Ash Wednesday at the Farm

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Today is Ash Wednesday. Our Lenten journey begins. I invite you to find some quiet time today to join me from my 18th century farm in Vermont and reflect on this day.

Reflect on our need for forgiveness. Reflect on just how fleeting this life is and how much time we spend wasting the precious time we have been given.

Reflect on God’s great love for you. There is a time to impose the ashes as well. If you don’t have ashes, find some dirt (that is, if you aren’t in an area covered with snow or ice!). Or even get a little bowl of water or oil to make the sign of the cross on your hand. If you don’t have anything, simply tracing the sign of the cross on your hand is powerful in itself.

Share with others as it is my hope that many will truly enter into this Lenten season, searching more deeply for God and drawing every closer to Him. Blessings!

Scripture Reading: Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me. You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness, let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right[b] spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing[c] spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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Abide With Me

It’s Valentine’s Day at here at Old Stone Well Farm in Vermont, and in a world lacking in love and lacking in hope, we find our hearts renewed by remembering God is always giving us something to hold on to as we see in the Scripture lesson of Jesus’ transfiguration — a divine spectacle that confused and dazzled his friends. Little did they know it was the very thing they would need to keep the faith when walking the valley of life’s challenges and strife.

So, pour yourself a cup of coffee or brew some tea and spend this special day with me. And for those who like trivia, we begin with how Valentine’s Day came to be. And keep on the lookout because Rev. (my cat) also makes an appearance.

Blessings, Pastor Donna

Mark 9:2-9 NRSV

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one[a] on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings,[b] one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

The endless table of grace

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This Lent, let us feast on more grace and mercy

By Donna Frischknecht Jackson

The season of Lent has traditionally been a time to give up something, to deny ourselves that which gives us pleasure, such as chocolate or binging watching TV. In my time in ministry, I have seen the 40-day penitential season, that invites us to walk with Jesus to the Good Friday cross, focus less on denying and more on “giving” of our time, treasures and talents to others.

This year, though, as the season I have so often embraced approaches — it has always been a time for me to go deeper into my soul searching and listen more attentively to the Holy Spirit’s hopeful whispers in my ear — I find myself just wanting to give up. Not chocolate. Not binge-watching TV. Not on anything that can be labeled a gluttonous sin. Just GIVE UP. Period. I don’t even want to do the painful soul searching that has always led to new life come Easter morning.

Before anyone suggests that I call a suicide hotline, I am not talking about giving up on life. Well, maybe I am — in a way. I am ready to give up on the life that I see so many being sucked into — including me. It is a life that has me concerned. It is a life where even brothers and sisters in Christ are so quick to spew forth their opinions without concern if they are valid or not. It is a life where we seem to take pleasure in accusing others of cheap grace while all the while throwing around unmerited condemnation.

If someone disagrees with someone there seems to be no space for grace for that differing viewpoint. If someone is deemed as not doing enough to dismantle racism or address system poverty or dares to remain silent when it comes to a controversial issue, they are all too quickly labeled as part of the problem in society.

I am not saying that there isn’t any work that needs to be done. There is a ton of work to do when it comes to building a beloved community where there is a place at the table for all and where everyone has a chance to speak and be listened to. But in working towards that beautiful never-ending banquet table, something is going awry. And I wonder?

Does anyone else see what I am seeing? Am I the only who is noticing that the never-ending banquet table where all are invited to pull up a chair is becoming the very table that we say we are trying to dismantle? Don’t sit near me if you disagree with me or worst yet take your chair and go create another table of like-minded people.

Voices are being silenced out of fear of retribution or out of fear of being misunderstood or out of fear of being mislabeled. I hesitate to name some of those labels for fear of the very thing I write — fear of being slammed or shunned. Is this fear healthy? No. It isn’t. It makes me wonder how many people with good hearts are deciding to opt out of the fight for justice all because the lack of grace and mercy we are seeing at that very table of grace and mercy we say we want?

A never-ending table of grace and mercy is only possible when we make the effort to engage in healthy dialog.

As Lent approaches I find myself feeling like I just want to give up. And Sunday’s Super Bowl’s almost made me do just that. I will admit, I didn’t watch it. It’s just not the thing in my household. But the next morning, when I saw on social media outlets of those who are Christian leaders slamming Bruce Springsteen and the Jeep commercial as an example of white supremacy, I thought more seriously about a cabin in the woods and off the grid. I am not defending the commercial. Not at all. After watching it, there was many things that could have been done differently and many things that should have been edited out, like the cross and flag mingling together. (Don’t get me going with why the American flag has no place in our sanctuaries. I will be more than happy to engage in a healthy conversation about that another time.)

What rattled me the most, though, were not the creative decisions from some ad agency trying to sell more Jeeps. What rattled me were that the critiques from Christians on social media had an edge to them. The critiques seemed laced with judgment. One such writer mentioned how the very use of the phrases “common ground” and “meeting in the middle” were white supremist codes.

Really? Because I still believe in trying to find our commonality. I still have hope of not exactly meeting in the middle, but in at least trying to walk towards one another so that we find that point of connection. What I read didn’t lead us in walking toward the other. Rather it made the distance between us even greater.

Social media critiques have become dangerously toxic, doing the very thing we say we don’t want done: Keeping us divided. As one openly evangelical blogger who weighed in on the Jeep Super Bowl debacle said: The commercial revealed the most disturbing thing, that is even our divisiveness is divisive.

I guess what bothered me was that there wasn’t anything constructive in the criticisms flooding social media outlets. It was simply bringing up all that was wrong with the commercial and how Jeep failed and how Springsteen needed to repent, etc. (By the way, the need for repentance is constructive, but not when it is done with a finger pointing at someone.)

This Lent was beginning to look like one in which I just wanted to give up. I was ready to tell my husband when he came home from work that we would be moving into the woods and off the grid because civilization has lost its civility. It was Diana Butler Bass, a writer on American religion and society, though, who saved my husband from a life without Netflix.

It was Bass who restored my faltering heart. And she did so with a thoughtful and constructive critique on the Jeep ad. It didn’t condone the choices Jeep made, but it didn’t attack the company either. It brought up the many marks the company missed and did so in a way that wasn’t laced with venom. It was edifying. It is an example of how to dialog — and disagree — with grace and mercy.

Grace and mercy. Hmmm. Perhaps grace and mercy are the very things we have lost, the very things we have chosen to give up somewhere along the way on our faith journeys? Perhaps they are what we need to restore in our lives this Lenten season. Grace, yes. And especially mercy.

Ann Lamott defines mercy in her book, “Hallelujah Anyway” as compassion, empathy, a heart for someone’s troubles. She also writes that mercy is something we find in the most unlikely places, “never where we first look.” If we keep looking for mercy among those in the church, I am afraid, by the things I see on social media, that we might not find it right now. We might have to look elsewhere.

For those who are interested, here is the link to Diana Butler Bass’ Jeep ad rebuttal.

https://dianabutlerbass.substack.com/p/a-better-middle?fbclid=IwAR0Iiu3SEQBJtfwzDCQtV8tftopGzSO4H-5kUj57hGOSE80Dzqh_G-cKDQc

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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Companion Planting

I’ve started to plan my garden here at Old Stone Well Farm. It gives me hope to think about new life bursting forth from the ground while my garden beds are still covered with snow.

But as I was planning, I thought about Paul’s words to the church in Corinth and began thinking about a thing call “companion planting” where some plants grouped together actually help one another thrive. What would happen if we really were companions to one another, really helping to bolster each other rather than tear down? What was Paul really saying when he said he can be all things to all people? And why does it matter to hear his words today? After the week I have had (many weeks in fact) I found Paul’s words so revealing.

Today’s message is straight from the heart and I share some of the struggles I have been going through. I share some thoughts about how we treat one another, especially on social media, and how we can move forward in this world being companions to one another so that we can flourish rather than wilt and wither away.

Blessings, Donna

Today’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law.To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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Celebrating Candlemas

Today we observe the church celebration known as Candlemas. Candlemas, observed on Feb. 2, was traditionally the end of the Christmas season. It marks the 40 days after Jesus’ birth, when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple to be presented as according to Jewish customs. Thus, this day is also known as the Presentation of the Lord.

Since Candlemas was also a time when folks would bring their candles to the pastor to be blessed, I spend the day here at Old Stone Well Farm trying my hand at making candles. It’s not easy — and it takes a lot of patience. As I made the candles, I thought about the patience of Simeon and Anna who waited in the temple patiently for many, many years, praying and praising God, hoping to see for themselves, with their own eyes, God’s salvation.

How patient are you? Especially when waiting for God to reveal the hope and the light you are seeking? Let us worship together!

Our Scripture lesson for today is from:

Luke 2:22-38

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon;[a] this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon[c] came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant[e] in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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A Basket of Love

Oatmeal cookies and a basket of love … join me today as I remember an amazing woman of faith who reminded me always of what really mattered in this life. Pour a cup of coffee, brew some tea or add some marshmallows to a mug of hot coco and let us be in the present of God, together, on a cold January day in Vermont.

