Sundays at Old Stone Well Farm

Welcome to Old Stone Well Farm, the home of the Accidental Country Pastor. I am so glad you have come to join me for a word of hope.

Today, as I decorate the farm for Epiphany, I invite you to think about what it means to live with the wonder and awe of God at work in your life. What does it mean to really let the Christ light shine on your path, perhaps illuminating a new path for you to venture on?

So sit back and enjoy this time of worship…and share with others.

And as always, let me know how your journey is going or how we can join together and pray for one another.

Blessings!

Pastor Donna 

Taking Down the Christmas Tree

I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but I’m actually thinking about taking my Christmas tree down. It’s only December 31.

Now I know many folks take their tree down before New Year’s Eve, while still others do the dreaded packing up of the ornaments on New Year’s Day. I understand the thinking behind it. It’s a new year, a fresh start, and a clean slate—out with the old and in with the new, and that means out with the Christmas tree that has become a fire hazard and in with the newly reclaimed living room space. But for me to be thinking about taking down my tree…well, I have to ask, “What has happened to me?”

I’ve always been the poster child for celebrating the 12 days of Christmas, advocating keeping trees up and the holiday cheer going till the wise men come the first week in January to present Jesus with the gifts in which we should observe on that often unobserved day on the liturgical calendar known as Epiphany.

I say “often unobserved” day, for the circles I travel in do not do as good a job as my Catholic or Latino or more liturgically literate friends do in celebrating Epiphany.

I’m trying to bring Epiphany back, but those darn wise men bearing gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold keep crashing church nativity pageants at Christmastime, reinforcing the belief there was one big party going on in the stable the night Jesus was born.

The thing is the wise men probably didn’t show up until about three years after Jesus’ birth. First, scripture tells us the wise men asked King Herod where they could find the “child” not the “baby” whose star they saw in the sky. Second, King Herod, fearing his power would be usurped by a child, issued the horrible edict to slaughter all male children three years of age and under. And lastly, when the wise men did find Mary and Joseph we are told they entered into the “house” and not a “stable.” And so we have the celebration of Epiphany that comes after Christmas.

But I digress.

It’s only December 31 and I—the self-proclaimed advocate for not cutting short the Christmas season—want to do just that. Cut short Christmas by taking down my tree.

What has happened to me?

I’ve been asking that question all week as I struggled through these days to find some holiday cheer or Christmas magic that those sappy TV Christmas shows tell me I should be experiencing. I searched and searched, but nothing. I even tried to recreate some Christmases past by pouring a glass of eggnog to enjoy with some of my mother-in-law’s cookies that I couldn’t wait to get this year. The eggnog and cookies were delicious, but the holiday cheer I had wanted to fill my heart did not happen.

If anything, the ultra sweet and fattening combo made me more nostalgic for Christmases gone by—and more guilty that I haven’t gone to the gym yet.

I then called my mom and dad to see what they were up to. Perhaps we could plan an impromptu visit. But they were feeling like me—no real energy to do much of anything.

Was it the unseasonably warm weather making everyone blue? I know for my bumbling Bernese mountain dog it was, for her wish for snow—and lots of it—did not come true this Christmas. She did, however, get to enjoy some of the mother-in-law’s cookies. (I pray my vet is reading this for she did have more than one Christmas cookie.)

Or was this bah-humbug epidemic hitting all those I loved really the side effect of yet another infectious bug going around for the hundredth time, creating not so silent nights of nose blowing and coughing?

Could be a combination of both. Or so I tried to convince myself when really I knew the desire to pack away Christmas sooner than I would usually do was something beyond unseasonably warm weather, sad dogs and sinus infections.

Sometimes in life the heart struggles. It is as simple as that. For whatever reason there are some seasons where you have to just feel what the heart is feeling and stop trying to figure “it” out whatever the “it” might be. And definitely make no apologies for where your heart is.

