Ten Years Later

This Sunday’s “Worship at Old Stone Well Farm” will be delayed as I will be getting up really early to make the drive from Vermont to New Jersey to worship with those who ten years ago nurtured me into this crazy life known as “ministry.”

Yes, I am going “home” to the church where as a seminary student I spent many times wondering where it would be God would send me to proclaim the good news. Little did I know then how many twists and turns would be waiting for me. How many highs and lows. But most of all, how my prayers would have been answered in the most amazing ways when God led me to a little rural church in upstate New York where just over the border my dream farm would be waiting for me.

Going home can be emotional.

For going home—be it physically going to a place you once knew or perhaps just visiting in one’s mind—is a time to remember who you were, the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s a time to remember how far you’ve come. It’s a time to pause and reflect on all that God has done in your life. It’s a time to take a deep breath, assess and realize something we often forget in our constant running forward, to get somewhere, anywhere. That is, life is good.  Always. Because God is good. Always.

Yes, I’m going home to a church who nurtured me, who knew me when…

There will be dear friends to hug again and tears to shed over those who are no longer there. We will sing the songs of faith, join our voices in prayer and break the bread and share the cup. We will be in God’s house—together again.

And in the sacred moments of our time together, I will find the time to pause, look out into the congregation and whisper to God words I know I need to whisper more of.

Thank you, God…for who I was…for who you are leading me to be…for this crazy life of ministry…for a church family who knew me when…for the chance to go back home, if even just for a day.

May today you take time and reflect on all God has done and is doing for you.

Blessings, Pastor Donna 



Ten years ago I was ordained here at South Presbyterian Church, Bergenfield, NJ. Words can’t express how grateful I am to be preaching there again. 

Day 18—Wide Eyes and Wonderment

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 18

“How many children do you expect will be at the caroling dinner?” my mom asked, not once, not twice, but a number of times throughout our phone call.

“I’m not sure,” I answered, not once, not twice, but a number of times. I tried not to show my agitation, but I really wasn’t planning on the little white church’s caroling dinner to be a big production. I had envisioned just a low-key night together to share a favorite casserole or dessert and sing some Christmas songs. All I wanted was a simple night of holiday togetherness.

And so the conversation with my mom went as such:

Me:      Why do you want to know how many kids will be at the caroling dinner?

Mom:  Your father just bought a Santa suit.

Me:      What?!

Mom:  You heard me correctly. A Santa suit, and I have to say, he makes a convincing Santa.

Me:      Where does dad plan on wearing this Santa suit?

Mom:  At the caroling dinner.

Me:      What?! (My parents lived more than three hours away from the little white church and so to drive all that distance for some potluck cuisine and off-key singing was dismaying.)

Mom:  We want to surprise the children with a visit from Santa.

Me:      What?!

Mom:  And Santa has to have gifts in his big old sack.

Me:      (Stunned silence on the phone.)

Mom:  So…how many boys do you expect? How many girls? Oh, and can you give me an idea of the age range, so I can get gifts they will like.


My dad getting ready in my office the year he played Santa for the children at the little white church.

The little white church’s caroling dinner was turning into a big production. Still, even though I had more on my plate to plan, I couldn’t begrudge my parents the delight they were getting from being part of the Christmas celebrations at a church, while quite a distance away from them, was fast-becoming their family of faith. There was no denying, too, my mom sounded really excited to be buying gifts for what would be a handful of children.

Perhaps it was because there were no grandchildren in our family that made my mom interested in showering the children at the church with gifts. I had always wrestled with God as to why I never had the opportunity to have children of my own. Now, though, as pastor of the little white church, I was blessed with many children to love and nurture in the faith. Slowly I processed the pain in my own life and realized the healing and wholeness of God’s plan for my life.

The night of the caroling dinner came and it was turning out to be a beautiful, low-key night, in spite of the extra Santa event that was to take place.

The casseroles came in and were set out. Folks gathered around the table. I said a blessing over the food. Bread was broken. Laughs were shared. And throughout the night, as my mom and dad sat at the table smiling with the secret they had for the children, I kept saying to the kids, “Do you hear that?”

They would all get quiet trying to hear what I was hearing.

“Do you hear it?” I asked again. They all began to squeal, “What, Pastor Donna?”

“Bells. I hear reindeer bells. I think Santa is in our village tonight,” I said.