And remember to have a bowl of water handy as we begin our time by remembering our baptisms.

Blessings!

Today’s Scripture Lessons

Psalm 62:5-12 NRSV

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up;  they are together lighter than a breath. Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery;  if riches increase, do not set your heart on them. Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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I have been thinking a lot about trees lately. And so when I read John’s Gospel for this time of worship together, I couldn’t help but to wonder what was the significance of the fig tree that Jesus saw Nathanael sitting under? So let’s explore together — and even spend some time contemplating God’s ways underneath my apple tree here in Vermont. There is also a special announcement about Ash Wednesday, which is Feb. 17, at the end of the video. So, stay tuned…

Let us begin our time of worship!

Blessings, Pastor Donna

John 1:43-51

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you,you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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Epiphany Begins

NOTE: Before we worship together, have a bowl of water ready so that you can dip your hands in it for our reaffirmation of baptismal vows at the end of the video.

While many observe Epiphany as a one-day celebration, I observe this day on the church calendar as a season, starting on Jan. 6 and running till Ash Wednesday.

In these weeks, I like to challenge us to see Christ among us — where do we see the light of revealing God’s work? I was reminded, though, this past Wednesday, that the light that shines reveals the very things we want to remain hidden.

This past week truly was an Epiphany — a sad, startling epiphany moment — revealing our sins. The story of the Magi, a crazy diabolical leader fearing the loss of power, the need to go another route, became all-too real. That Scripture coupled with today’s readings from Genesis, reminding us that the first thing God did when bringing order to the cosmic chaos was to say “Let there be light.”

And then we go to Mark’s Gospel and hear about Jesus’ baptism and are reminded that in order to emerge from the water as a new creation, one must first confess their sins. The light is shining. The light is revealing what we have long tried to keep hidden. The light, if allowed to shine, will bring order to chaos. The light from heaven wants to shine upon us, but only if we dare to reaffirm our baptismal vows, renouncing evil and to commit to the work of light shining.

Please share today’s time together at the farm with all those you feel will be blessed by it.

Our readings are:

Genesis 1:1-4 (NRSV)

In the beginning when God created[a] the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.

Mark 1:4-11 (NRSV)

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit.” In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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The Work of Christmas

Christmastide is coming to an end, but the work of Christmas is just beginning. Join me as I share with you what this work involves, and how an unexpected tradition that began years ago while I was living in Manhattan has helped me remember this work throughout the year.

Our Scripture for today is:

John 1:1-10

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.

A New Year’s Eve at Old Stone Well Farm

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Time to Celebrate Hogmanay

After many technical difficulties, a special gift is here for you on this New Year’s Eve. Yes, I invite you to spend it with me here in Vermont for a Hogmanay celebration — a true Scottish experience complete with haggis! A blessed New Year to you!

Our Scripture to reflect on as we welcome in the New Year is Isaiah 43:18-19:
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing;now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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The Season of Christmas: A Gift and A Promise

Welcome to worship on this Sunday in Christmastide. Yes, the 12 days of Christmas have begun and we spend our time at the farm with two unsung heroes of the birth narrative: Simeon and Anna. Two people who waited patiently, and with faith, to see God’s promise to the world — Jesus. Simeon and Anna also got me thinking about how we spend this season of Christmas and how it can be the perfect time for us to charge our spirits in order to move forward in faith.

Blessings, Pastor Donna

Scripture to Ponder: Luke 2:22-38

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant[e] in peace,
according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Christmas Eve at Old Stone Well Farm

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I feel so blessed to be spending Christmas Eve with you from my little snowy home in Vermont. May this time together be one of great joy, reflection and humble adoration to what God has done and is doing in our lives.

Remember, have a candle ready to light so that we can join together in the singing of “Silent Night.” Pass this on to friends and family. Consider having a watch party together. Or perhaps just curl up in a comfy chair with a cozy blanket and a cup of hot coco and worship the new born babe.

Blessings! Donna

Scripture to Reflect On

Luke 2:1-20 (NRSV)

2 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,[a] the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,[b] praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”[c]
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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Greetings, Favored One: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Well, here we are on the fourth Sunday of Advent. Christmas will be upon us in just a few days. As we light the last candle on the Advent wreath — the candle of love — we pause and remember what this celebration is all about: “For God so loved the world that he gave us his Son.”

And God chose to give us this gift in an unprecedented way. He chose a young girl from a humble family living in an insignificant village (can anything good come from Nazareth?) to be the Christ bearer.

Mary learns of her role in this story of salvation through Gabriel, the angel who just loves to disrupt lives by announcing God’s plans for those lives. “Greetings, favored one” Gabriel starts with, and from there Mary’s world is turned upside down.

Today, at the farm I invite you to ponder the power of that greeting, and imagine what your life would be like when you realize God whispers to you everyday those same words, “Greetings, favored one.” For God has a role for us to play in this story of salvation. God has great big God plans for each of us.

May these days leading up to Christmas be filled with Gabriel disruptions, God whispers and Mary yeses.

Luke 1:26-37

 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,  to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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Snow Day

Today was an unexpected snow day here in Vermont, which got me thinking about how magical snow days were when I was a child and how important it is to keep the magic going. In a time when technology means we can meet whenever, wherever — well, what does that do to our souls? Isn’t a snow day God’s gift to us, an invitation to be still, to play and do something that gives our soul’s joy? And so, I did just that today. I accepted the snow’s invitation to slow down and be still before God. Blessings!

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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And this Shall Be a Sign

I can’t believe it is the third Sunday of Advent already, but here we are and it really is beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Today at the farm, I invite you come and set up the Christmas tree with me. As we do we will talk about the tradition of trees and how it points up to Christ in the world.

God is good at using signs to point us to Christ. But how good are we noticing them? I will also share with you a God moment I had recently when thinking about Christmas trees, and what I came to realize when it came not just to the tree, but my life.

Our Scriptures this morning to reflect on are:

Isaiah 9:6-7

6 For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Isaiah 7:14

14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman[a]is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.[b]

Luke 2:12-15

12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,[a] praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”[b]
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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Second Week of Advent: A Christmas Love Letter

I am so excited to share with you an early Christmas gift — my replica of an 18th century lap desk. These desks were the Colonial version of today’s laptops, providing those on the go with all the things they needed to write letters — parchment, a feather quill, powder ink, wax to seal the documents. It is said that much of the Revolutionary War documents were written on lap desks: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton all had one. Even literary giants such as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens had “laptops.”

My 18th century writing box got me thinking about the art of handwriting a letter. It’s not like an email or a text. Handwriting means you have to really take the time to compose your thoughts, that time taken in itself can show another person how much you care. And without autocorrect or an online thesaurus, handwriting means you have to think more deeply about the words you use. Handwriting can bring out the poets in us.

The more I thought about the time and care it takes to handwrite a letter, the more I thought about God’s letters to us — especially God’s Christmas love letters and how these notes were delivered by messengers, such as John the Baptizer, who comes to us in Scripture today.

Yes, John’s message of “repent” is indeed a love letter, for without repentance — which means basically “turn back to God” —how will we ever fully prepare to receive Christ into our hearts? Repent is a loving invitation to stop doing the things that hurt ourselves and others and open our lives to God. We will see in Mark’s Gospel that before those coming to have John baptize them, they had to confess their sins first.

A fresh start with God cannot happen until we confess. We see this with the prophet Isaiah who, in his vision of being in the presence of God, cries out, “Woe is me. I am not worthy.” It is then God takes a piece of coal and blots Isaiah’s lips. Isaiah, after confessing, is made clean by God. He is ready to serve God and God’s children.

This Advent, as we prepare for the coming of Christmas, let us keep in our minds God’s love letters. Letters that tell us to turn back to God, to not fear, to rejoice…and then I invite you to take time this week to write your own Christmas love letter — to God, letting God know how much His presence means to you.

Advent blessings to you!

Pastor Donna

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news[a] of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,[d]
who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared[e] in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with[f] water; but he will baptize you with[g] the Holy Spirit.”

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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First Week of Advent: Stick Season

These past two weeks we have been observing the Celtic Advent, but today we transition into the traditional, four-week season of Advent. Here in Vermont, it is also a season fondly (and not so fondly) referred to as “stick” season. It’s the time of year when the leaf peepers have all gone home. The leaves are on the ground and the bare limbs have not yet been covered with a warm blanket of snow.

The barren trees paint a melancholy canvas and some see drabness. I see beauty. For the barrenness opens my eyes to new things, a new perspective. And perhaps that is the opportunity the start of Advent presents us with — a chance to gain a new perspective, to finally see the beauty of God when all seems hopeless.

And so, let us begin our time of worship here at the farm. Our reading for today is:

Isaiah 64:1-7

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.
You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

Time to Reflect: As the season of Advent begins, it is easy to get caught up in the mad dash to Christmas, to rush to the good news of a Savior born for all. How easy it is to lose sight of the meaning of the season, to not call upon God or reach out our hands to heaven. Spend time today calling upon God, even simply whispering God’s name. Quietly sit in the presence of God, with your hands opened as if to receive something. Meditate on God’s goodness and hope in your life as the first candle of Advent burns.