There are times to rejoice that a newborn has come into the world to be our Savior. There are times for the angels to sing with joy and for shepherds to fall on their knees in awe and adoration for what God has done.

Then there are times when there is no star to guide you, no angels’ song to cheer you and no joy in the world to keep you going. There are times when the cross looms in front of you and its burden seems too much for you to carry and you fear it will crush you. But it won’t.

Then there are those times when you just need to pack away Christmas and take down the tree earlier than you usually do.

And that’s okay.

For however your heart might be feeling, this I know for sure. God is right by your side, hearing you ask, “What has happened to me?” and in return whispering His comforting answer, “You’re okay. I’ve got you. Always.”

I heard that whisper on Christmas morning. As I sat high on top of the hill behind our little red house, I saw one of the most beautiful sunrises ever and I could hear God’s whisper mingle with the remnants of the angel’s song of praise “Glory to God in the highest.” It was then I realized even if my heart wasn’t “right”—whatever that means—my soul definitely was in the right place.

There on the hill surrounded by nature’s holiday decorations of dazzling sun rays, glistening frost, heavenly clouds hanging low in the valley and evergreen branches swaying as birds danced on each one, I embraced once again God’s gift of grace and hope and light. The heart will have its ups and downs, its questions and doubts, but God’s heart isn’t fickle. It remains consistent—always loving us through all our days.

It’s December 31 and I will be taking down my Christmas tree earlier than I usually do. What has happened to me? I’m still not completely sure, but I do know this.

I’m more than okay. For while the Christmas lights are coming off the tree the light that matters the most in my life still burns brightly. That is, the light of Christ.

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Christmas morning 2015 on top of “Sofie’s Hill” in Vermont. The gift of God’s reassuring presence that I carry with me into a New Year. 

Day 17—Mason Jar Gifts

A Little White Church Advent

Come on an Advent journey and walk the rural roads and snow covered paths with Donna Frischknecht as she shares stories of God’s promises being fulfilled in the most amazing ways. These stories of “Emmanuel”—God with us—were gathered during her time serving as minister in a historic white clapboard church in upstate New York, right on the border of Vermont, from 2007-2013.

December 17

I had just settled into my old colonial Saltbox and, in a few days, I would be celebrating my first Christmas Eve service at the little white church. I couldn’t wait to see the luminaries leading up to its wreathed-covered doors, to deliver the message of hope entering in to the world and to see the 18th century sanctuary washed in candlelight as I sang “Silent Night” with all those gathered.

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In just a few days, Christmas would be here.

For now, though, I had a rare night to myself and so I decided to turn on my little TV. That wasn’t as easy as it sounded because to get good reception (I just didn’t want pay for a satellite dish or cable), I had to position the TV in a certain angle in front of the window in the living room facing the east cornfield, and so on and so on.

After playing with the rabbit ears on the TV, I managed to get my one and only station. It seemed my rare night to myself would be spent watching the 1964 Christmas classic of my childhood, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”

I settled into the pile of comforters on the wide plank floor that served as my only place to sit as I had yet to figure out what kind of couch to buy that would fit through the narrow front door of the old house. The sofa I moved with now called the garage home. I wrapped the comforters around me as if I was in a cocoon and began watching. I was half amused and half sentimental when the snowman a.k.a. Burl Ives, who was narrating the story of this special little reindeer, began singing “Silver and Gold.”

Silver and gold, silver and gold, everyone wishes for silver and gold…

All of a sudden I was transported back in time when I would have easily agreed with the singing snowman. Everyone wishes for silver and gold, don’t they? I know I did.

I was a young editor in Manhattan and for me there was no better place to be at Christmastime than in the city. The season was ushered in with grand style. There was the giant snowflake hanging above the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street. There was the Christmas tree in Harry Winston strung with garland made of precious jewels. There was the big tree in Rockefeller Center, which I always thought looked smaller in person than it did on TV. There was the iconic red bow wrapped around Cartier’s façade, while just a few blocks up the avenue Tiffany’s famous window displays dazzled all those passing by.

