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.

This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

 It was an early spring day. Mud season had arrived and the shining sun had yet to warm up the cold air outside. Coats and boots were still needed as I pulled mine off and settled into my church office.

I had a full day ahead of me and I had really wanted to write my inspiring message for the community Lenten lunch that was just a day away.

Hmmm…maybe I can find the God moment in mud season.

The knock on the door was a welcomed interruption. The invitation that came with the knock was even better. My Lenten message for tomorrow’s lunch would have to wait.

A woman from a neighboring church wanted to take me to see the Old First Church in Bennington, VT, which according to her was just “a hop, skip and a jump” across the New York State border.

I was looking forward to seeing this church as I heard it was famous for its soaring pulpit in which one would have to climb many steep steps to preach from. So on went my boots and coat and out we went.

Within a hop, skip and a jump we were at the church. It didn’t disappoint. There before me it stood in all of its 1762 Colonial architectural glory. It had the quintessential New England white clapboard similar to that of the little white church I served as well as doors on each of the pews.

I was enthralled, which really doesn’t take much to make that happen for me. Simply show me 18th century clapboard, wide plank floors, multi-paned windows, black wrought iron light fixtures, complete with a heavy dose of old musty wood smell, and I am in heaven! I explored the old church not yet knowing the God moment that was to come.

“Come on, let’s go out to the cemetery. There is something I want to show you,” the woman said, urging me on.

I wasn’t sure what was so exciting in the cemetery but I hurried along following her out onto the squishy grass and mud that led to many weathered headstones.

“There. Look. Bet you didn’t know Robert Frost was buried here?” she said pointing in front of me.

“Robert Frost? No way. Really?” I looked at the headstone with the poet’s name etched in it and whispered the line to his poem that was given to me just a year ago:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

I first came across Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” when, one summer, during my chaplaincy training at a hospital on Manhattan’s Upper West Side my supervisor shared it with me.

It was quite clear to him, as it was to me, that I was not being called to be a chaplain. Heck, I had spent the first few weeks of my hospital training just trying to get over my own white coat syndrome. And so these meetings with him touched on the nuts and bolts of praying for the sick and grieving and soon then became a conversation about the “Donna” God had knitted and woven in the womb and where was God calling that Donna to serve.

As the summer continued on I was soon sharing with my supervisor the dilemma I had. I was interviewing with two completely different churches. One that looked good on paper—great facilities for ministry, a staff, healthy budget—and the other, a rural church with an aging facility, no real staff to speak of and a budget in need of what I call a “loaves and fish” miracle. Of course, I was more interested in the church that looked good on paper. Who wouldn’t be?

Two roads diverged in a wood…

Each week as I discussed the possibilities with my supervisor, he listened intently, never offering any real guidance. Rather he asked questions, many questions, when all I wanted was for him to answer for me what to do and where to go.

Before I knew it, the summer was over. My chaplaincy training was complete, but the question of where I was heading next was still open ended.

I walked into my supervisor’s office for my last meeting in which he would share with me his evaluation that he had written up. I was ready for the typical “Donna’s empathy demonstrated in times of crisis was blah, blah, blah” and “Donna’s understanding of praying for the sick was blah, blah, blah.”

Instead, the evaluation was a heartfelt and inspiring affirmation of my call to ministry with an extra bonus—finally, his answer to my never-ending question of, “What am I doing, where am I going?”

He affirmed a ministry I didn’t even recognize as a ministry as he encouraged me to keep on writing. No matter how busy life as a parish pastor got—“keep on writing,” he typed in bold and underlined.

He also encouraged me to trust my heart to where it was leading me and to never be swayed by what others say or what popular opinion might be. Trust your heart, even when your heart leads you to places that do not make sense to anyone else. He then looked up from the written evaluation and, as if he was delivering a benediction, he sent me on my way with the words of Robert Frost, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

We said good-bye and soon thereafter I was saying hello to serve a little white church up north on the border of Vermont, where unbeknownst to me the roads Robert Frost himself traveled upon were just a hop, skip and a jump away.

I took the road that didn’t make sense to others but would be the road that would eventually lead to my future husband and where my heart would finally feel that longed for sense of home.

I stood at the headstone with Frost’s name staring back at me and in that moment I had the incredible sense of God’s loving guidance. I had a sense of who the Donna that God had knitted and formed in the womb was.

“Are you ready to go? It’s not as warm out as I thought,” my unofficial tour guide said.

I turned to follow her back to the car and as I walked the mud beneath me squished. I stopped and looked at the path in front of me. Two paths diverged: One that was not muddy and well travelled and the other that was slick and messy and squishy and to be avoided at all cost.

Guess which one I chose?