Thanksgiving at the Farm

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A Special Time of Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

As we head into this holiday, I realize many are not “feeling” it, many are feeling down, and many are missing loved ones. As I prepare for my holiday meal, I share with you how God is with us, and that what we really need to do is prepare our hearts to receive God’s love.

This time together has been loosely based on a Blue Christmas service, where short reflections are interspersed with reflection music. May it bring a sense of joy and peace to your heart.

A blessed Thanksgiving to you all!

Feasting on Faith, Not Fear

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By Donna Frischknecht Jackson

Welcome to ministry in 2020. The picture below illustrates it the best. The picture also got me thinking about feasting — not on the turkey that will grace my Thanksgiving table this Thursday, but feasting on faith rather than fear.

It seems lately I, the one who always took leaps of faith, have been weighed down by the fear of the unknown. I blame the pandemic for instilling this fear in me as “uncertainty” is a word reverberating in all of us, isn’t it?

The thing about fear is it doesn’t satiate one’s soul. If anything, it gives you heartburn. Or in my case, heartache.

I have dreams. I’ve shared that with you before. I have big, crazy, scary dreams that need a big helping of faith to birth them into being. And this picture of me on the big screen in a Methodist church’s ecumenical Thanksgiving service is making me hunger for that faith that always filled me up. It is making me regret, too, some of the dreams that I let go all because I allowed myself to listen to those in the church, caring friends, even family, whisper well-intentioned messages of warning: What if it fails? It’s not possible. Play it safe.

Being that I was the pastor who lived the furthest away in the clergy group, I was invited to send a video welcome and an opening prayer. My Vermont home is more than an hour away from the historic village of Ticonderoga, New York, where battles between the French and the Indians were waged and where one can trace the footsteps of Revolutionary War heroes like Ethan Allen and traitors like Benedict Arnold. So I was thankful to the Ticonderoga clergy for being understanding and considerate.

Watching myself on the big screen, though, reminds me of the wacky idea I had three years ago when I tried pitching a virtual circuit rider ministry to three rural churches in my area. I would rotate being in person at a church on Sunday. One Sunday I would preach while the other churches zoomed me in via technology. Each church would have pastor physically present one Sunday a month. One church was sort of on board with the idea, but when I began working with them, it was clear they just wanted a traditional pastor to preach and spend time having tea with members. I am not tea drinker.

One church, who was looking for a part-time pastor, was honest and brutally shot it down, stating, “We can’t afford to take a risk with such an idea. What happens five years from now if this doesn’t work?”

That was three years ago, and where are they now? No further along and perhaps their dire straits becoming more dire. Imagine where they might have been if they went with this pastor’s crazy idea of using technology before technology was a ministry necessity in 2020?

But they didn’t want to feast on faith. Their taste buds had grown accustomed to the empty calories of fear. And I, in the process, accepted their invitation to sit at that table with them.

I can’t help but feel a tremendous sadness that these churches would have been way ahead in digital ministry as the pandemic swept through the country. They would have been showing their communities faith, not fear. They might have started to see a revival. They might have learned that seeking what they want in ministry never works. They might have seen the amazing things that I have seen in my ministry when you trust God all the way and only seek to follow what God wants.

Yesterday I had a wonderful chat with a minister in Tennessee for a magazine story I am writing. He took a small church of 15 members all in their 70s and turned it around. Well, he didn’t turn it around. The members did because when he came on board as their pastor they told him don’t fear the lack of money, don’t look at the empty pews, don’t worry about the budget. “We have decided to put our trust in God and God alone,” they said. He then told me their mantra became, “Jesus is Lord. Jesus is King.” That was all they needed to allow the Spirit to enter and transform them.

“Donna, they never once asked me as pastor to get children into the church. They never once asked ‘how do we fill our pews?’,” he said. “They just kept saying, ‘Jesus is Lord.'” To that I say, “Amen!”

My crazy dream of using technology to zoom pastors and the word of God into people’s homes and other sanctuaries has become true. While I didn’t get the chance to actually launch it, I feel validated that it wasn’t as crazy as others thought.

I look over at my frozen turkey thawing on the kitchen counter. I am done feasting on fear. It’s time to sit down to the table of faith where a crusty loaf of bread is broken and in that act, my eyes once again open and see Jesus smiling, nodding a loving “yes” to me, saying, “Dream, live, fear not. I am with you.”

What will you be feasting on this Thanksgiving? Faith or fear?

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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A Royal Family Tree

Our Celtic Advent, which began Nov. 15, continues today, Christ the King Sunday. Christ the King Sunday is the church’s New Year’s Eve, as it marks the end of one liturgical year and begins a new one that starts with us preparing for the birth of Jesus. On this Sunday we are reminded why Christ was born — to be a our Suffering Servant, our Crucified Lord, our Heavenly King. It is fitting to remember this as the Advent season gets into full swing and we make our way to the celebration of Christ’s birth.

The Celtic Advent is traditionally divided into two parts — the first focusing on Jesus’ first coming — his birth — and then the second half focusing on Jesus’ second coming. Today, here at the farm, we will focus on the Incarnation, the birth of Jesus. I will share with you the beautiful Incarnation page, the most famous page, from the Book of Kells, the illustrated 8th century book Irish monks created. Also called the Chi Rho page, from the Greek letters representing Christ, the ornate and intricate detailing is a lot to take in. You can spend hours gazing at it and all of the symbolism hidden in plain sight. But what it reminded me of the most is that while Christ is my King, he is also my caring, humble, always-available, loving friend and brother. Yes, brother. I have spiritual royalty in my family tree. And so do you.

Let us begin our worship!

Blessings, Pastor Donna

Matthew 1:1-18

An account of the genealogy[a] of Jesus the Messiah,[b] the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph,[c] and Asaph[d] the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos,[e] and Amos[f] the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.[g]

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah,[h] fourteen generations.

The Birth of Jesus the Messiah

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah[i] took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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A Celtic Advent

I was so intrigued — and excited — when I learned recently about the Celtic Advent, which starts on November 15. I love the season of Advent, but four weeks just never seems like enough time to fully embrace it, especially how Christmas festivities from decorating to caroling to shopping for presents overshadow the simplicity and joyful somberness (yes, joyful somberness) of Advent. There was a time when Advent mirrored Lent in that it was a full 40 days of preparing for Christ’s birth.

So, with our Scripture lesson from Titus — one of Paul’s three epistles written in 63 A.D. — I invite you to start a new tradition with me this year. I invite you to an early Advent.

Blessings, Pastor Donna

Titus 2:11-13 (New Revised Standard Version)

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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The idea of returning to the lost art of mending has been on my mind for a while now, but this week it just seemed so perfect to talk to you about it and imagine our spiritual needles and thread stitching what is ripped in our lives — and our country.

And so with God’s Word speaking to us through Ecclesiastes 3, who tells us to everything there is a season, we explore entering a season of learning how to sew/how to mend all that is torn.

This video was filmed before the election was called, so there is a moment where I mention the votes were still being counted. It was my parents who called me with the good news as I was editing our worship service. As I cried, I realized my tears of joy were being joined by those who cried tears of sadness. And while I might not understand those tears, I need to respect those tears as we turn our eyes to God. Now is the time to love, to listen, to respect, to sew.

My faith was faltering, but this week I realized something: No matter how far we fall from God, God is gracious, reaching out His arm to lift us back up. Let us reach back for that Divine hand.

Let us worship! Blessings, Pastor Donna

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (New Revised Standard Version)
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;
time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

Stress, Self-Care and Saving Grace

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By Donna Frischknecht Jackson

This country pastor has been quiet this election week: quiet, stressed, heartbroken, anxious, hopeful. I had no idea so many emotions could show up all that same time, but show up they did.

I must say, it has been tiring this election week. But unlike many of my ministry colleagues, I didn’t schedule vacation time. I should have, because getting work done has proven futile. It’s now the end of the week and nothing has been scratched off of my to-do list, which only adds to the stress swirling all around me.

No, I wasn’t mindful in creating self-care rituals for this week. I didn’t schedule any time to do something joyful for my soul. I had every intention to churn some butter in my 18th reproduction butter churn. That always makes me feel better. I waited too long, though, and my churning therapy went right down the drain with the curdled cream.

I was also going to take an online yoga class. Light a candle and allow my body and soul to melt into a beautiful oblivion. That didn’t happen either. Instead, every night this week I pried myself from my desk — accomplishing nothing — to go for run, forgetting that daylight savings time had ended. A dark wooded trail is a great motivator in turning your leisurely run into a frantic sprint. With every rustle and crunch of leaves, I envisioned the worst: a bear, a coy dog — Big Foot? (Don’t laugh. A rural town just over the Vermont border claims to be home to Big Foot, even holding a Big Foot festival every summer.) No, not even my time of exercise could qualify as self-care.