I’ll admit it. Upon first seeing Tiffany’s windows, I had an Audrey Hepburn moment, finding myself gazing longingly at the windows just as her Holly Golightly character did in the opening of the movie, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

Not only were there silver and gold displays on the avenues of the city. There were many a silver and gold trinket making their way across my desk. As an editor of a jewelry magazine this was a time of year when the public relations departments of top designers, jewelry associations and major retailers, made sure we editors were on their gift giving list.

The typically annoying squeak of the mail cart coming down the hall to my office became music to my ears as I wondered what would be dropped on desk today.

Silver and gold, silver and gold, everyone wishes for silver and gold.

Ooh, what beautiful little gold star earrings. They are going to be perfect to wear on Christmas Day.

Silver and gold, silver and gold…

This silver pendant is going to look so cute with that dress I just bought.

Silver and gold, silver and gold…

And so went my Christmas season as I rushed home with my packages and placed them underneath the pathetic little tree in my apartment that I had pay way too much for.

Burl Ives continued singing to me from the TV positioned in such a way by the window facing the east cornfield. I looked over at my not so pathetic Christmas tree that did not come with an outrageous Manhattan price. Trees were definitely more reasonably priced here in “the country.”

Underneath the tree I realized I had something better than the silver and gold trinkets once given to me in another lifetime. There under the tree placed on top of an old quilt I used as a tree skirt, were precious gifts, shining and sparkling with love, all homemade from the hearts of those who wanted to say they were glad I was with them as their pastor.

There were mason jar gifts of a wide variety of homemade jams and pickles and chutneys. There were homemade chocolates wrapped in simple paper decorated with a jingle bell tied onto a string. There was homemade goat’s milk soap wrapped in burlap.

And, there was a decorative wooden plate hand painted by a member of the little white church with a Christmas scene that would come to life for me in just a few days. It was of the little white church nestled in snow with warm glowing light coming from its windows and opened doors as people made their way inside to worship Christ the newborn king.

I unwrapped myself out of my comforter cocoon and turned off the TV. Sorry, Burl Ives, but not everyone wishes for silver and gold. I have come to realize the thing we all wish for, whether we say it out loud or long for it quietly in our hearts, is to have the gift of love in our lives—a gift that comes wrapped in the most unassuming way, like burlap, paper, string…and, yes, even mason jars.

Come to think to of it, the greatest gift of love I have ever received came wrapped in swaddling clothes.

Didn’t it come to you that way, too?

 

 

 

 

 

Day 12—The Broken Ornament

A Little White Church Advent

Come on an Advent journey and walk the rural roads and snow covered paths with Donna Frischknecht as she shares stories of God’s promises being fulfilled in the most amazing ways. These stories of “Emmanuel”—God with us—were gathered during her time serving as minister in a historic white clapboard church in upstate New York, right on the border of Vermont, from 2007-2013.

December 12

There I was in my office at the little white church just sitting at my desk, not being very productive. My mind was preoccupied with something silly really—something that happened earlier in my day that I just couldn’t let go of.Unknown

I was once again rushing out the door, something that never happened when I was an editor living in New York City. Back in my secular days, I was always organized and early for appointments, often leaving at least 30 minutes leeway in my schedule so I would not experience this frenzy of rushing about. With extra time to spare I would be able to enjoy some window-shopping or people watching on the busy sidewalks of Manhattan dressed in holiday cheer.

Now as an ordained minster of word and sacrament, it seemed as if I was always running late for something. I guess I was letting the old joke, “They can’t start without you pastor” go to my head.

“Someday they probably will start without me,” I mused.

Anyway, there I was rushing around to throw my laptop in my bag, an apple and a yogurt for lunch (I was trying to offset the abundance of Christmas sweets that were coming my way from all the wonderful cooks the little white church was blessed with), my large thermos of coffee and other papers to read and catch up on.

