Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:16-17
A couple of weeks ago, one of our elders and I attended the fall stated meeting of the Presbytery of the James, which was held at Richmond’s Lord Jesus Korean Church. It was a good meeting, but it was especially thought-provoking as we sat in that worship space belonging to Korean immigrants and their children and grand-children. As pastor Hyun Bae welcomed us, and as we listened to the church’s choir sing, I was reminded of a story my father told me about his time in Korea.
My dad didn’t talk much to my sister and me about his time in the U.S. Army. Much of what we knew was related to us by our mother. Like so many others, my dad was drafted, and by the time he completed basic training and landed in Korea, the conflict was over and he was there as part of the U.S. military presence immediately following the war. My mother said that for several years after his return, it was hard for him to enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners with the family because of the starvation he’d witnessed in the aftermath of the war.
There is one story my dad did tell us when we were younger, a story I’ve never forgotten. Here was a very young man, who’d never traveled more than a few hours from home, now on the other side of the world in a strange and war-torn country. There were land mines to be avoided, and devastation all around, and “my job was to lie on my belly on the cold, wet ground with a rifle in my hands,” as he described it. Looking back on that story now, I can understand how much of an alien my dad must have felt like in that environment. There was nothing there to remind him of home.
But then one day, my dad heard some singing. It was coming from a small church. He couldn’t understand the words, but he recognized the melody. It was “Amazing Grace.” As we say now, my dad “had a moment.” Suddenly, in the midst of all the strangeness, my dad experienced something that connected him with home. He experienced what we describe as “the Church in every time and place.”
I think about the people who were in that small church, that day. I can’t imagine what their lives were like, or what they believed their prospects were for the future. In a place turned upside down by war, where so many didn’t even have enough to eat, they gathered in that little church to do what they always did; to sing, to pray, to hear the Word, to praise God and to encourage one another. By simply doing what they always did, even in the midst of adversity, they lifted not only themselves, but also a homesick soldier who was seven-thousand miles from the people he loved.
As I was pondering these things while sitting at Lord Jesus Korean Church, I wondered how many times we as the Church unknowingly bless others by simply doing what we do. Especially in this loud and fast-paced culture in which we live, we can feel a sense of urgency about doing something that seems big or grand, so that we feel good about ourselves. But by being faithful to God’s call to us, to gather to sing, to pray, to hear the Word, to praise God and to encourage one another, we continue to lift up the “melody” of our Lord. We live into God’s miraculous power to touch others near and far through our simple acts of obedience. Who knows who may hear us?
With prayers for your journey,
As I'm writing this, the thunder is rumbling outside, and the devastation being left by this week's Hurricane Michael is on many of our minds. The pictures coming out of Florida are shocking, even unbelievable; but to those dealing with such unimaginable loss, the circumstances are very real. Whole neighborhoods and city blocks in some areas have been torn to shreds. There are surely many church buildings that have been damaged or destroyed by this horrible storm. Imagine driving down Shallow Well Road and seeing our own Hebron Church flattened to the ground! What an awful sight that would be! I hope we never have to see anything like that at Hebron. But our hearts go out to those church members who must begin to recover their church buildings even as many are also having to recover their own homes and businesses.
When I was a child, our pastor commented during a sermon that "even if this building burned to the ground, Dotson Memorial Baptist Church would still exist, because the church is the people." There aren't many things from Pastor Gann's sermons that I remember that specifically, but that statement stuck with me. I've seen that idea carried forth in a couple of other places, recently. One was at a presbytery Small Church Forum that the church treasurer and I attended last Saturday, in which a participant asked a presenter why they kept referring to church property as a "campus." The presenter, who is a representative of the Presbyterian Foundation, replied that they are intentional about not referring to buildings and property as "the church," because "the church" is the people of the congregation.
A second place I saw this idea recently was in a devotional reading from These Days. I confess to getting behind sometimes on my devotional reading, so this was a reading dated several weeks ago. The writer referenced a verse from Revelation, in the New Testament, referring to the New Jerusalem; "I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb." (Rev 21:22-23) The title of the devotional reading was, "No Temple?" I immediately thought, "No Temple? No Problem!" While this passage from the Revelation is referring to the presence of God, it applies to God's people, as well. Our physical church spaces are a gift from God, and are to be cared for and enjoyed as the centers of our life together. But ultimately, the Church is its people, in the presence of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
I'm so glad you are reading this, because as you seek to be in fellowship with God through your connection to Hebron Presbyterian Church, you are part of the people who make up our church. Whether you worship with us, or elsewhere, by your interest in what is happening at Hebron, you add to the life of this congregation. Pray for us. Pray that the people of Hebron Presbyterian Church will live into the purposes for which God has placed us here in this community, at this time in history. And pray for those who have seen their church "campus" destroyed or damaged by weather, warfare or the vandalism of their enemies. Pray that they will be kind, courageous and filled with hope, as they, the people, place their trust in our Lord.