I was far from kind to myself. I was especially harsh to racing mind, yelling at it to focus. “What’s wrong with you, mind? Work. Be productive,” I would tell it. It didn’t help. If anything it made my mind huff away. It was not good because this was the week I was faced with several self-imposed impossible deadlines. I thought if I challenged myself, and if I met them, I would feel better. I would feel in control. I would have a sense of accomplishment. You can guess what happened. I failed miserably. Oh, and my mind is still giving me the silent treatment.

This morning, though, I struggled to get my worn out body out of bed early. I wanted to see the sun rise. Bleary-eyed and achy, I made a cup of coffee and sat on my old stone well. I watched, and I listened. I listened to God speak in the sound of a bird, in the honking of geese flying low and in the ardent moo’s of my neighbor’s cows wanting to get to the field that promised them their breakfast. And then it happened. The faintest of light emerged and grew stronger as the sun’s rays yawned and stretched over the hills.

It’s been a stressful election week, and the stress is not over — nor is the healing work this country needs to do. I never thought I would say I live in a United States that is not united, but here I am — and here is the sun still rising, and here is God still speaking, and here is grace still saving us.

For those who worship virtually with me at Old Stone Well Farm, this morning I couldn’t help but to sing the song from our time together two weeks ago…

I can see a light that is shining for the heart that holds on...

For the first time in weeks, months, dare I admit these past few years, I find my faltering faith steadying…”And the light shines in darkness; and the darkness cannot overcome it.” John 1:5

My heart is holding on.

A light shining on the Vermont trail I run on. Yes, that is snow.

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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How did it get to be Nov. 1 already? But here we are. Today, we honor the saints in our lives, and I share a story of one particular saint who instilled in me faith in God.

Who is/was the saint in your life who inspired, encouraged, modeled trust in God? I would love to hear your saint stories.

Email me at accidentalcountrypastor@gmail.com.

Let us now prepare for worship! Blessings, Pastor Donna

Matthew 5:1-12

When Jesus[a] saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely[b] on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

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Light the World

This is the day the Lord has made! I am so happy that you have joined me for today’s worship here in Vermont. I have to admit, I really enjoyed exploring what it means to be the light in the world. And I really enjoyed carving an inspirational message in the pumpkins that glow now on Sofie’s Hill here on the farm. Sofie was my bumbling Bernese Mountain dog who I lost two years ago. We used to run up the hill and sit staring at the Green Mountains. But I digress. Our Scripture reading for today is Matthew 5:14-16. May you be blessed by today’s worship. Blessings, Donna

Matthew 5:14-16

14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

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God’s Wish

Welcome to worship! Today we take a trip to one of the four covered bridges that are in Washington County, Upstate New York, which is on the border of my little 18th century home in Vermont. These bridges were sometimes called “kissing” bridges and sometimes called “wishing” bridges. It got me wondering, what is God’s wish for us? I thought a lot about that as I read our Scripture reading from Matthew. And so, let us prepare our hearts and worship God.

Blessings, Pastor Donna

Matthew 22:15-22 (New International Version)

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?”

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

Confessions of a Pandemic Overachiever

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Do More of What Makes You Happy

By Donna Frischknecht Jackson

I wasn’t sure how the disorganization happened nor how my to do lists multiplied like out of control rabbits, but this was the morning I was going to face the mess on my desk. As I looked at the unbelievable task before me, I felt panicky. The panic wasn’t that the piles of disorganization were symbolic of all the work I was facing. I was panicky because this wasn’t me. I was always the organized one.

Back in my Manhattan magazine days, I was the writer everyone looked at suspiciously because my desk was so neat. Each story deadline was clearly marked on my wall calendar. Each story assignment — notes, word count, a list of sources to call for quotes — all placed in its own manila folder. Sometimes I would go to the supply closet for a colored folder — red, yellow, blue or green — just to give my cubicle a pop of color. The files were placed in order of importance in a file holder. Next to my computer would be a yellow legal pad with the day’s tasks prioritized. The mail was in its own little pile and magazines that I would read along with my afternoon cup of coffee — were methodically stacked on the floor near my desk. Everything was under control. I was able to focus and be productive. I was able to breathe.

But now? What happened to that organized, in control person?

It seems these days I’m always behind the proverbial eight ball. I’m always being reminded of something that had fallen off of the 100th revision of that darn to do list. Deadlines that are circled on a calendar seem to come all too quickly. My heart races, leaving me dazed and confused, wondering where did the time go?

This morning I was going to take my life back by organizing every piece of paper before me. That’s when the answer to my gnawing question of what happened to me came. I picked up a blank notepad that was thrown into one of the many piles. Its cover read, “Do More of What Makes You Happy.”

It was then the stressed-to-the-max floodgates holding back tears broke open. The piles of disorganization weren’t because I was doing too much or that my workload was unrealistic. The piles of disorganization on my desk were telling me that I had forgotten to do more of what made me happy — what fed my soul, what renewed my spirits, what restored my creativity.

This morning’s task: Do more of what makes me happy. Lighting candles on a dreary autumn day and listening to Rev, the cat, purr is a good start to finding joy.

I had forgotten that it was okay to step away from deadlines and go for a hike. I had forgotten that when faced with writer’s block that worst thing you can do was force the words to come. Rather, when faced with the frightening feeling that you have finally run out of words, that’s when you need to do something that makes you happy. Yet instead of unfolding that beautiful material I recently purchased to make another quilt, I had imposed a “no fabric therapy” rule until the story was written. Where did that get me? Stressed out and still missing a deadline.

I realized that these past few months I haven’t done anything — let alone more of — the things that made me happy: cooking over an open fire outdoors, laying the foundation for my 18th century bread oven, tilling the soil to expand my garden, scouting out the future site for my chicken coop and perhaps even a goat pen, even writing more for this blog, Accidental Country Pastor.

I stared at the mess on my desk, admitting that I had become a “pandemic overachiever.” I have been trying to gain a sense of security, of certainty, of control in a world that is out of control by focusing on things that can be measured in terms of progress and productivity. I haven’t allowed time to dream, to play or just be. When was the last time I allowed myself to nap?

Another Zoom meeting invite? Sure, sign me up. After all, I can’t give the excuse that I am not available, right? I am home most of the time. Yet with Zoom meetings come the extra work of having to actually wash my hair and throw on some mascara. Back in the good old days, meetings with colleagues were done over the phone, which was a lot less hassle. Not only could I forego my primping (saving time to perhaps sew some quilt blocks together for that fabric therapy that is worth the cost of all the material I bought), but I also didn’t have the stress that comes with wondering, praying, holding my breath that my rural internet would not act up. Yes, that is a real stressor. There is nothing worse than being in the middle of an important presentation, only to have the screen freeze and the warning appear “Internet Connection Unstable.”

The projects that would have prevented the drought my soul was now in, had been pushed aside as I fell victim to “webinar binging,” seizing the opportunity to attend free seminars and classes companies and organizations were offering. I didn’t want to miss any valuable information on how to navigate this new world the pandemic has created. Instead of filling my head with knowledge, though, I was robbed of valuable hours of my time as many, not all, but many of the webinars didn’t live up to the promotional hype. After my million and one free webinar, it hit me. No one knows how to navigate this world we are in. Period. All we can do is find peace in the chaos and live with the ambiguity. All we can do is “do more of what makes you happy.”

I am a pandemic overachiever. My messy desk is a sign of that. This morning I was going to take back my life by organizing the mess so that I could be more productive and face those looming deadlines head on. The mess, though, is still there. The work to be done is still there. Yes, there are stories to write. Copy to edit. A sermon to prep for Sunday. There’s even a webinar I was scheduled to attend. But not today.

I have things to do that make me happy, that restore my soul, and that reconnect me to my authentic self, not the self I think this pandemic world wants. I have a quilt to work on. I have cream to churn into butter. I have a run on the rail trail to go on. I have a video to shoot for worship at Old Stone Well Farm, which I love doing.

What about you? If you were to do more of what makes you happy, what would it be? I would love to hear from you. Email me at accidentalcountrypastor@gmail.com

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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It was rainy week here at Old Stone Well Farm, and this country pastor got caught in a downpour while out running in the woods. But a beaver who scurried into its lodge got me thinking…when in a storm, where do I find save haven? That’s when I thought back to a childhood memento that used to remind me where my safety and hope were…in the Lord.

And so, enjoy a crisp fall autumn at the homestead as I light some candles to chase away the darkness and share with you how my Shepherd has always guided me.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it! Today’s worship from Vermont…and, yes, this is a very homespun video, complete with a sneaky cat opening a cabinet behind me and a husband walking in during filming towards the end. I opted not to reshoot, but rather, embrace life as it happens.

Before we begin our time together, here is today’s Scripture lesson from Philippians 3:10-14:

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

As always, drop me a note and let me know how you plan on pressing on this week.