I had yet to put on my snow boots and so I ran about the house in my socks, which was not a good idea when your floors are 18th century pine boards with a downhill incline perfect if you wanted to do some indoor skiing.   My foot slid on one particularly slick old plank that slanted in the direction the Christmas tree. Before I knew it I was sliding straight into it. Crash! On the floor it went, along with the ornaments.

I just didn’t have time for this catastrophe. I calmed my nerves and picked myself up off of the floor to assess the damage done. Not too bad, so I thought. Upon picking up the tree and setting it upright again, I noticed underneath it was a broken ornament that broke my heart.

It was the porcelain heart my boyfriend, John, gave to me the last Christmas we had together. Little did I know just two months into the New Year, he would be killed in a freak jeep accident in Africa.

“Nooooo,” my heart silently wailed. “Not this ornament.”

I didn’t have time to cry over a broken ornament so I just wrapped it up in a paper towel and threw it in my bag along with everything else, hoping to take a closer look at it later on to see if it was able to be repaired.

As I drove to church I kept saying to myself, “Don’t cry over an ornament. It’s just an ornament. It’s just a material thing. It’s not worth the tears. I don’t need an ornament to remember John.”

But now here I was at my desk feeling sad about the ornament I now held in my hand, which, upon closer look was broken beyond broken. The sharp shards of glass pricked my skin as I lovingly touch the pieces. I tried fighting back the tears but it was no use. They came.

“Why this ornament of all ornaments?” I wondered.

Just then a soft knock came at my door. I looked at the clock on my desk and noticed school was just let out and so I had an inkling who it was at my door.

The kids in the village I served often swung by on their way home from school to hang out with the pastor. They especially loved writing messages and drawing pictures on the dry erase board hanging on my wall. There was many a Sunday morning I would walk into my office to find the most beautiful message from the kids.

“Come in,” I said, quickly wiping away my tears.

Sure enough the “girls”—as I called them—came barreling in, talking a mile a minute and going straight for the markers to the dry erase board. Still holding on to the ornament, I joined in on the tween talk of the day about the latest song downloaded on their phones, what was served for lunch in the cafeteria and, can you believe who’s dating who? No way!

I noticed, though, one of the girls was uncharacteristically quiet. Typically bubbly, she sat in a chair not taking part in the dry erase board party going on. Before I could ask what was bothering her, she spoke.

“Pastor Donna, do you believe God can put together broken hearts?” she asked.

What a question to get as I literally held the pieces of a broken heart in my hand.

“Yes, I believe God can put together broke hearts,” I said, hoping to sound convincing in which, judging by the look she gave me, wasn’t convincing at all.

“The Bible tells us God binds up the brokenhearted,” I continued. “And Jesus himself said ‘blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’” I was drawing upon all the scripture I could think of right then and there.

Still this typically bubbly girl didn’t look convinced. I then asked why she asked such a question. All my years in seminary and my clinical pastoral education did not prepare me for what came next. A young cousin of hers was killed and she had recently gone to the funeral and she was struggling with that dreaded “why?” question adults can’t even make sense of, let alone a young girl.

With pieces of the ornament in my hand, I remembered something John once said about how it’s only when our hearts are broken can Christ enter in and do something beautiful in our lives. I had my answer for this girl with her own broken heart.

“Not only do I believe God can put together the pieces of our broken hearts, I know for a fact God WILL and, in the process, God will do amazing things. For the brokenness leaves room for Christ to enter in and make something beautiful,” I said.

I then opened my hand and showed her the ornament John gave me on what was our last Christmas together. I told her about John and my own loss. I told her about the ornament and how it broke that morning and how I knew it was silly of me to cry for our loved ones are always held safely in our hearts. I then reminded her that Christ, whose birth we celebrate, was born exactly for this—to give us hope in the midst of our sadness.