There are many good ways to help those who have experienced loss as a result of recent natural disasters. One of those is by giving through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, at www.pda.pcusa.org. Another is by volunteering for a recovery work crew. Our Presbytery of the James has a work crew right now in New Bern, NC, following Hurricane Florence, and will sponsor another crew to New Bern the week of November 11th-16th. You can inquire about that trip by emailing Brown Pearson at firstname.lastname@example.org, or calling him at 804-347-8895.
The sermon text for this Sunday, October 14th, will be Matthew 26:36-46. This is the story of Jesus' prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane, prior to his arrest and crucifixion. This will be the sixth in a series of sermons on prayers in the Bible. This will be our first Sunday to use our new Glory to God hymnals. We extend thanks to the many who contributed toward the purchase of our new hymnals and pew Bibles.
This Sunday, October 14th, will also be our Stewardship Commitment Sunday. Those of you who are on our mailing list will have received a stewardship packet in the mail, with a pledge card. We hope you'll give prayerful consideration to your giving plans for Hebron Church in the coming year. You'll be invited to bring your pledge card forward during the time of offering this Sunday. You may mail your card to the church if you don't expect to be at worship this Sunday; 1040 Shallow Well Road, Manakin-Sabot, VA 23103, to the attention of Treasurer.
On Wednesday, Oct. 17th, Ronnie Nuckols will be giving a report on his recent mission trip to Niger, where our church is in partnership through the work of Frontier Fellowship. This will be in lieu of our regular Wednesday night study. Your pastor will be at the Wee Kirk (Small Church) Conference at Montreat, Oct. 15th-17th. Come to Holman Hall at 5:45 p.m. to enjoy dinner with your Hebron friends ($5 per person), then stay for Ronnie's informative presentation.
Remember our concert next Friday, Oct. 19th, which is part of our 175th anniversary celebration at Hebron. We'll host a concert in our sanctuary featuring the Hebron Boys bluegrass group; a classical trio of banjo player John Bullard, violinist Treesa Gold and pianist Markus Compton; and Hebron youth musicians Julia and Grace Kistler. We'll round out the evening with a hymn-sing using our new hymnals. Refreshments will be served in Holman Hall following the concert.
Then Sunday, October 21st, is our big day of celebration! The Rev. Dr. Walter Mann will be our guest preacher that day, and our choir will be singing a new anthem specially commissioned for our 175th anniversary. Following worship, we'll enjoy lunch together in Holman Hall.
See you Sunday!
A friend of mine posted a photo on Facebook of the house her family owns at Holden Beach, North Carolina. The island had just been re-opened following Hurricane Florence, and her family’s beach house there had weathered the storm in good condition. I was a little surprised by the sentiment evoked in seeing that picture. It’s the house our family rents for our own summer vacations, and I’d been concerned about that property in the face of the hurricane. But I hadn’t realized how worried I’d actually been; both for the sake of the owners, and because it’s become a special place for our own family.
It got me to thinking about how particular places become repositories for our memories; some good, some bad. There are a couple of places I’ve been in my life that I don’t ever care to go back to, because of the memories I associate with those places. There are other locations that hold beautiful memories for me, and still others that are a mixed bag; repositories of both positive and negative memories (read: high school!).
Churches can be one of those places that holds mixed memories for us; both good, and bad. Because of the nature of what “church” is and what we do there, both good and bad memories can get amplified in our minds because of the intense feelings we associate with our church experiences. It is, after all, about our relationship with the Lord of the Universe! But church is also about our relationships with one another, and because we are imperfect people, the memories we associate with our church experiences will never be “perfect.”
Somewhere in my reading over the years, I encountered the idea that perfection is not required in order for something to be excellent. I absolutely believe this to be true. If you think about things in your life that you would consider to be excellent, it’s doubtful you would insist that any of those things is also perfect. Even the most excellent of family relationships, or ideas or art, or the craftsmanship of the things we produce, are not perfect. Sometimes we even find beauty in the imperfections; especially because it can be the mending of the broken aspects of our experience that produce the most beauty and joy.
My friend’s family has enjoyed their house at Holden Beach for four generations. I doubt that every single thing that has occurred there has been positive. It has, after all, been occupied by humans! But I also know that for this family, that place and the beach nearby is a focal point of their relationships with one another and of their happiness as a family. The perfection of their experiences there is not required in order for their memories to be excellent. As my friend says, it is her “happy place,” as she and her husband watch their son (fifth generation!) enjoy it just as she has over the years.
That’s what I hope Hebron Presbyterian Church can be like, for us. The church is always going to be a mixed bag of memories, because it is occupied by human beings. But as we’re continually putting those memories – and everything we have and are – into the hands of our perfect Savior, the church can be a place of excellence. It can be the focal point of our happiness as a family of God, even in its imperfection. May it be so!