Blessings,

Donna

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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We continue our reading from Exodus with the children of Israel continuing to doubt God and complaining. First it was nothing to eat, now it’s no water to drink. Why do we continue to doubt God even after the most amazing moments of realizing God hears us — always? Make sure to watch to the end for a surprise. Hint: It’s cute and cuddly.

But before we begin, here’s today’s Scripture reading:

Exodus 17:1-6

17 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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Quail and manna. Miracles of provision God sent to the children of Israel in their wilderness wandering. I wonder, though, what miracles of provision (not just monetary or food, but what about more hope, more love, more assurance) are God sending our way right now? What if the miracles are all around us in all the ordinary things we take for granted? Some thoughts I ponder with you today as we worship here in Vermont.

Before starting, here is our Scripture reading:

Exodus 16:2-15New Revised Standard Version

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.”

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’” 10 And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lordappeared in the cloud. 11 The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12 “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”

13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?”[a] For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. 

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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The corn is ripe and fall colors are beginning to appear here in Vermont. Join me today as I share some “kernels” on Jesus and the forgiveness he talks about in Matthew 18.

As we prepare for worship, take time to reflect quietly on the Scripture passage for today.

Matthew 18:21-35

1 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[a]

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[b] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[c] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

If My Rhubarb Can Thrive

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By Donna Frischknecht Jackson

I didn’t think the rhubarb I planted would survive — let only thrive. But much to my surprise, thriving is what they’re doing. The plants have been through a lot. Season after season they have been ravaged by pesky beetles. There has been many summer mornings, as the fog hung low in the valley and my feet squished through the tall grass wet with dew, that I would tend to the rhubarb, pulling the insects off as they happily chomped lacelike patterns into the leaves.

The abundance of rhubarb that I cradled in my arms was more than just future pies — the stalks were God whispers, reassuring me that I, too, can thrive. — Donna Frischknecht Jackson (Rupert, Vermont)

As I did, I would gaze at the scenery around me, allowing a surge of gratitude to distract me from the squeamishness of touching the insects. In those moments, I couldn’t help but be in awe as to how God was guiding me, answering a childhood prayer to live on a farm in New England.

My husband reminds me that I can’t call our Vermont home a farm if we don’t have outbuildings or animals. In my mind, though, I see the vision. I see the possibilities of what can be. I see the goats. I see the chickens. I see the pond. I see the cherry tree. I see it.

I will admit, though, that lately that clear picture of a farm is fading with each passing day. Darn those passing days. They seem to be sprinting past me, eager to get to the year-end finish line. I’m not ready for the race to be over. I have a dream inside that has been waiting for far too long to become a reality.

But for the first time in my life I find myself wondering could it be that some dreams ought to remain just that: Dreams never to see the light of day? Dreams that I will never know how God intended for them to be born and bless the world?

I wonder what happened to “Donna the risktaker”? What happened to the girl who challenged naysayers and took all those “no’s” as a challenge to be proved wrong? What happened to the person who would say to all those impossibilities looming before me that all things were possible if I only believed?

My dreams seem to be withering, but my rhubarb is thriving.

This morning I harvested the last of it for the season. By the time I was done, I had two armfuls full of green and pinkish-red stalks, some averaging more than 16 inches long. My first thought was what was I going to do with all of this rhubarb? There are just so many pies one can eat. There is just so much rhubarb jam, relish, sauce that one can consume.

The decision to plant rhubarb wasn’t because of my love for it — nor my husband’s. He won’t eat anything with rhubarb in it, thus, why I worry about all those pies as I turn my attention to how my jeans are fitting.

I planted the rhubarb really for my dad. I remember the stories of how rhubarb pie was one of his favorites that his mom would make when he was growing up on a farm in the Swiss Alps. The picture this brings to mind is so bucolic. But I bet there were beetles to pluck off the leaves as well. I bet there were days of clouds. I bet there was a time or two when perhaps my grandmother wondered how to slow down those days sprinting by as she harvested her rhubarb.

As I walked back to the house, I found myself cradling the abundance of rhubarb in my arms. Cradling the stalks because in that moment they were more than just future pies. The stalks were stories of a Swiss grandmother making pies on farm surrounded by snowcapped mountains. They were that aching in my heart to see my parents again as COVID-19 has kept us apart for months — them in New Jersey and me in Vermont. They were a vision of a farm that I once saw so clearly that now seemed to be slipping away. The stalks I cradled were God whispers, assuring me that God was still nurturing me, plucking off all those pesky self-doubts and negative messages of the world that keep chomping away at my dreams.

My rhubarb is thriving. And so will my dreams.

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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Well, it seems God is trying hard to get my attention. What are these delays trying to teach me? What are the glitches all about? As frustrating as the technical difficulties I have been having are — this is another Sunday where the system is very slow in loading the worship video — I have to try to search for the lesson. Could I reframe my situation and see these glitches as God glitches? What about you? How do you react when things just aren’t going smoothly? Or, worse yet, when everything seems to be broken or falling apart? I am realizing we have two options — we can crumble or we can rise above the trials, the problems, those oh-so frustrating moments in life.

I remember a devotional from years ago that had a huge impact on me. It was talking about the hard work of waiting for God to work in our lives. It said that if only we could see that a delay in life was not a denial of a treasured prayer. Rather, the “delay” was God’s way of working things out most beautifully — beyond our wildest imaginations.

So what is this delay once again in Worship at Old Stone Well Farm teaching me? Not sure. But I will try to learn. I will see what God is trying to say to me. I will search for what on this path of ministry I might be missing in which God is saying, “Look. See.”

And so, as I get ready for traditional in-person worship this morning, I ask for your prayers. But I also invite you to reflect on all those times in your life where the delays weren’t denials at all. They were all part of God’s ultimate plan for us.

Stay tuned. (And here’s a teaser…today’s worship focuses on Matthew 18:15-20.

Blessings,

Pastor Donna

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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Well, we are finally here together to worship! Apologies for the technical glitches this morning. While my nerves are frazzled, I am seeking the God lesson is this delay. And what I have come to realize is that perhaps this delay is opening us to a new spiritual discipline — that is, breaking out of the habit of thinking that worship to God is on a Sunday morning only. Perhaps this is making us carve out another time to take a moment to hear God’s word and praise Him outside of Sunday? Just some musings I have as I regroup from this technical nightmare. (Did I mention my nerves are frazzled? Darn thunderstorms in rural Vermont…or perhaps, those darn chipmunks chewing on wires!)

But enough about that. We are here together virtually and even amid delays and glitches, God is at work, God is with us, God is guiding us. And so let us praise God together!

Today’s Scripture is from Romans 12:9-21:

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.[a] 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;[b] do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;[c] for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

As you read the Scripture, think about what it means to show “genuine” love to all. Where is God asking you to be more loving?

Blessings and peace!

Pastor Donna

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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Summer seems to be winding down. The nights are getting cooler here in Vermont and I returned back from vacation to a few leaves turning color on the trees as well as two round, orange pumpkins in my garden. Yes, summer is winding down, but there are still rays to soak in and God moments to be found on the beaches of North Carolina.

Today’s worship is from the Outer Banks, where a lesson in riptides gets me thinking about how important it is to surrender to God and to trust that when jostled around in life’s waves, all will be well if we remember that old saying, “let go and let God.”

Our Scripture to meditate on today is:

Psalm 138:3-8

When I called, you answered me; you greatly emboldened me.
May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord, when they hear what you have decreed.
May they sing of the ways of the Lord, for the glory of the Lord is great.
Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly; though lofty, he sees them from afar.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life.
You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes; with your right hand you save me.
The Lord will vindicate me; your love, Lord, endures forever— do not abandon the works of your hands.

Till next week, blessings to you all.

Pastor Donna

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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Today’s worship will not be at Old Stone Well Farm in Vermont. Why? Because I have finally done it. I have forced myself to step back and take a real break that involves (after this morning’s note to you) a time to turn off social media and toss the to-do list.

I will be trading the crisp New England mornings running on the trail behind my 18th century home for North Carolina’s soft white beaches and humid mornings. I will finally be making a dent in my tower of books, vowing to finish at least four by the time my break is over. And I will be taking prayer walks — many. I will be allowing my heart to listen to the pounding of the waves and ponder God’s power and majesty. I will observe the gracefulness of the seagulls as they swoop in for their breakfast of fish. I will once again allow my breath to be taking away by the Creator’s artistry as God paints for me sunrises and sunsets.

And so I invite you to join me where ever you are. Join me in reconnecting with God and practicing this day a spiritual discipline — those ancient and holy rituals that our desert mother and fathers, the great mystics and countless ordinary folks like me and you to slow our racing minds, ease our frantic steps, sooth our worried hearts, and reconnect with the One who matters most in our lives — God.

I invite you to go on a prayer walk. Pick a piece of scripture or even a word, and as you walk, pray on it. I invite you to practice the discipline of lectio divina (divine reading). Choose a Scripture read it through first. Then read it again more slowly. Then read it, taking note of what words or sentences draw you in. Then reflect on them. Pray on them. If you are visual, then I invite you to practice praying with art. Find a picture or a landscape that mesmerizes you and gaze with eyes seeking the holy. What do you see? Or join me on the beach. Yes, join me.