With her eyes still wet with tears for her cousin, she leaned forward to take a closer look at the ornament and its many broken pieces.

“Pastor Donna, that sure is a lot brokenness in your hand. Jesus is really going to enter into your life and do something amazing,” she said with what might have been the first smile she smiled that day.

She didn’t know how true her words were. Amazing things were to come. Amazing things will always come when there is room for Christ to work in our lives.

The girls soon left and as I went to leave as well I noticed the dry erase board message the other girls were working on. It read:

Jesus heals our broken hearts.

And now insert one huge smiley face, one very large heart and a few “xoxo’s” that went along with that message.

 

Day 11—The Prayer Tree

A Little White Church Advent

Come on an Advent journey and walk the rural roads and snow covered paths with Donna Frischknecht as she shares stories of God’s promises being fulfilled in the most amazing ways. These stories of “Emmanuel”—God with us—were gathered during her time serving as minister in a historic white clapboard church in upstate New York, right on the border of Vermont, from 2007-2013.

December 11

A silence fell upon the room. A request was made that no one really wanted to step up to and see through. A woman at my table waved to the waitress to order another glass of wine. A good diversion on her part, I thought, pondering whether I, as pastor, could order a glass of merlot with her. Hmm…better stick to my diet Coke. Others around me glanced down at the meeting agenda before them feigning interest in what was to be discussed next.

It was the first Wednesday of the month Chamber of Commerce meeting held in the village tavern, where one could get a really juicy mushroom and Swiss cheese burger with a side of some of the best onion rings I have ever tasted. Perhaps the promise of hamburgers and onion rings was the reason I became active in the Chamber of Commerce, as it was a great way of killing two birds with one stone. I was fulfilling the “being part of the community” part of being a pastor while satisfying my love for greasy pub food.

The room was still silent and for a second I found it amusing how the local business owners gathered for the meeting tried not to make eye contact with the Chamber president. The question he asked lingered like a low hanging cloud.

Who will take responsibility for decorating the gazebo on Main Street? Any takers? Any one?

More glasses of wine were ordered and eyes continued to divert eye contact with the one asking the question.

Before I knew it, my hand went up and I could hear my voice saying something my head really didn’t have time to think through carefully, “The little white church would love to decorate the gazebo.”

Smiles from the Chamber president came and sighs of relief were let out from others.

Did I really just volunteer the church to decorate the village gazebo?

We were already very busy with Advent Bible studies, after school programs for kids, a Christmas cookie sale, packing shoeboxes of toys for a mission project, a caroling dinner scheduled and, for the first time in the little white church’s history, two Christmas Eve services were being planned along with a new Christmas Day service. Of course, there were the Christmas Eve luminaries to also coordinate and put together. Now who was in charge of getting the kitty litter to fill the paper bags?

What in heaven’s name did I do?

God’s answer was to come.

For while having one more thing on the church calendar was not ideal, it turned out decorating the village gazebo was a blessing for both the church and the community it served, as it got us out of the confines of the sanctuary and into the heart of where people were—on Main Street, going about their day, making a trip to the bank, the hardware store, the wonderful little café with the best homemade chocolates and the consignment shop, etc.

In the midst of daily life in the village, the folks from the little white church were doing more than just stringing lights on a gazebo. They were shining their lights out to the community, showing they cared just as much as to what was happening on Main Street as what was happening within the four-walls of the church.

As we strung greenery and lights around the gazebo, villagers would stop to say hello and chat and, as I precariously balanced on a ladder to hang a red bow high up on one of the lampposts, I noticed something.

I noticed the beautiful steeple of the white church peeking over at me and realized how much of a beacon of hope the church has been for centuries to those who called this village home. It was then I knew we had to do more than just hang greenery and lights around the gazebo. And so with a fir tree stuck in a pot at the entrance of the gazebo in which the town dropped off earlier that morning, I came up with an idea. Or more like it, God’s Spirit spoke to my heart as to what to do.

