A Note from Stephen Dec 2016

“The Dickens You Say!”
Dad said that he was the only man in our church who could pull off wearing a red blazer on Sunday morning. This was many years ago, when the women wore hats and white gloves to church, and the men all showed up in dark suits. Now-a-days he would be considered overdressed by most people—he also wore a cravat—but he would still pull it off. He had a big personality, and I think that he worked in marketing for one of the big companies in town.
One day near Christmas he was speaking in church and I remember him saying that A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens was the greatest work of secular holiday literature ever written. That got me curious. Up until then, the only version of A Christmas Carol of which I knew was Disney’s cartoon version featuring Scrooge McDuck. When I finally got around to reading it, I decided the Man in the Red Blazer was right. The book is better than any cartoon, TV, Movie or stage production I have ever seen. (Which isn’t to deny that some are very good—I especially love the one starring Patrick Stewart.)
This year A Christmas Carol will also be our Advent Carol. The short book has five chapters (or staves as Dickens calls them). On each of the four Sundays of Advent and on Sunday, December 25, the sermon and elements of the service will be structured around a chapter in the book. On November 27, we will be with Ebenezer Scrooge when the ghost of his partner Marley comes to warn him that he is about to be visited by three spirits of Christmas. On December 4, we will accompany Scrooge on his travels with the Spirit of Christmas Past. On December 11, the Sunday School children will join the Spirit of Christmas Present to explain what Christmas means around the world. On December 18 we will look to the future with the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come. And on Christmas morning we will join Tiny Tim in his Christmas wish: “God bless us, everyone!”
You may be surprised at how directly Dickens speaks to our present day concerns about sickness and health, poverty and prosperity, solitude and family, and the tension between the individual and the community. Above all, in spite of being a work of “secular” literature, A Christmas Carol is a powerful statement about what it means for the heart to hear and embrace the message of the birth of the Christ Child in Bethlehem.
You may wish to “prep” for Advent at First Pres by watching again Scrooge McDuck, or your favorite version of the story; or, better yet, by reading the original for yourself. Just be ready to be filled with more love for your fellow creatures, and for the God who made us all, before we have done singing this and all the carols of the season.
Stephen

A Note From Stephen Nov 2016

SAVE THE DATE—IV
Sunday, November 13th
God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do. Ephesians 2:10.
Earlier this year our congregation reflected on what are the good deeds that God has already prepared for us to do, right here in Kearney, and right now, in this year and the next. After reflecting on that question, we picked three special ministry emphases: 1) Ministries of Compassion, 2) Nurture the Young and their Families, and 3) Outreach to Inactive Members.
Which begs the questions: What’s up with that? What difference has it made? Has anything been accomplished? Are there any plans for the future?
The time for answers will be Sunday, November 13, at 9:00 am. The place will be the Family Life Center. The setting will be a special brunch for the whole church family.
We will get an update on what is happening in our church, on the work done by the special ministry emphases teams in 2016, and what is just around the corner as we go into 2017.
We will get an overview of the financial situation of the church, its strengths and challenges, and how the 2017 budget will be put together. (We will be dedicating our estimates of giving at the service on Sunday, November 20.)
Yes, this is a “church” event. Yes, this is a “stewardship” event. Yes this is a “ministry” event. But it is more than simply a church stewardship and ministry event, because we have worked very hard this year to discern and do what “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28). We are accountable to God, both individually and as a congregation. This brunch is an exercise in accountability. But don’t let that frighten you off. Because, as we will all see, there is a lot to celebrate in what has already happened, and what will happen next year, as we go forward with God into the coming year and take up the good deeds already prepared for us to do.
See you on the 13TH!
Stephen

A Note From Stephen Oct 2016

Last month I talked with Ann Esslinger, calling from Bellevue, Washington, who was looking for information about an ancestor named David Wallace McQuiston. According to the U.S. Census records for 1900, he lived in Kearney on 2nd Avenue. By 1910 he was in Illinois. According to family tradition, he was the pastor of a Presbyterian congregation. Ann called to find out if the church had any records of her ancestor’s ministry in Kearney.
While Ann was on the phone, I consulted The First Hundred Years…A History of The First United Presbyterian Church by John F. Wells, Pastor, written for the congregation’s 100th anniversary. There was no mention in that book of a Rev. McQuiston. I said that perhaps he was a pastor in another Presbyterian denomination, most likely the United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPNA) a church with Scottish roots that united with the larger Presbyterian Church in 1958. This seemed likely, not only because of his Scottish name, but also because they knew he was a graduate of the UPNA’s Xenia Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh.
While we were talking, my eye was skimming Rev. Wells’ church history, and I came upon a paragraph describing the ministry of the Rev. Alexander H. Fraser, who served from 1901 to 1908. There I read:
One of the first projects that faced Mr. Fraser was that of receiving into membership all those who had been in Kearney’s United Presbyterian Church. This had been a congregation of conservative Scottish background which had been able to erect a rather substantial wooden building on the corner of where the St. James Roman Catholic Church now [i.e. 1973] stands. For some unknown reason, it fell upon hard times, lost its pastor, and in going out of existence was absorbed into our membership.
I read this passage to Ann, and also gave her contact information with the Presbyterian Historical Association in Philadelphia, the repository for the official documents of our denomination and its predecessor denominations.
It was a joy to be helpful to Ann, but it also made me ponder about the rich history of our church, and of each of our families; of how much of it is forgotten, and how meaningful it can be to learn about it. Who knows how much the unique character of our own congregation has been formed by the contributions of Presbyterians who came from Kearney’s UPNA church?
It also reminded me of an essay written by T. S. Eliot called Tradition and the Individual Talent:
Tradition … cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labor. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense, and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence.
Surely it is the real presence of the past that is the most important result of our studies of family and church histories, but above all, of reading and studying the Bible together. In the Bible we read what God said and did thousands of years ago, and by the gift of the Holy Spirit and our own great labor – which is also a gift of the Holy Spirit—we find out what God is saying and doing today.
Thank God, not just for the memory makers but also the memory keepers. Let us cherish them both. They are the means by which we are reminded: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Thanks be to God!
Stephen