shares with us the metaphor of the vine which is about Agape Love and the relationship between God, Jesus, and all disciples. We should also take note that this teaching is occurring after the Last Supper amongst all the disciples, except Judas who has already left to betray Jesus. To the rest of the disciples, Jesus teaches us how we are all called to “love one another” as they are leaving the upper room. Now, we know that Jesus shares this teaching to help keep the disciples from stumbling as expressed clearly in the following chapter. Yet, I also imagine that this teaching is important as this is one of the final teachings of Jesus’ human life. He will not be around to teach us after Judas’ betrayal – will not have time afterwards to show us how to remain loving to one another – will not be present to keep our love from withering away as we fall from the vine. Will not have time to do any of these things until after the resurrection and then it may be too late – some of the disciples may have already been lost.

Therefore, Jesus takes these precious moments to teach us the Good News of how to remain on the vine and continue to produce the fruit of Love through three aspects. First, love is acceptance of differences. The vine has many branches and each of those branches is different – just like all of us. In fact, Jesus is not the only vine but the “true vine” of our faith. Now the vines and branches do not judge the other branches or vines. No, the only way that a branch will be pruned is by the vinegrower, God, and only when that branch does not produce the fruit of love. I believe this aspect is not only a teaching for the disciples and how they may react towards Judas after the betrayal; but also, to every one of us who witnesses injustices in the world and feel like it is ok to attack the person instead of their hateful actions. Yet, Jesus teaches us another way – the way of love to accept the differences of people and let the fruit of love be the evidence for the vinegrower’s judgement, not ours. 

Second, love is a nurtured relationship. We are called to abide, be one with, Jesus as he is one with God. I would even argue that the whole metaphor of the vinegrower, vine, branches and fruit only relate to us because love requires each of us to be in relationship with one another. Much like the Philia love between Daniel and I is only brotherly love because we do nurture our relationship with each other – now. Similarly, I imagine that Jesus is speaking this Good News to sway the disciples from isolating after the betrayal – after Jesus is arrested – and after the crucifixion. All of which is a very real concern for Jesus, at this point in the story. For, he is clearly worried that the disciples will stumble in his absence. However, I wonder if Jesus is also speaking to us today, reminding us that our relationships must be nurtured with each other’s presence to continue producing the fruit of love. Perhaps this is a stretch – perhaps not; for, each branch is different and each relationship as well. But what I can say is that love – every love – even self-love does require one to nurture the relationship through mutual presence which can be anything from a card to gathering together in worship. 

Third, God is love. Although this is clearly stated in our passage from First John, Jesus tells of this truth as well. Teaches us this truth when he says, “Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”  In other words, we cannot fully produce the fruit of Agape love – the selfless love of God – the love which is nurtured in relationship and accepts all differences in people – without God. She is the source of this love – the source sent through the vine of Jesus for us and into – our lives. This Good News is the fruit of love we are called to share with the world, Beloved. 

But we all know this third aspect – right? This blessed truth that God is the source of Love. We all know this truth; yet I wonder if we remember that the vinegrower has many vines – many branches – many ways that Love is shared with the world. Some of which do not make any sense to us; for, we cannot witness the whole crop of grape vines – let alone all of Creation as the vinegrower is able to. So yes, I wonder about this question as many of us would easily judge Judas as bad; for, he is the betrayer of Jesus. Yet, without Judas’ betrayal how would Jesus have fulfilled the prophecy and become one with God through the resurrection? How would we have been saved from our sins? How would God’s love continue to be revealed through the vine of Jesus? It would not be. Simply put, the love we are called to share today could not be present without Judas’ betrayal.

Mind you, I am not saying Judas revealed love as Jesus taught. I am also not encouraging any acts of betrayal, injustice, or hate as we are part of the “true vine” of Jesus which moves against these atrocities in the world. The “true vine” which produces fruit of love, which is accepting of differences, nurturing of relationships, and humbly following the source of all love – God. And Judas’ path is not our Way. Rather, my point about Judas is to explain how fruitless judgment can be for us mere branches. We do not see the whole picture in Creation. We are witness to only the vine of Jesus and on this vine, we know that we will wither and fall if we are not revealing God’s love through the teachings of Jesus, that simple.

That said, if we judge or hate the oppressors in our world – someone like Judas, someone who is unjust to others, someone who is hateful – I wonder: what is the fruit we are producing? If we use hate to defeat hate what is our fruit? I pray that you see it is not Love – not the Agape love of God through Jesus, our Christ – not the Love which requires acceptance of differences, a nurtured relationship, and God’s eternal Love for all people. May you each witness this truth, reflect on the Agape Love of God, and strive to produce the fruit of Love for all the world to witness throughout this week to come. In the name of Christ who shows us the Way. Amen