The little white church would decorate the village tree with prayers, many prayers and blessings for neighbors and friends who loved their village dearly.  808_10151275465554650_1226466341_n

So one night we gathered the youth and the children of the church and with permanent markers in a variety of colors and weather resistant foam sheets, Christmas ornaments were created in the shapes of stars and crosses and hearts. Written upon them were our prayers for all in the village. When we were done, we put on our coats and made our way just up the street to the gazebo where we finished decorating.

Yes, the little white would love to decorate the gazebo, I volunteered, not knowing what I was getting our church into. But God knew exactly what we were to do.

We decorated the public tree with the promises of God for all to read and for all to remember that God had not forgotten the once thriving village that now struggled as so many little communities now struggle all throughout our country. God had not forgotten those who called the village home, sweet, home.

A few days before Christmas I was having the desire to have my mushroom and Swiss cheese burger complete with the best onion rings I have ever tasted. I just couldn’t wait till the January Chamber of Commerce meeting.

As I walked from the church to the tavern to pick up my order, I passed the gazebo and the prayer tree. There standing in front of the tree was an elderly lady with a little child. She was leaning down gently speaking to the child who I could hear, as I came closer, was asking about what the ornaments said. Each ornament the child pointed to, the woman read the prayer out loud.

It is an image I will forever hold in my heart for it was a moment when I experienced Christ’s church becoming once again a vibrant and vital witness out into the public, where our witness to God should be.

The woman noticed me staring at the beautiful scene she unknowingly gifted me with and she smiled and said, “This tree is such a blessing. God is indeed with us. God is good.”

I smiled in agreement and went on my way. I had a mushroom and Swiss cheese burger with the best onion rings I have ever tasted waiting for me at the tavern.

God is good. All the time.

Day 9—Making Room for Christ

A Little White Church Advent

Come on an Advent journey and walk the rural roads and snow covered paths with Donna Frischknecht as she shares stories of God’s promises being fulfilled in the most amazing ways. These stories of “Emmanuel”—God with us—were gathered during her time serving as minister in a historic white clapboard church in upstate New York, right on the border of Vermont, from 2007-2013.

December 9

On one blustery afternoon as the sun began setting in the sky casting a dusky pink across the fields where the corn stalks had been cut down, I came home to grab a quick bite to eat before heading back to the little white church for our evening Advent Bible study.

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Pastor Donna discovers the beauty of a tree with no decorations and, in the process, realizes what it means to make room for Christ during Christmas.

I decided to have a supper of crackers and peanut butter so that I could use my limited time at home to set up the Christmas tree that had been waiting for far too long outside, propped patiently against the old stone well of the antique Vermont house my husband and I were now making our home in as newlyweds.

On went my Mucks and out into the snow I trekked to bring in the tree. Once in, off came the Mucks and on went my sneakers as I gingerly made my way down the steep ladder that served as the “stairs” leading into the old root cellar. Down in the cellar, in the dark corners only illuminated by my flashlight, I searched for the tree stand, praying I would not find a critter—fuzzy or slithering—instead.

Once I had everything I needed, I went to work, carefully balancing the tree with one hand as I tightened the screws that would hold the trunk of the tree securely in its place in the tree stand. This would have been a lot easier if I had waited for my husband, but patience admittedly is not one of my virtues. And time was ticking by. I had a lot of other things to get done. In the darkening living room I worked quickly to put the white lights on the tree. Quickly is an understatement as really I threw the lights on with many tangles and knots still tangled and knotted. Then I plugged them in hoping the lights worked as I had forgotten to test them before stringing them on the tree. Never a good idea, but luckily, all the lights shone.

I stepped back and I looked at the tree. It was absolutely beautiful. The lights cast a warm glow against the rustic barn wood of the living room walls and the simplicity of evergreen and white lights, without any ornaments, was dazzling.