The older kids gave me “are you kidding me?” looks, while the younger children’s eyes grew wide with excitement and awe. One little boy in particular seemed very intrigued with these mysterious reindeer bells only I was hearing.

All throughout the dinner I would interrupt the children’s chatter and laughter with an impromptu, “Do you hear it? I just heard the bells again!”

Older kids’ eyes rolled growing tired of the “joke.” But little eyes grew wider and wider.

It was time for me to gather the children and begin reading the nativity story. That was my father’s cue to sneak out the chapel door and go outside to the sanctuary door that I had unlocked for him. He would have to walk through the cold and dark sanctuary to get to my office, which sat off the side of chancel. My dad, once transformed as Santa, would then go back outside and jingle the bells he had with him. That would be my cue to say to the children once again, “Do you hear that? I hear reindeer bells. I think Santa’s here.”

The Santa plan went perfectly. At the end of our discussion about the holy night in which Jesus was born, the soft jingle of bells could be heard approaching the chapel door.

“Do you hear that?” I said.

The kids heard, but instead of jumping and running to the door, they looked stunned. I wasn’t expecting that look.

The door burst open and in came my father, um, I mean, in came Santa with his “ho-ho-ho” said in an accent revealing perhaps Santa was from Switzerland and not the North Pole after all.

As the kids clamored around Santa, I noticed once again that one little boy who throughout the night seemed particularly in awe by the prospect Santa might be close by. By now, he was in an extreme state of excitement that he couldn’t even talk. He kept staring at Santa and waving his hands excitedly. And his eyes? They were the widest I have ever seen and they shone with joy beyond joy.

I was mesmerized by his reaction to the point I almost began crying. I could relate to his excitement for I remember a time years ago early in my call to ministry that many times I was left speechless and in awe by how God was working in my life. Many times my eyes would grow wider and wider and shone with joy beyond joy with the God moments happening right in front of me. I looked at the little boy and I looked at the children surrounding Santa and prayed that someday they would have their own wide-eye, joy-beyond-joy God moments.

For now, though, it was clearly a Santa moment and I had to quickly jump in and play Santa’s helper as some of the children were picking up on Santa’s accent and beginning to question where in the North Pole Santa really came from?


Santa and Pastor handing out the gifts at the caroling dinner.

“Santa, let me do some of the talking,” I said to my dad with big smile.

Together we helped hand out the gifts and as I did so I looked up to see my mom at the table, her eyes were wide as well, wide with love and joy and glistening a bit with perhaps a tear or two as she watched the excitement of the children getting their gifts.

Santa soon had to leave and the children said good-bye, not one of them noticing that my dad was not at the table all this time. It was time to sing carols and perhaps it was just my imagination, but the songs seemed to be sung with more meaning and emotion.

When the last dish was cleaned and the lights of the chapel went out, I walked my parents to their car for their long drive back to New Jersey. In the snow covered parking lot, I thanked them both for the gift they gave the children that night. I thanked them for the gift they gave me, the gift of being such supportive parents, willing to go out of their way to make this a memorable night for the children.

We talked a bit more not really wanting to say good-bye, but it was getting late and it was very cold. So with a hug and a kiss, we parted ways.

“This is Christmas,” I thought as I drove home. The magic in the air, the giving freely of our time to the children, the generous spirit to buy all those gifts, but most of all, the remembering we should always keep our ears attuned not to reindeer bells in the crisp winter air, but to a more beautiful sound that is always there.

We should be listening to God’s whisper of love to us—a love, if we are open to it, will make our eyes grow wider and wider with wonderment and fill us with joy beyond joy.








A Heavy Yet Blessed Weight


Eight years ago on November 11 I took my ordination vows at South Presbyterian Church in New Jersey. It was a day I learned how heavy yet blessed the weight of serving God is.

It was eight years ago today, November 11, in which I embarked on the craziest journey of my life. On a sunny afternoon in north New Jersey, in an 18th century church that now stood as an anomaly in a congested town that I am sure none of the old Dutch names gracing the weathered headstones in the church’s cemetery would even recognize as the place they once called home, I was ordained to the office of minister of word and sacrament in the Presbyterian Church USA.

It was a day with many emotions. Disbelief mixed with awe that was then mixed with tremendous gratitude that was then mixed with excitement for the next step to come that was then mixed with fear and trepidation for that very next step to come. Did I mention the emotions were many?