Here is a picture just steps from my hotel room. Imagine your feet in the sand with me. Imagine hearing the waves. Imaging standing with me in prayer. Imagine lifting our voices as we sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy” … Lord God, almighty; early in the morning, our song shall rise to thee…

As I worship today, please know I will hold you each in my prayers, praising God for this community He has brought together. Until next Sunday. Blessings and peace to you!

Pastor Donna, the Accidental Country Pastor

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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Only believe…all things are possible, if you only believe…

Who’s ready to get out of the boat and dare to believe that you can do all things in Christ — and with Christ?

Today’s worship is by the water…not an easy task to find a spot not filled with people on a sunny summer Vermont day, but I did. Before we worship, though, let us take a look at the Scripture lesson for this Sunday.

Matthew 14:22-33

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land,[a] for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind,[b] he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Now think about where you are right now in your walk of faith. Are you eager like Peter to meet Jesus out on water? This would mean, though, that you have to get out of that boat. Or are you afraid and hesitant to take a risk? Let me know. I would love to hear from you and hold you in my prayers.

Blessings, Donna

The Pumpkin and the Bee

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By Ken Rummer

Ken Rummer captures beautifully the connectedness of Presbyterians in his blog. After seeing the picture I posted of a pumpkin in my garden that surprised me (I have a brown thumb and really had no hope for anything to grow), he was inspired to share this beautiful story with me on how often we fail to see (or realize) the grace in the seemingly mundane work we do right in front of us. And now he shares it with you. Thank you, Ken, for your guest blog on Accidental Country Pastor. I am blessed to be in the ministry of writing with you!! — Donna

The pumpkin is bigger than a softball now, in dark green with a few warty bumps. It’s something of an accident.

Last fall, when our porch pumpkin sagged into mushy flatness, I carried it out back on a shovel, and deposited it, without eulogy or ceremony, behind the garage. Mowing near the place this spring, I was surprised to find four or five leafy stems sprouting from a pile of pumpkin seeds.

Note: Credit for the pumpkin picture goes to Presbyterians Today editor, Donna Frischknecht Jackson. Seeing this photo in her Accidental Country Pastor post (FB@DonnaFrischknecht/AccidentalCountryPastor), I flashed back to a story I wrote for the Adams County Free Press in 1997. Here is that story, tweaked, trimmed and fully refurbished. Enjoy. — Ken Rummer
Note: Credit for the pumpkin picture goes to Presbyterians Today editor, Donna Frischknecht Jackson. Seeing this photo in her Accidental Country Pastor Facebook post, I flashed back to a story I wrote for the Adams County Free Press in 1997. Here is that story, tweaked, trimmed and fully refurbished.
Enjoy. — Ken Rummer

I figured I should pull out all but one to get a stronger vine, but I didnʼt have the heart. So they all kept growing. Across the yard. Out toward the alley. One even grew up into the forsythia bush, clear to the top.

Large green leaves and striking orange flowers grace the vines, and on one I recently discovered a growing pumpkin, the green one I mentioned earlier. I’m hoping it makes it all the way to big and orange.

Of course, a lot can happen between now and frost, some of it bad for pumpkins. But it would be nice to see the offspring of last yearʼs porch pumpkin promoted to this year’s jack o’ lantern.

I keep looking for other pumpkins-in-progress. Turning back the leaves with my foot. Checking the places the flowers have been. So far, I havenʼt seen any.

I did notice, in one of the large Victrola-horn flowers, a bee. It was busily doing its bee thing, climbing around inside the flower, slurping up flower juice, and buzzing in an important-business-being-done-here-leave-me-alone sort of way.

I imagine if you were to ask the bee, “What are you doing?” the bee would say, ”Making honey.” At the top of that beeʼs to-do list you would most likely find, “Make Honey,” and at the end of the day, the bee could check it off. “Made honey.”

But for a few minutes in our impromptu patch behind the garage, that bee was also making pumpkins. Leg hairs loaded with pollen, dropping a little off at each flower along the way, that bee was making pumpkins.

Now I donʼt want to get into an argument about which is the more important work, making honey or making pumpkins. That depends to a certain extent on whether you have a hankering at the time for pie or for biscuits. But I am thinking about that bee, working hard to make honey and along the way making pumpkins, too.

I wonder what important things God might be doing along the way while weʼre busy doing something else. I’m thinking about the interruptions, the chance encounters, the strangers, the people who watch from a distance, the folk who are around us all the time.

You and I, in Godʼs scheme of things, may be doing some important things in this world while weʼre busy with what we think of as our main work. And we may not even know weʼre doing them.

Itʼs a grace and a wonder, the way I see it. Like the pumpkin and the bee.


Ken Rummer, a retired Presbyterian pastor, writes about life and faith from the middle of Iowa by the High Trestle Trail. His other posts are available at http://presbyterianmission.org/today/author/krummer

Heavy Lies the Crown

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By Donna Frischknecht Jackson

It is said that the crown placed on Elizabeth II’s head at her coronation on June 2, 1953, in London’s Westminster Abbey, weighs about three pounds. The hefty weight of the St. Edward Crown, made in 1661, is not just because it is solid gold. It also has a lot of bling on it, most notably the 317-carat Cullinan II diamond, also known as the “Second Star of Africa.”

So heavy was the crown on such a petite frame that palace insiders revealed that Elizabeth had to practice walking gracefully in it. Standing tall and proud with such weight bearing down on one’s frame is always of the utmost importance for a monarch in the public eye. But the pressure to bear the weight with ease was even greater for young Elizabeth, as her coronation to the throne of England would be the first time the ancient and gallant ceremony would be televised. There would be no room for slouching, slipping or tripping.

Heavy lies the crown …

This saying has been on my mind a lot lately. No, I haven’t been literally walking around with a three-pound solid gold, gem-encrusted crown on my head these day (or any days, for that matter). The crown weighing on my head is a figurative one. It’s the heaviness that comes with caring for the people you have been entrusted to care for.

It’s the heaviness William Shakespeare was getting at when he penned the words in his play “Henry IV” — uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. What Shakespeare was calling his audience’s attention to was that there is great responsibility — and many sleepless nights — when tasked with leading a group of people. Over the years, Shakespeare’s eloquent words morphed into the modern version, “heavy lies the crown.” It is amazing to realize that so many of the sayings we take for granted come from the quill of just one man. Pure genius.

I am no queen. Far from it. But I am a pastor who often finds herself with sleepless nights as caring for God’s children is a responsibility not taken lightly. It is what I promised to do at my “coronation,” better known as “the ordination service.”

Rather than a crown of gold pressing down on my head, I had the tremendous weight of many hands bearing down on me during a time of prayer, asking for God’s strength and guidance upon me as a new shepherd of the flock. It’s interesting that “strength” and “guidance” were asked, for the pressure of current and retired pastors’ hands grew heavier as the prayer continued on.

It was a powerful moment, though, to feel the weight and to realize how this call would lead me to my knees crumbled in prayer. It was also powerful to not only feel the burdensome weight, but to realize I was not alone in this journey.

Heavy lies the crown …

My “crown” is giving me a headache lately as I find myself changing and growing as a pastor in this time of pandemic. I see a new vision for ministry. I want to be part of it, but I have the weight of those wanting the church to be as it was, to return to what is familiar, weighing me down. I also have the weight of being the voice of reason when it comes to what we can and cannot do in this time of COVID-19, especially when my voice of reason is spoken to a congregation that is the textbook example of being “vulnerable” to the virus.

No, we cannot sing hymns. No, you cannot take off your mask in the sanctuary. No, we really shouldn’t be in rush to get back into the sanctuary for worship. So, can you please tell me, theologically, what the rush is all about?

This past week the church’s beloved fish fry kept moving forward — but pastor, if we hold it outdoors, if we follow safety procedures, there’s no reason why we can’t have it — I kept being assured. The assurances didn’t help.

My sleep became more restless. One night I woke from a disturbing dream where people got sick after sharing a church meal together. I tried to brush it aside, praying that, as adults, those who might not feel safe participating in the fish fry would choose not to go.

My husband, while not falling into the definition of being vulnerable (although we are all vulnerable in one way or another), had already made the decision not to attend out of care and compassion for others. My soul, though, continued to be rattled. Then it came. My God moment.

A letter from a sister presbytery citing how a rural church, similar to the one I lead, had an outbreak of the virus. The letter was shared not to instill fear, but to serve as a cautionary tale. The church thought they were small enough for the virus not to happen to them. They also couldn’t justify cancelling their beloved event — a family fun day — for the very same reason the fish fry wasn’t aborted: It would be held outdoors. (It’s safe when an event is outdoors, right?) Fifteen people, all who attended the family fun day, became infected with COVID-19.

I shared the letter with my congregation. The reaction was not what I expected. There was anger, misunderstanding and a defensiveness that was not pretty. The fish fry was called off by the organizer, and several emails came to me slamming my role in it being called off.