Next to the tree was an old wood storage box a woman from the congregation gave me that summer, along with a dry sink she had in her family that she thought would be perfect for our little Vermont home. She was right. It was perfect. The dry sink was now home in our kitchen while the wood storage box now served as a coffee table in our living room. On top of it I placed the wooden stable my father made for me years ago when I was still living in Manhattan.

The stable was a smaller replica of the one he made that I remembered from my childhood. Both the original and my replica were made from the wood of orange crates, which were then stained a deep rich brown. The stable was still empty, as the nativity figures were not placed in it yet. Next to the stable was an angel standing with arms stretched out. I couldn’t decide if the angel’s arms were stretched out to receive the Christ Child or to proclaim the great news of the Christ Child. Perhaps it was both, I mused.

The lights of the tree shone through the clapboards of the stable, casting much needed light into its darkened corners that awaited the gift of hope—the babe, God’s son. All of a sudden, as I stared into that empty manger aglow with light, the busyness of my day was calmed and my racing thoughts of what I had to do next faded away.

There I stood with the smell of evergreen, the white lights shining and a stable waiting to be filled with the joy of little baby. No tinsel. No ornaments. Not even a star on top of the tree. I stood in the midst of the simplicity of the season experiencing something I very rarely experience this busy time of year. I was experiencing peace.

It was then I realized the peace of Christmas is something we must not wait to come to us. It is something we have to actively seek out and create. It is something we have to choose to bring into our lives by slowing down, saying “no” to too many commitments, and even allowing ourselves the permission, if we want, to simply leave white lights on a tree without the decorations.

For when we embrace the beauty found in the simplicity of undecorated tree, when we pare down all the busyness that we think heralds in the holidays, we discover what “doing” Christmas is really all about: It’s about keeping things simple in our complicated lives so that finally there is room for Christ in our hearts.

Just then my thoughts were interrupted as I heard the dog barking at the back door, greeting my husband home from work. My husband peeked his head in from the kitchen and smiled.

“The tree looks wonderful,” he said, not even noticing there were no decorations on it.

“It does look wonderful. I don’t think we need to do anything else to it, do you?” I said.

“Nope,” he said, not even giving the tree a second look.

I looked at my watch. It was time for me to go. On went my snow boots and off I went to our Advent Bible study at the little white church. I couldn’t wait to get there because I just couldn’t wait to share with those gathered there that night the powerful gift I had received—the gift of peace that came wrapped in simplicity.

In our little Vermont home, Christmas was indeed happening. Room was being made in our lives for Christ.

 

 

Day 3—The Angel Ornament

A Little White Church Advent 

Come on an Advent journey and walk the rural roads and snow covered paths with Donna Frischknecht as she shares stories of God’s promises being fulfilled in the most amazing ways. These stories of “Emmanuel”—God with us—were gathered during her time serving as minister in a historic white clapboard church in upstate New York, right on the border of Vermont, from 2007-2013.

December 3

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Luke 2:13,14

The angel ornament had to be somewhere in one of the many boxes still needing to be unpacked, but which one? I looked at my watch. It was already 9:30 a.m. and my first cup of coffee was still sitting on my dining room table growing cold. Next to it was my lofty list of things to get done scribbled out on a piece of scrap paper I thankfully found in the bottom of my bag, for my note paper was also sitting in one of the many boxes needing to be unpacked.   images

I had only just moved to my new rural home. One week to be exact, and already I was in full pastor mode, trying to assimilate and adjust in what was perhaps the craziest time of year to assimilate and adjust—Christmas. On top of getting to know where the grocery store was—hint, more than a 15 minute drive—when choir met for rehearsal, where any of my congregants lived (because all their addresses in the church directory were post office boxes!), I was now called upon to walk with a family through the toughest walk we can ever make—the one through the valley of death.