In just two short weeks I was moving to rural upstate New York to serve another 18th century church. This church, however, was not an anomaly for life in the small village had somehow escaped congestion. Some of the locals, though, would disagree with me for when I first visited their little village many shared with me their displeasure with the eyesore of the traffic light—their one and only traffic light—that winked red, green and yellow at you even when there was not a car in sight for miles. Mind you, the traffic light had already been there for a few years already. Yet the displeasure with it was as fresh as yesterday’s memories. I, though, couldn’t wait to call a place “home” where one traffic light was needed, well, not really needed….

Yes, in two short weeks. There were still many more boxes to pack and even more friends to say good-bye to. There was Thanksgiving dinner to share one more time in New Jersey at the home I grew up in. And there was my last sermon to preach for the congregation who nurtured me into ministry. Ordination day was here and the crazy journey was beginning.

My parents were there that November afternoon beaming with pride as brightly as the sun streaming into the sanctuary was. My brother was there as well in which I was grateful for as his disabled body made it hard for him to get out much. Often it was easier to let him stay home then to go through the ordeal of getting him out the door.

“Please God, let him be at my ordination,” was my prayer leading up to that afternoon, for my brother was the beating of my heart for ministry. He was the one who broke my heart opened to seeing the needs and feeling the pain of those labeled as “not normal” by a society in which I often question the normalcy of.

Ordination day was here and I remember the opening processional hymn soaring high up to heaven as the trumpeter joined the bellowing pipe organ. I remember my friend from seminary sitting next to me and I remember looking back at a packed sanctuary seeing a sea of faces that collectively told the story of my journey into ministry. Among those faces were the chapters yet to be written as members of the congregation of the one traffic light village up north were sitting in the old pews, beaming along with my parents.

The thing I remember the most, though, was the “laying on of hands,” the part of the service echoing back to the New Testament in which the laying on of hands was associated with the receiving of the Holy Spirit. And so the one being ordained kneels on the ground and is surrounded by those already ordained and then hand after hand upon shoulder after shoulder, weight bears down upon the one kneeling. I wasn’t prepared for that moment.

I, in my ignorance, just assumed that the hands would be light and gentle, a show of sorts, just symbolic, simply grazing each other’s shoulders so that the one kneeling would not be crushed. But crushed I was. Within in seconds, clergy who have already been on this crazy journey called ministry, engulfed me to the point where I couldn’t see anything but the bottom hems of clerical robes and a variety of shoes. (Ooo…nice heels. Note to self: Must ask that minister where she purchased those shoes.)

I soon lost interest in shoes as I noticed the hands upon me weren’t light or gentle. The hands upon me were pressing down hard. I felt as if my knees were going to fail me and I was losing my balance and feared I was going to fall over. For a second I wondered how in heaven’s name was I going to get up gracefully after all of this.

Soon, though, the shock of the burden upon me eased, and my worries about getting up off the floor faded. I bowed my head and let the tears of thankfulness fall down my cheeks as I listened to the prayer being said about serving faithfully, following wherever, trusting always, loving all…and then I heard what I needed to hear then just as I need to hear now.

Serving God is indeed a heavy weight to bear. It is burdensome. It can crush you. It can bear down upon you. But you do not serve God alone. The pressure of the hands upon me was my tangible reminder of that. Those very hands that put so much weight on me were the very hands that held me when I thought I would fall and it was those very hands that helped me up when I needed to get up. All of a sudden I understood the magnitude of what I was entering into. I understood what a heavy weight I was to carry and that I was not to carry it alone. There are always hands eager to help and support you. And because of those hands, the weight, no matter how heavy, becomes blessed.

Eight years ago today, on a sunny November afternoon in an 18th century church that now stood as an anomaly in a congested New Jersey neighborhood, I said “yes” to God’s invitation to never go it alone in this life no matter where in life one is going. We just aren’t meant to do that.

Do you feel a weight crushing down upon you? Does it feel as if a burden is just too much? Are you wondering how in heaven’s name can you get up from where you have fallen and get up gracefully? If so, may you see the hand that is reaching out to help ease the burden. More importantly, though, may you feel the strong yet loving pressure of the hand that is always upon you. May you feel God’s hand—THE hand that makes all heavy weights blessed indeed.