Squish. Squish. Squish.

I felt as if I was walking on holy ground. My boots were a mess but my heart was full. For as left Frost’s resting place I knew exactly what my supervisor was trying to tell me. Live authentically. Follow your heart for your heart will lead you to joy. Take the road less travelled, for when you do you will discover it makes all the difference in your life.

It’s a road filled with amazing God moments mingled in the mud.

I had my inspiring Lenten message for the community lunch.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Jesus says to us all, “Come and follow me.” Often that call asks us to embark on a road that is the one less traveled. Find the courage to travel it and know that it will make all the difference in your life. For, yes, God moments are found on that road.

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The muddy path leading to the rail trail behind the Accidental Country Pastor’s  little red house in Vermont. It’s a path that always brings to mind the words of Robert Frost about taking the road less traveled. 

 

 

Day 7—Hanging the Greens

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 7

I was told to prepare to be wowed. I was told it was going to be like nothing I have ever seen. I was told it was one of the many things that made the little white church I was serving as pastor special.

Early in Advent the church had a tradition of hanging all the Christmas greenery as part of its worship service. Now I was a bit perplexed when I heard it was part of the actual service. How? When? Where? What? So many questions because I’ve never heard of such a thing before nor have I seen a church get “greened” right before my very eyes.

When I was a child the ivy and holly and poinsettias and Christmas tree always seemed to miraculously appear from one Sunday to the next. In my childlike awe, I just presumed it was Santa’s little elves at work making the church pretty for the season.

Those elves of my childhood seemed to be at work as well at the Fifth Avenue church I worshipped during my time living and working as an editor and reporter in Manhattan. One Sunday the doors were bare and the next, poof! Wreaths appeared from nowhere and greeted you with festive cheer.

Later on when I heeded God’s call to serve in the church, I realized the greening of a church did not involve the magic of Santa’s elves. Rather the decorating was more an adventure of getting volunteers to spare just a few minutes either on an weekday evening or a Sunday after worship to help get the church ready for Christmas. This feeble call for decorators was often helped by the promise of pizza afterwards. Food has a way of bringing out the volunteers.

“No, pastor, we really do decorate the entire church during the first hymn,” was the reply I got back from members of the worship committee when I asked for what might have been the twentieth time as to how this was all going to happen?

I guess my lack of comprehension was amusing for eventually the members of the little white church decided not explain to me anymore about how it would be done. Instead, they gave a knowing smile to one another and then a reassuring smile to me, their pastor, and said, “Don’t worry about a thing. Just wait and see.”

The Sunday came and the hymn to hang the greens by began to play. The tune was the familiar “Angels We Have Heard on High” but the words were completely foreign to me. The words, written many years ago by a member of the church, sang of the meaning behind the greens, talking of God’s love as everlasting—and as evergreen—as the swags being strung from the balconies that wrapped all around the early Colonial sanctuary.

The new verses to the familiar tune continued to be sung. I eventually stopped trying to sing for I just wanted to take in all the magic going on right before my very eyes.

On one side of the balcony there stood the testimony of time as father, son and now grandson stood together to be part of this beloved Christmas tradition. I stared at the three generations working together and realized there before me was a powerful illustration of what handing down the faith was all about—sharing the traditions, the stories and working to glorify God together, side by side. I looked at men and women who all of sudden stood up from their pew with evergreen in their hands ready to wrap the ancient pillars of the church. Even more people came up to where I was standing on the chancel and from behind the ornate wooden pulpit chairs, large wreaths appeared and were hung on either side of the chancel.

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My husband, PJ, helps hang the greens from the balcony in the little white church the first Christmas we were married.

By the time the last verse was sung—or the first verse repeated if more time was needed to finish the greening—there was not a dry eye or the lack of a beaming smile coming from all in the sanctuary. Everyone looked at one another and at the beauty that surrounded them. Joy filled the air.

There before us, in the greening of the church, was the great Christmas message of how God breaks into our hearts with hope. There before us was the reminder that if God can transform a barren sanctuary into something glorious in just the singing of a song, imagine what God wants to do in our own lives? For one second we might be crying, we might be complaining, we might be walking in what seems to be a never-ending road of darkness, but then in a blink of an eye the promise of God’s everlasting love can—and will—appear. And here was the most important reminder seen in the hanging of the greens that took place as part of the worship service. God often breaks into our lives through the hearts and hands of others. God uses his beloved community to bring about miracles as small as making a little white church ready for Christmas to as big as making those in the world ready for Christ.

I was told to prepare to be wowed. I was told it was going to be like nothing I have ever seen. I was told it was one of the many things that made the little white church I was serving as pastor special. And everything I was told exceeded this pastor’s expectations.