Heavy lies the crown …

It’s been a tiring week complete with a rattled soul, sleepless nights, a disturbing dream, and many prayers to God asking for guidance. Then a sign, perhaps? A letter from another church sharing a cautionary tale that seemed too similar to the congregation I was responsible for. I felt my strength returning.

It doesn’t matter if you are royalty or a country pastor. It’s not easy leading people. Perhaps that is why the crown placed on a royal’s head is literally so heavy, reminding them at how uncomfortable and great the responsibility bearing down on them is.

Perhaps that is why pastors have the heavy weight of many people pressing down on them during the ordination prayer — a reminder of the pressures for caring for God’s children. And a reminder that those very hands pushing us down are the very hands capable of helping us back up again — only by God’s grace.

Yes, heavy lies the crown.

Popping the Church Bubble

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by Donna Frischknecht Jackson 

“Our bubble is popped” was how one news outlet put it as it broke the news that COVID-19 has hit close to where I call home.

I’ll admit I was living in a bubble here in southern Vermont, still feeling relatively safe from what my parents in northern New Jersey and my sister in Florida were experiencing. But now the loud pop has echoed throughout the Green Mountains and has made me face some really hard questions. How are we living? What does the future hold? And, as a pastor, perhaps the hardest question of all: Why do the faithful keep insisting on returning to their sanctuaries? VTD-Northshire-Covid-19-3-610x457

Have we not learned in the brief time of lock-down that my flock experienced that being a vital church doesn’t mean being together in a building on a Sunday morning?

The congregation I serve returned to the sanctuary in June after a little more than a two -month hiatus from traditional Sunday morning worship. We returned wearing face masks and sitting in designated pews to ensure at least six-feet social distance from one another. We returned in spite of my warning that there could be a very real possibility that COVID-19 cases could rise in the summer months, especially as out-of-towners returned to their summer homes on the lake.

Guess what? More COVID-19 cases are being reported in the county where the church is located. Have we closed the sanctuary yet? No.

Some news reports say the spike now seen in my backyard of Manchester, Vermont, began around the Fourth of July holiday. It makes sense as I noticed that weekend more cars in the area with out-of-state plates. I also noticed grocery store parking lots were fuller as were the parks and picnic areas. But the cases aren’t just increasing in Vermont. It’s happening in other rural areas as well.

According to Daily Yonder, an email news outlet reporting on life outside of the cities and burbs, the daily rate of new infections in rural America climbed 150% in June. A list of the rural counties with the highest rates of new cases included many with prisons and meatpacking plants. Other counties with high infection rates were those with a high proportion of non-whites.

Spikes in COVID-19 are not just happening in the United States, but worldwide. I remember a celebratory article a month or two ago on how Spain reopened its country to tourism. Today’s news: Madrid has seen a spike in cases.

I don’t want to sound all doom and gloom because it is not all doom and gloom. The time we are living in simply calls for everyone to do their part — be aware and be smart. Take the virus seriously and be patient. Better yet, don’t be patient. Be flexible. Adapt. Accept the reality that precautions need to be heeded.

It is time to put on that face mask and begin processing that we are not returning to the old ways that we know and are comfortable with. Wash those hands well and, as the water hits your skin, think about the waters of baptism that hit your face so long ago (or recently) — the water full of promise, inviting you into a new way of living claimed as God’s beloved.

You see, I believe in God who breaks forth from heaven and makes all things new. But that can only happen when we finally stop insisting on returning to our old lives and established routines.

Personally, as a pastor, returning to old routines is not only putting lives at risk, it is putting our faith at risk. I don’t know about you but returning to the old way of being the church has been a drain on my faith and creativity.

I was not called to sustain a dying institution. I was called to point all who lament about yesterday being gone to the present moment where Jesus, in all of his resurrected glory, stands before us with his hand stretched out saying, “This is a new day. There is a new way. Come and FINALLY follow me.”

I believe in resurrection with all my heart, but we don’t get to experience new life till we finally decide to stop clinging to what can no longer be sustained.

There is this rushed insistence to reopen churches and get back to what we want without giving time for God to reveal what God wants. Is it really that hard to wait patiently for God to reveal the next steps?

What I see emerging in this time of pandemic are so many needs that provide the church its moment to finally rise up and be the church.

What if we stop worrying about reopening our church buildings — and how to meet church budgets when giving might be down — and focus instead on how can we use our resources to be a beacon of hope or respite for families who are tired of home schooling their children? Or how can advocate for better rural internet to help those who are cut off from the ever-growing need for high-speed and reliable technology? What about access to better healthcare in our rural areas? Hunger? Poverty? What about the fight against opioid usage that hasn’t subsided because of the coronavirus? A disturbing report came through my newsfeed recently saying that those government stimulus checks have been linked to an increase in drug overdoses in Vermont and New Hampshire, as residents already struggling with addiction are feeling even more hopeless in a time of pandemic.

Have these questions been part of churches’ online meetings? Or have those meetings been about giving and online worship trends and when to reopen the building?

My bubble popped today. COVID-19 has hit home here in southern Vermont. But as I process what this all means, I can’t help but to wonder: When will the church bubble finally pop? Because the church needs to face the reality that the world is changing. There’s no going back to our pre-COVID-19 existence.

 

 

Tuning Out the World

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By Donna Frischknecht Jackson
I’ve tried taking a sabbatical from the noise in this world. I’ve tried, but I’m failing.

Deep in my soul, I know I need to tune out the opinions and debates, truths and fallacies, the right and left ideologies. I know better than to be suckered by the sensational headlines that writers are crafting just to make sure innocent readers take the bait and click to the article.

There’s a term for that. It’s called “clickbait.” It’s designed to boost the number of hits an article receives because, sadly, a writer’s worth is no longer in beautifully crafted prose that has the power to enter into a hidden room of a reader’s soul and move them to think differently or act boldly. Now, a writer’s worth is measured by how many “clicks” a story has gotten.

I’m trying to take a sabbatical from the noise of the world, but I’m failing. I try lessening the sting of failure by telling myself I am writer, I am a pastor, I am a communicator with a passion for telling the story of who we are, especially who we are as children of God. In my defense, I need to know what the world is chattering about. Maybe. Then again, maybe not.

I think back to my life as a communicator before the internet created an avalanche of words to sort through. The news of the world reached me in manageable, bite-sized pieces. I was able to chew, savor and digest. But now our news intake is like a Golden Corral buffet (that was when buffets were still a thing pre-COVID-19) — a disgusting abundance of subpar food that we inhale with abandon and then wonder why we feel sick? If too much of good thing isn’t good for you, then too much of a bad thing is deadly.

I have a few friends who are brave souls and have taken sabbaticals from the noise of the world, shutting down social media accounts or at least being strong enough not to reach for their devices first thing in the morning to see how the sky has fallen just a bit more. (By the way, did you know that the bubonic plague has returned? Not that I want to be the bearer of bad news, but that was yesterday’s headline that greeted me as I cut into my grapefruit.)

I am a bit envious of those friends that have had the strength to turn their backs on the world so that they can achieve a peaceful state of being. Then again, perhaps they struggled at first, too?

Perhaps a state of being where God is at the forefront of every thought, every decision, every question, every interaction, every tweet, every FB post, every email, only comes when we finally get sick and tired of being sick and tired of our current situation and really want what God is offering.

Like the healing stories of Jesus, those seeking to be healed had to really want it. They had to fight their way through crowds (the woman who hemorrhaged for years) and overcome obstacles (the friends who cut a hole in a roof to lower their sick friend down to where Jesus was).

They had to reach deep into themselves and honestly ask if they really wanted to change. Just like the man who kept waiting for others to take him to the healing waters — only to be told by Jesus to get up, grab his own mat and walk toward healing — I, too, need to find the strength and the resolve to get up and take hold of the peace I need in this world.

I can still be a writer. I can still be a pastor. I can still be a communicator who loves to tell the story of Jesus and his love. I can still be all that I am called to be — perhaps even more — because I will be listening more clearly to God rather than to the disparaging and disheartening chatter of this world. And it is God’s Word that will ultimately bring me the peaceful state of being I seek.

 

A new revolution

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By Donna Frischknecht Jackson

I’ve been obsessively counting the days this week till the debut of the “Hamilton” movie. I don’t live in Manhattan anymore, nor do I now live in an area with easy access to the arts of any kind. I am a resident of rural America, meaning any culture in my life takes a lot of planning and travel. Sure, there are museums and way, way, way off Broadway productions that do their best to light up small stages within driving distance, but the distance is a deterrent most of the time.

And so, when I heard “Hamilton” would be in front of my very eyes on my computer screen — no driving two hours or so — I jumped for joy. Broadway at its best and with a dose of 18th century history for this 18th century history lover.

 

Hamilton An American Musical on Broadway (2015) Daveed Diggs (Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson), Okieriete Onaodowan (Hercules Mulligan/James Madison), Anthony Ramos (John Laurens/Philip Hamilton), and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Alexander Hamilton) CR: Joan Marcus


What more could I ask for than a show about Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the country?

