Worship at Old Stone Well Farm


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


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


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


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


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.