“Pastor, you need to visit Judy. She is not good at all. She’s been fighting cancer. She’s now home. Hospice is there attending to her and her family. Pastor, you need to meet Judy. You need to see the family,” I was told after my first Sunday worship.

I was also told to expect a huge gathering for her funeral, which would be held at the church I was pastor of, for Judy, I learned was much loved in this rural village, an angel who shared her love for music with all. There didn’t seem to be one person in the village whom Judy did not touch.

So that Monday I went to Judy’s home, which was right across the street from the old white church. I am not going to lie. I was anxious. I was a new pastor and this was my first pastoral visit to a home in which I would be called upon to offer the peace and comfort of God’s promises: “even though I walk through the darkest valleys, you are with me, your rod and staff, they comfort me.”

I awkwardly introduced myself as “the new pastor” and tried to keep out of the way of the family scurrying about to make lunch, to administer meds, and to greet the stream of visitors coming to the home. I walked into the room where Judy was and gently sat down on the bed next to her.

“Hi, I’m the new pastor,” didn’t seem to be the appropriate thing to say and so when her eyes opened and she quizzically looked at me, I took her hand and said, “Judy, I can’t tell you how grateful I am to be meeting you. I have heard from many how you have touched their lives. You are an angel and I am so honored to be here with you.”

Her feeble hand gripped mine and she smiled and whispered, “It’s good to meet you, Pastor.”

One week into the job of pastor became two, and I had a lot going on. But “darn, I wish I could find that angel ornament” was all I could think about as I put on my coat to head into the village to visit Judy again and check on my messages in the church office. Perhaps, I could simply buy another ornament later that night when I made my run into the next town over for some much-needed groceries.

The ornament I was fixated on was going to be for the special Christmas tree Judy’s family was asking for the community to decorate as a gift for the much-loved music teacher. As soon as I heard this call out to the community for ornaments to decorate the tree, I thought of my angel ornament a dear friend gave to me years ago. It was special to me for it was an angel that sparkled on a sad-looking tree the year in which I was walking through one of those dark valleys myself.

It just seemed this had to be the ornament to place on Judy’s tree, to pass along the blessing it was to me, to make her know she had an angel watching over her. No, no other ornament would do. It had to be the angel. Now which box to look through first?

As life goes, I didn’t have time to find the angel that laid hidden in one of the many still to be unpacked boxes. Judy passed away in the early morning hours and soon I was immersed in planning my first funeral.

The day of the funeral came and, as informed, the white country church was standing room only. The 18th century balconies that had not felt the weight of so many people in many, many years, creaked and moaned, making those sitting under the balcony wonder if perhaps that was not a good pew to sit in.

More people crammed the narthex and even more huddled outside the church doors in hopes to at least hear part of the service.

I put on my clergy robe in my office and took a deep breath before walking in front of a sanctuary filled with grieving hearts. As sometimes it happens, a random thought entered my mind as I made my way into the sanctuary and it was of all things about the angel I couldn’t find that I had wanted so badly to be hanging on what was Judy’s last Christmas tree.

“Darn, I wish I had found that angel for Judy,” was my last thought before making my way to the lectern to greet the crowd gathered.

As I looked out at what was a sea of strangers who would soon become friends, I realized Judy didn’t need my ornament. She had something better. She had hundreds of angels gathered together who were there for her in life and who were now there for her—and for one another—in death.

There in the historic sanctuary, only week 2 in my new role as pastor, in a little rural village, just three days before Christmas, I saw something more dazzling than a heavenly host of angels. I saw a beautiful crowd of earthly angels—men, women and children—who knew something special that only I would come to know in my time serving this rural community. Angels are indeed all around. We just have to look into the hearts of one another to realize that.

Postscript

I never did find my special angel ornament. Not sure what happened to it or how it got lost in my move to rural Upstate New York. But I would like to think that perhaps my little angel made its way onto the Christmas tree of someone who needed to know what I have come know. There is always someone watching over you. Always.