Funny that I asked that, because “Hamilton” gave me more than I was prepared for. As I counted down the days to the show, I discovered that “Hamilton” wasn’t just going to be a much-needed escape from my crazy world filled with deadlines and church duties. The production was going to open my eyes. It was going to get me thinking. It was going to make me want to jump up and cry out for a new revolution.

You see, as the media blitz leading to the July 3 movie release picked up speed, I took moments to stop my own writing and editing to listen to several Zoom interviews with cast members who, being men and women of color, were providing a startling and unique stage setting for white America’s history. George Washington, Aaron Burr, Eliza Hamilton, the list goes on — played by actors of color. I found it profound and I began feeling something stirring inside of me.

It was then I heard Daveed Diggs, who played Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette, speak about his experience performing in “Hamilton.” He talked about how telling the story of the birth of this country has been an awakening leading many to realize that we are in another moment of awakening.

“A lot of people are feeling very passionate about not allowing business as usual to continue, in terms of how we govern ourselves, how we police ourselves, all of these things,” said Diggs in an interview. He continued to say, “I’ve been Black my whole life, so this feeling is not a new one to me. ‘Hamilton’ has an opportunity to help the conversation continue further…”

Maybe some of you remember the “Hamilton” controversy in 2016, when during the curtain call, the cast welcomed in-coming vice president, Mike Pence, with a message that was not mean spirited or condescending but stating a heart-felt fact. The actor who played Aaron Burr that night, Brandon Victor Dixon, said, “We truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us. Again, we truly thank you truly for seeing this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds and orientations.”

If the opening shot at the Battle of Concord in 1775 was hailed as “the shot heard around the world” which started a revolution, perhaps that brutally honest welcome from Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre was to be another proverbial shot?

That’s when I began pondering. If the patriots of the American Revolution were heavily influenced by a time in history known as the Enlightenment — a time where policies, new ideas, fresh possibilities were entertained, debated and, yes, fought for — then could it be we are entering a second enlightenment? A time to entertain, debate, forge ahead and even fight for new ideas and fresh possibilities so that truly Americans live up to the constitutional stance that “all men are created equal.” Riddle me this. Where has that equality been these last 233 years since that document was penned in 1787?

The Fourth of July holiday is upon us and I have not been feeling patriotic in quite some time. This was just going to be another day for me. No flag flying. No barbeques. No fireworks. But thanks to this production of “Hamilton,” I am feeling a new patriotism rising up, a new revolution underway with changes being called for and demanded of our society.

Before you argue with me, stop and think about it. A people once stood up and fought for their chance at “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This holiday is not to sit contently with luxuries achieved because the harsh truth is there are still Americans who are fighting for those same luxurious many of us assume are our God-given rights. History is not some archaic lesson in which dates are simply memorized for the sake of memorization — and perhaps impressing friends with some trivia. History is a living lesson reminding us of the brave men and women who dared to think differently and stand up and challenge systems.

As I get ready to finally kick up my feet, pour myself a glass of Madeira — a sweet wine popular in 18th century America, which I thought would be appropriate for this occasion — and watch “Hamilton,” I find myself no longer praying for my rural internet to not buffer or freeze up while watching the show. I sip my wine and find myself praying that I myself don’t freeze up or beginning buffering as I play my part in the new America emerging.

Hey yo, I’m just like my country,
I’m young, scrappy, and hungry,
And I’m not throwing away my shot …
– Alexander Hamilton from the “Hamilton” movie

Crying Out to Jesus

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June 1.

I knew this was going to happen. I knew I would feel this way as the world begins to reopen. I woke up not feeling relieved. I woke up feeling as if a freight train ran me over. I am tired and achy. I feel as if everything is going in slow motion. The sun is shining here in Vermont. I look out the window and everything is so green — so full of life. The bluebirds are in the apple tree singing. I stand numbly watching and listening. A friend once joked that I live in some Disney movie with those birds singing around me. Hmm? That would make me a Disney princess. Dear god, help me.

But sometimes it can feel like I am in some romantic movie — a New York City editor who was so enthralled with the fashion industry back in the day, who lived in a pre-war, doorman co-op, who attended black tie galas for work, who dated her share of eligible bachelors, some of whom had a house in the Hamptons, only to have her share of heartaches that went with that shallow search for Mr. Right. Then one crisp early fall New York City day, I met God.

The neighbor’s cows are listening to the author’s cries of lament, but God is hearing as well.

That chance meeting with God (okay, Presbyterian friends, slam my theology and say with God there are no chance meetings … ) led me to embark on a soul-searching adventure as I hesitantly stepped onto a path that was only walkable in barn boots. It was a path into ministry, rural ministry to be exact. Who would have thought that in a place where there were less people, less opportunities, less of everything, that I would find abundance — an abundance of love, new dreams, joy, grace and healing.

It has been life changing. It has been a blessing. But I have to admit, lately, I feel so disconnected from the real world. I mean, really, I have bluebirds singing in my apple tree.

I find myself asking God, what the heck are you doing in my life? How are you really using me to help heal this shattered world? Why am I in “safe” little Vermont with bluebirds all around me while the streets of Minnesota, Philadelphia, New York City, Nashville…name any city in the country and chances are it is burning, literally and figuratively with hate.

“Use me, Lord!” I cry. I want to be your peacemaker. I want to put the fires of hate out. I want to shout the Word of God on crowded streets, not in empty pastures. I cry, but is it only the birds who hear? Or even my neighbor’s cows?

In spite of how down I feel and, even in all my doubt and questioning, I still know that deep down in my heart God is using me, even if right now I feel just so darn useless. God has the plan. (Okay, there you go Presbyterian friends. I’ve just conceded that you are right. There are no chance meetings with God, but I will still defend my “accidental” in “Accidental Country Pastor.”)

I cry out and God hears because I am told that the Spirit intercedes on my behalf, even when that primal cry for guidance, help, comfort is stuck in my throat. God hears. Perhaps, then, crying out to Jesus is enough right now? Perhaps it’s the only thing I need to do when I have no idea what to do or what my next step is or how to help? Perhaps my cry is what the world needs? Could it be that the world needs your cry, too?

Today is June 1. I woke up feeling what I knew I would feel as the world around me begins reopening. I feel agitated. I feel sad. I feel numb. I hear the joy in the haircuts being scheduled, the restaurants opening and I feel as if I am being lost in it all as I silently scream, “Stop! Wait! We have a problem. We are far from healed. We are no closer to being healthy.”

We need to cry out to God for healing, not just from a virus named COVID-19, but from the virus of hate and racism.

We NEED time to pray, repent and confess. We need this time, this national day of mourning and lament, because the world is reopening. It is reopening painful wounds. It is reopening incessant hate. It is reopening injustices. It is reopening inequalities. It is reopening white supremacy. The world is reopening and I feel like crap. And so, I lament. I mourn. I stand in safe little Vermont and I cry out to Jesus. The bluebirds stop their singing. They hear. The cows stop their mooing. They hear as well. I continue to lament, mourn and cry. I do so because the world, so focused on reopening all the wrong things, needs to hear the voices of the faithful. We have had enough. We have seen a glimpse of God’s new creation. We were able to dream again and hope. But the world is reopening and the clouds are swiftly gathering again. And so, I cry knowing that God hears, even in safe little Vermont.

https://vimeo.com/424131502Our nation has passed a grievous point in history: 100,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. As people of faith, we cannot allow this grim number to go unnoticed.…

Lent Week 1: One More Try

(Video is back online for those who wanted to share it or watch it again!)

Our Lenten Journeys Begin!

Thank you all for your patience in uploading today’s worship video. Rural internet is indeed my Lenten wilderness to deal with. Vowing to find the God moments amid the frustrations. What can I learn from this? Hmmm…perhaps to trust in God’s timing?

I will search and grapple to find a solution to high speed internet, but for now, that can wait. What deserves my attention (not just now, but always) is praising God. So join me here at the farm on this the first Sunday in Lent.

Blessings,

Pastor Donna

Scripture Lesson: Mark 1:9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Worship Delay Today

Friends,

Today’s worship, Feb. 21, will be delayed. I am experiencing internet glitches here at Old Stone Well Farm (ah, life in rural America). But that is not going to stop us from worshiping!

Let us embrace this time of waiting as a Lenten spiritual practice. Light a candle and meditate on the words from Psalm 25:4, “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.”

Then turn to Mark 1:9-15, our Scripture for today, and think about the wild beasts you confront in the wilderness and how reassuring it is that there are angels in the wilderness to wait on us. Spend some time reflecting on this picture below which is an outtake from the worshi that is still only 45% loaded even though it’s been loading from more than 13 hours. 🙂 Who have been the angels by your side?

(On a side note, while frustrated that the video loading process is slower than molasses, I do have to admit that this could be a God moment about trust, patience and slowing down. Stay tuned.)

Blessings,

Pastor Donna

Mark 1:9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved;with you I am well pleased.”And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”