NOTE: As we see and hear stories of the continuing effects of Hurricane Florence, our hearts go out to those who’ve lost loved ones, or who’ve lost their homes, or their livelihoods, and whose lives have been disrupted in so many ways. If you feel led to help financially, one good way to do that is through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance at .
The sermon text for this Sunday, Sept. 23rd, is 1st Samuel 1:3-20. It’s the story of Hannah’s praying to the Lord in her deep need. It will be the third in a series of sermons about prayers in the Bible. There will be a brief congregational meeting following worship this Sunday, for the purpose of electing a nominating committee to secure new candidates for the offices of deacon and elder for the coming year.
This Sunday, Sept. 23rd, and Sunday, Oct. 7th, will be the final opportunities for you to share a Hebron memory to be videotaped for our Heritage Celebration in October. If you’ve been thinking about doing this, please finalize your thoughts and come to the Ralph Fields room in the education wing after worship and let us record your memory!
You also still have time to sponsor a new hymnal/Bible set for the sanctuary. We’ll soon be using our new hymnal, Glory to God, and our new pew Bibles. It’s our hope to have sponsorship in by this Sunday, Sept. 23rd, so that we’ll have time to get all the book plates completed before we begin using our new Bibles and hymnals on October 14th. There will be a form in this Sunday’s bulletin. Sponsorships are $25 each for a Bible/hymnal set.
I hope you have Wednesday Night Special on your calendar, beginning on October 3rd. We’ll gather for a weekly meal together through mid-November. Our study will be taken from a book called Concentric Circles of Concern, by Oscar Thompson. We’ll take a break from our study on Oct. 17th, to hear a presentation from Ronnie Nuckols about his recent mission trip to Niger.
Sunday, October 14th, will be our Stewardship Commitment Sunday at Hebron. Those of you who are on our mailing list will be receiving information about our 2019 budget and ministries of the church, as you consider your giving for the coming year. We thank you, in advance, for your commitment to God’s work in and through Hebron Presbyterian Church.
Heritage Weekend at Hebron – As part of our 175th anniversary celebration, we’ll host a concert on Friday, Oct. 19th, featuring the Hebron Boys and young musicians from our congregation. We’ll also enjoy singing some hymns from our new hymnal, Glory to God. Then on Sunday, October 21st, we’ll celebrate in worship together, with the Rev. Walter Mann as our guest preacher, and lunch to follow in Holman Hall.
See you Sunday!
As you might have expected due to the softening of our weather forecast, all activates at the church this Sunday are ON. I'll look forward to seeing many of you in worship this Sunday. Please continue to be in prayer for those most affected by Hurricane Florence.
The sermon text for this Sunday, Sept. 16th, is Exodus 32:7-14. This will be the second in a series of sermons on prayers in the Bible.
Remember that Children’s Worship has begun for the fall, so kids aged 4 through 2nd grade will be dismissed following Drawing Near to the Word, to go with our DCE, Lori Alford, and a volunteer helper, for Children's Worship.
There’s still time to share your memories about Hebron Presbyterian Church, in preparation for our Heritage Celebration. Come to the Ralph Fields room after worship this Sunday, and we'll videotape your “memory” about being part of this congregation. These brief recordings of your special memories will be shown during our 175th Heritage weekend in October.
As part of our upcoming 175th birthday celebration for Hebron Church, you have the opportunity to sponsor a new Bible & hymnal set for the sanctuary, including (if you choose) to have your name or the name(s) of others noted inside the book. Inserts for this are in the Sunday worship bulletins. You may also contact the church office to have a form emailed to you. Please plan to complete your form and return it with your $25 (per set) payment by Sept. 23rd.
There will be a brief congregational meeting after worship on Sept. 23rd, to elect members of the nominating committee that will be securing new officer nominees for the coming year.
Wednesday Night Special – Beginning October 3rd, we’ll enjoy a weekly meal together through mid-November. Our study will be taken from a book called Concentric Circles of Concern by Oscar Thompson. The “concentric circles” concept helps us look at how we talk about our faith in the context of our personal relationships. If you would like a copy of the book, please leave word with the church office, and we’ll order one at a cost to you of $11.00. We'll take a break from our WNS study on Oct. 17th, to hear a presentation from Ronnie Nuckols about his recent trip to Niger.
Heritage Concert, Friday, October 19th - As part of our 175th anniversary heritage celebration, there will be a concert on the Friday evening before our Heritage Sunday. There is more info on this event in our September church newsletter.
Heritage Sunday, October 21st – Hebron Presbyterian’s 175th “birthday” as a congregation will be celebrated with a special service of worship and a luncheon to follow. Our guest preacher will be the Rev. Walter Mann.
And there's so much more! Keep up with events at Hebron Presbyterian Church through these weekly posts; and if you'd like to receive our monthly newsletter, email our secretary at email@example.com.