A Poignant Start to Lent

IMG_9915The sanctuary was mostly quiet. Every now and then a hum, rattle and swoosh from the ancient heating system would interrupt the stillness. It was a welcomed noise as I was trying hard to keep the cavernous room at a toasty 60 degrees. After all, I didn’t want to sit all day with my coat and mittens on.

The “little white church” as locals fondly call us, was doing something different for Ash Wednesday. Rather than hold a worship service in the evening that hardly anyone would come to — in my time there as pastor, the Ash Wednesday service has boasted anywhere from a whopping six people to an unprecedented 28, and those numbers were with a combined service with sister churches — we were inviting people to drop in throughout the day.

We created an art gallery in the sanctuary and encouraged people to pray with the art before making their way to the front of the sanctuary where I waited with a blackened thumb ready once again to dip into the ash and proclaim the sobering reminder, “From dust we come, to dust we shall return.”

The people came — more than 28 — and I did my part, making the sign of the cross on foreheads that ranged from smooth and worry free to wrinkled and creased with burdens.

From dust we come, to dust we shall return.

There was a lull mid-afternoon and out of the corner of my eye I noticed the big yellow school buses rambling down the road. School was out. I would only have to sit in the sanctuary for a few more hours. It would be nice to get home to a hot bowl of soup and cuddle on the couch with my big old Bernese Mountain dog.

Just then I heard the creaking of the old floors. I didn’t to turn to look when people entered the holy silence, for I didn’t want to break the prayerfulness they were trying to embrace. And so, I would listen to the footsteps to see how close they were to me, so that I could stand up and take my place with the ashes.

The footsteps didn’t linger at any of the pictures. Rather they came quickly to where I sat. I was surprised when a teenaged girl dropped down next to me. She looked upset and there were tears beginning flow. I guess the blank look on my face gave it away that I had no idea what was happening beyond the peacefulness of the sanctuary walls.

“What kind of world do I have to live in?” she asked angrily.

In a way, I wish I didn’t ask what she was talking about for the words that came next filled me with anger and grief as well.

“There was another school shooting. This time in Florida. It is horrible. I am afraid,” she sobbed.

Sadly, I wasn’t shocked by the news she told me.

“There’s been a school shooting” has become an all-too familiar phrase, leaving many numb and worse yet, just accepting this as the new reality in which we live in.

I also knew what would next in my rural community. The heated debate on social media with those yelling that guns don’t kill —people do — and those yelling back that we need more gun control.

I also knew as a pastor of a rural community that I had to find a way to bridge these debates. I had to find a way to speak in a community that cherishes their right to have guns.

I looked at the sobbing teenager knowing, like many of her friends, she had a gun. For rural teens, hunting is rite of passage. Pictures of deer and bear they snag always appear on Facebook. And with the spring thaw, turkey season will bring a bunch of new social media posts.

Where will the two divides of anti-gun and pro-gun meet? For the debates are not stopping the killings.

I searched my heart for something pastoral to say to the sobbing teenager sitting next to me. I searched for words of hope to overcome fear. I searched to find a magical way to take away this girl’s brokenness. I searched, but came up empty.

I looked down at my sooty fingers that have been making crosses on foreheads all day and realized there was nothing I could say. I am not God. But God did send us a Savior, to be with us in times like these. To hold us when we are fainting and to comfort us when we are grieving.

God sent us a Savior who reminded us as he went to the cross, that this life is painful and not fair at times. But just when all seems lost, we are given hope. God defeated death. It doesn’t have the last word.

I looked down at my sooty fingers. With my tears joining her tears, I took her hand and with the ash made a sign of the cross on her palm.

From dust we are, to dust we shall return.

I then added, “And God is with us always.”

She closed her hand tightly, holding dearly to the promise of the cross now in her possession.

We did something different for Ash Wednesday. We opened the church for people to drop in when they wanted to throughout the day. Who knew that one broken teenager would seek the solace of the “little white church” in her time of grief?

God knew. And God knows how broken we all are. The question is, what will we do with that brokenness? And when will we go beyond just “thoughts and prayers?”

When will we understand that this life of faith calls for us to live out the faith, to find our voices to speak up and seek change.

To dust we shall return.

But before we do, God has work for us to do. Work in creating a better world for our children to live in. May our prayers be ones in which we ask God to lead us into action, to find ways to listen, understand and move forward in stopping the senseless violence.



Angels Bending Near

An Accidental Country Pastor’s Advent Journey 

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 and unexpected ways. 

It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old, from angels bending near the earth…

The drive to his house was tricky. He lived out on the back roads that snaked up and around hills that quickly grew into mountains the longer you drove. The afternoon sun was setting fast making the iced over dirt roads feel like a child’s slip and slide. I was second-guessing my decision to do this interview for the newspaper in person. I could have just called the “artist in the back woods” who wanted to share with others his newest sculpture. Nothing I could do now. I had committed to going in person and in person I would go.

As I drove I thought about the questions I would ask for my story. They were your typical “who, what, when, where and why” questions one learns early on in journalism. But being I was an editor-turn-minister-turn editor and minister-again—life is certainly an adventure with God—I had another question lingering in my heart.