Thanks be to God.

 

A Little White Church Advent—Day 2

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 2—A Light in the Chapel 

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in a land of deep darkness a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2

There I stood at the kitchen counter not feeling too hungry for breakfast but knowing I had to have something in my stomach. So I reached for the fortune cookie leftover from the other night’s Chinese takeout and opened it. There is nothing better in the morning with coffee than a stale fortune cookie. As always, I read the fortune inside: Before you see the light, you have to deal with the darkness.

I smiled as I looked at the fortune, for these words are my sermon in life. They say every pastor has only one sermon, the one truth, the one belief, the one revelation of Emmanuel—God with us—that is preached throughout his or her life in many incarnations. Mine is how brilliant the darkness can be for only then can you see how dazzling God’s light really is.

Now I never realized my “light in the darkness” message was my life’s sermon until early in my call when the pastor I was interning for during my seminary days put me on the preaching schedule. I was excited to get my chance to preach again and I already had in my mind my sermon when the pastor interrupted my thoughts.

“And, Donna, with this sermon, please don’t talk about darkness. I am going to challenge you to preach something different,” he said, then filling me in on the one sermon all pastors have and how we need to be aware of expanding our repoitre. I guess he could see I wasn’t buying what he was saying and so he leaned back in his office chair and asked me, “What was the title of your very first sermon?”

I was found guilty of being a one-sermon pastor. I feebly replied, “It was ‘In Dark Times, God Does His Best Work.’’ My pastor smiled. Point made.

But I was now in the season of Advent and I had every right to preach about hoping for the light in the darkness. I mean, really, you can’t experience God’s great light until you take the tough journey through the darkness, for it is in that journey that we come to know God at his fullest. (There, you just got a taste of my “life sermon.”)

This fortune cookie, though, wasn’t just an Advent appropriate cookie meant for me to open. This fortune cookie was yet another reassurance from God to my restless heart that all will indeed be well for just a few days before I had a powerful reminder of the light that is to come in the darkness.

It was Sunday morning and, as usual, I got to the white clapboard church that has stood as a beacon of hope to the rural village since the 1700’s, early to spend some time in prayer and review my sermon.

Snow was falling ever so gently, draping the bare ground in a blanket of serenity. The church with its Christmas wreath on the old wooden door was the spitting image of a little white country church that was pictured once in a Colonial village Advent calendar I had as child. Imagine my awe to realize I was no longer opening up a paper door, but a real door to a real Colonial church.

But snow or Colonial church doors couldn’t ease my troubled heart. I didn’t sleep well the night before with so many thoughts racing through my head: the weeks to Christmas that were coming too fast and all the gifts still not bought, the end-of-year church budget and upcoming budget that needed to be squared away, the many new ministry opportunities I saw for the community that needed the time, treasure and talents from others in order to become a reality, the…well, the long list kept awake.

I walked up the snowy steps to the chapel where we gathered in the winter for heating the large historic sanctuary was very costly. I opened the door expecting to enter a cold, dark chapel. Instead, as I pushed the door open I noticed a small light shining in the darkness. The light was coming from a beautiful poster hanging on the wall that wasn’t there the week before.

The poster had a cluster of small stars that shone brightly in the dark chapel thanks to the battery pack that was incorporated into the cardboard. Big bold red letters read: “Don’t Despair.” Smaller letters in an elegant cursive, proclaimed the gospel truth that through the darkness comes great light.

I stood in the darkened chapel soaking in the light that came from that poster. Don’t despair.

I had forgotten my own preacher’s words to others. And yet there in the chapel was my reminder. I wiped the tears from my eyes for I felt God’s presence that I haven’t been feeling all too much with all the angst this time of year brings. I pulled up a chair and sat gazing at that message and enjoying the sparkling little white lights that were the stars. What made this poster even more meaningful was a woman in the congregation made it for me as an Advent gift.

It was later that morning, after coffee hour was finally winding down, that I had a chance to thank her. And after the thanks, came hugs and then tears and then the holy moment when we stood holding hands soaking in the words of truth together.

She told me she had written the words down for the poster while listening to my sermon the first Sunday of Advent. So there before me was my own words I had failed to hear for myself paraphrased on the poster.

Before you can see the light, you have to deal with the darkness.

I held the fortune from the cookie I was eating for breakfast in my hand.  I have seen the light even amidst the seemingly growing darkness of stress, doubt, tiredness: the light of that poster, the light of a caring congregation, the light of a family of faith I have watched each and every week get stronger and bolder in their mission to reach out to others, and, I have seen the light of God’s promise to keep illuminating the way for me—always.

Where is your light shining through the darkness? May today you recognize the many ways God is trying to shine on your path.

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