How does this glorify God? I wasn’t talking about the art created by the “artist in the back woods.” I was questioning myself. How was my part-time reporting job glorifying God? I was a pastor, yes, a pastor without a church right now and wondered was I wasting my time writing for the paper? I had taken my ordination vows nine years ago. I vowed to proclaim the good news, to comfort God’s children, to be God’s instrument of peace.

But I didn’t have a church yet. Several calls had come in, but something made me say “no.” What was that about? What did God have up God’s sleeve for this accidental country pastor? Was I called back home just to drive on snow-covered dirt roads to interview artists?

I pulled up to the house and the artist greeted me. Much to my surprise he was no artist at all. He was a retired corrections officer who began welding metal two years ago. I felt my heart sink as the story I had imagined began fading away. Before I could gather my thoughts as to how to salvage my trip out here, the bomb dropped totally obliterating any shred of story I thought I had. The piece of art he had made could not be revealed yet as planned. The business that had commissioned it wanted its revealing to be a surprise at a gala not to take place till the spring. I was disappointed but tried not to show it.

As I went to leave, something tugged at me to stop putting my reporter’s notebook away. Something tugged at me to stay. To talk. To find out the real story.

The man was older than I had expected considering when I had called him I could hear a toddler in the background. I noticed something else about him. He was hunched over a bit. Not the hunch over from arthritis or a back injury. This hunch was one from brokenness. I knew that hunch well. I’ve seen it in others. I’ve seen it in myself. His eyes too were pretending to be happy but I could see beyond the act.

As he led me into the garage that was his workshop he began to talk about his latest project that I couldn’t write about. I steered the conversation away from that and asked him point blank, “How did a corrections officer with no design training or schooling get into this?”

“My son,” he said, hunching over more. “My son died two years ago. He was only 24. We don’t know what happened. He just began having seizures.”

My son…he said again as if to summon him from beyond.

“He was the artist,” the grieving father explained. “We used to come into this garage all the time. I would help him and watch him. At times I would tinker with the metal too. My son said I had talent. I didn’t believe him. I didn’t believe until after he died.”

Turns out the only solace he was able to find in his grief was being in this workshop, picking up the blowtorch his son once held and continuing making the art his son once made. I listened and silently prayed for him, wondering when to reveal that standing before him was not just a reporter. Standing before him was a pastor whose own heart knew the pain of losing someone much loved. Standing in his workshop was a pastor who knew how out of death comes the promise of new life, that in our grief we can choose to crumble or to carry on and live out the dreams and passions that our loved ones saw in us.

For me it was a boyfriend who was killed years ago in a jeep accident. He knew of my struggle to leave my magazine job in Manhattan. It was his death that spurred me on to live…to live the plans God had for me. It was because of him that I was now standing here with this retired corrections officer turned artist.

“Wow. I am so sorry. I have no idea why I am telling you all of this. I don’t talk about this to anyone. I really didn’t plan on sharing this with you,” the father said. “It’s just. I don’t know. I don’t want you to think I am crazy. It’s just there’s something about you that made me want to tell you my story.”

It was then I told him my story. I told him I knew a thing or two about loss. I also knew a thing or two about God’s redemptive grace in the midst of that loss. There as the sun went down on a cold December day, just days before Christmas, in a workshop filled with the presence of his son, an accidental artist stood in prayer with an accidental country pastor. Together we shared. Together we cried. Together we reached out to God to heal hearts that grieved.

It was time to go. I put away my reporter’s notebook and as we shook hands good bye, the father held on to my hand thanking me for coming to him.

“Again, I don’t want to sound crazy, but I really feel you were an angel sent to me. I really think you were meant to be here. I can’t thank you enough. Merry Christmas,” he said. His hunch straightened a bit.

I honestly don’t remember what I said in reply. I was too in awe of God at work in that little workshop. But this I know. I had my story, but not for the newspaper. I had my story to be told at another time for another person. But more importantly I had my answer as to how my reporting job was glorifying God.

God’s good news is better distributed when we actually dare to venture out onto snow-covered back roads. For it is there God leads us to those who never enter into a church building, those who really need to hear the good news of a Son born into a world full of hurt and grief.

Those people, like this man, who pastors often never meet because we stay in the church sitting comfortably in offices with coffee made, a secretary at the front ready to greet those who expect miracles to happen during “pastor’s office hours.”

I realized too that there are so many who need to hear about God’s Son, whose beautiful infant cry, we celebrate at Christmas. God’s Son who would cry for us once again. The “It is finished!” cry coming from the cross, telling us that God’s promise to love us always, no matter what, was accomplished. God’s redeeming love is here, now and always.

Christmas is near.

What back roads is God leading you on? Can you hear that cry? Can you remember and trust always that God is with you, even when all you can hear is your own crying?

Can you see that there are always angels bending near the earth…and that often we ourselves are those angels. Trust God’s leading this day and forever more.images.jpg

Sunday at Old Stone Well Farm

Welcome to the third week of Advent. So glad you are joining the Accidental Country Pastor at the Old Stone Well Farm a she reflects on what the pink candle around the Advent wreath, the candle of joy, means. Our online worshipping community continues to grow. Share this time together with friends. Blessings!

Scripture to Reflect On:

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Isaiah 35:10