Scattered Chicken Feathers

Critters often fall prey to other critters. I’ve seen and, unfortunately, heard the not so sweet sound of defeat. It happened with my chickens. I had only been in God’s country — that’s what folks in the little white church I serve call this slice of rural heaven — for a year and decided it was time to get chickens.

I will admit I had no idea what I was doing with them. They did start their young lives in a box in the upstairs guest bedroom. In my defense, I didn’t have a coop yet, and they were guests. Where else were they to stay?  Did I mention I had no idea what I was doing?

When I finally got a coop, I didn’t think too much about other animals who might find the chicks a tasty treat. A fence was put up, but it wasn’t the sturdiest of fences. Any old wolf could have huffed and puffed and blown the fence down. I also ignored all the chicken books advising to dig several inches into the ground with the chicken wire to prevent animals burrowing into the chicken yard. The ground where I lived was hard. It was impossible to dig. The fence went up as is.

Months went by with no incidents. Months turned into a year. My chickens were still alive and well, producing way too many eggs for just one accidental country pastor. I lived on omelets and made lots of quiche. I was feeling good as I ate my latest egg concoction, sort of a mix between scramble eggs and French toast, and looked out the window towards the coop.  If my cooking didn’t qualify yet as gourmet, I thought at least I had graduated to professional farmer.

I patted myself on the back too soon. A wily fox decided to visit that week. You know this story isn’t going to end well. One by one, early each morning, I heard a horrible shrill, lots of frantic clucking and the ruffling of feathers that went way beyond ruffling. By the time I threw on my jeans, barn boots and Carhartt sweatshirt, I was too late. I would get to the coop and see a pile of feathers. I would count the shell-shocked chickens huddled in the corner of the coop. Sure enough one was missing. By the time I had Fort Knox approved fencing on hand, I was too late.

The last chicken standing was standing no more.

I am planning on getting chickens—again. The coop is being worked on even as I type. (Thanks, Dad for hauling wood all the way from New Jersey and building this for me!) Even though my first adventure with chickens was a dismal failure, I am not letting that prevent me from trying again because if I have learned anything living here in God’s country, I have learned that life needs for you to be resilient. Foxes visit coops. Grubs eat cabbages. Rainy summers turn pumpkins into mush. I can go on with the farming failures I have had. Still there is something challenging me to try again. Don’t give up.

Try.

Sometimes, though, the fear we harbor is too great. Don’t you agree? It blocks us from moving forward. It taunts us with its message, “Why bother? You’re just going to cry again.” Sometimes the memory of chicken feathers scattered on the ground is enough to make you throw in the towel. And sometimes you wish all you were dealing with was just a bunch of scattered chicken feathers. After all, shattered dreams and slivers of broken heart are a lot harder to clean up and move beyond.

Yet God calls us into newness. God calls us to see beyond scattered feathers and shattered dreams. It is only with God that we can find resiliency to carry on.

Growing up, I used to hear an old hymn play from the television in the living room. My mom would be watching one of those Billy Graham crusades and at the end of every crusade, “Just as I Am” would play as people came forward to receive Christ.

Just as I am, though tossed about, with many a conflict, many a doubt…

I would come into the living room and plop myself down on the rug and stare at the television. I found myself in awe as to what those people were experiencing. Why were some of them crying? Why were some looking relieved? What were they hoping for, looking for, expecting to happen?

Fightings within and fears without…

I would stare at these people who looked like little ants on the small black and white TV and wonder what the battle inside of them was? What fears were they trying to overcome?

As I got older, though, I understood all too well about “fightings within and fears without.” I knew, too, what it was like to be tossed about with many a conflict and many a doubt. And I understood the need to reach out for the Lamb of God.

I come.

Yes, I come to you, God who offers me something more. I come to you, God who begs us to look beyond failures and setbacks and heartache. I come to you, God who knows the greatest battle we face is the battle within. The battle waged everyday to believe not only in ourselves, but to believe in God who made us and is with forever with us.

I am getting chickens again. The memory of a fox in the chicken house is still there, but I am going to see beyond scattered feathers. I am going to see beyond shattered dreams.

O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

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Weathered Wood and Coming Home

The little village was just beginning to come to life on what was a picture perfect Fourth of July. As I pulled into the parking lot of the little white church I noticed a few early birds had already claimed their spot on the parade route. At least they had nice weather in which to wait in, I thought.

I, myself, took a deep breath in as I got out of the car and allowed my eyes to linger up at the blue skies. I couldn’t remember a more beautiful holiday than this.

The clear skies and cool temps were ideal for the “big” parade—big meaning lots of firetrucks, a few pickup trucks and tractors transformed into floats thanks to the invention of crepe paper and balloons and one band and a group of bagpipers joining the teens which made up the high school band.

Still it was “big” in terms of the hearts who marched out of love for country, love for village, love for tradition, love for one another. My own heart filled with a love I thought I would never feel again.

A love for a home that I never expected to find, then lose, and then, by the grace of God, find again.

Many times, I had pulled into this parking lot when I was the little white church’s pastor and many times I would stop before heading inside to gaze at the weathered clapboards. And many times, I would look beyond the weathered wood and see what other eyes could not.

I would see a vision of hope.

I gazed again. And there it was. Hope shining back at me.

Just then my friend who was going to join me in watching the big parade pulled into the parking lot. I could hear the engine shutting down, the clicking of her seat belt, the slam of the car door and the beep of the car being locked. Soon she was standing by me, gazing too at the weathered wood.

“It needs a lot of work,” she said.

“Yep, it does,” I nodded.

“It’s a big structure,” she said.

“Yep, it is,” I nodded.

As we scanned the expanse of the slate roof, I described to her how the roof was being supported by the most incredible hand hewn beams that a building inspector once showed me many years ago while climbing high into the old rafters on a hot, humid summer day, making the old wood smell even more pronounced.

“Hmmm…” she said and that was all.

“Hmmm…”

She sensed I didn’t want this sacred moment of gazing at weathered wood broken by the not so sacred discussion of painting and slate repair costs.

Instead she said, “You’re home, aren’t you?”

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Weathered wood stands as a testimony not only to time, but to God’s grace and our faith in future.

I nodded a short “yep” not wanting the tears of gratitude to start falling.

“I’ve always had this vision….” and then I began sharing the hope I saw in the weathered wood.

Hope that withstood the storms of life and the harsh elements of setbacks and trials. Hope in which was asked to lay dormant many a winter waiting and waiting and waiting for spring’s rebirth to come again.

“I’ve always had this vision…” my parking lot sermonizing was over.

My friend kept staring at the church. I couldn’t tell if she now saw my weathered wood vision.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.

She saw.

As we walked up street (as my husband, the local boy, would say, always leaving out the “the” that I would put in when indicating I was going “up the street”), I silently prayed for more eyes to see the beauty—and the hope—in weathered wood.

For it’s there. Always. With faith, we can and will see God’s beauty.

 

Birch Trees in the Snow

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. 

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

The snow was the wet and heavy kind that made shoveling hard and trudging in it even harder. But trudge I did. I had resurrected an old habit of taking morning prayer walks, one that I had missed greatly in my time away from the home I loved. Oh I tried walking in other places, but I was no longer in the country and so the noise of traffic was always playing in the background.

Here, though, back home, there was nothing but silence mixed with the occasional moo of a distant cow. If you were really listening to the stillness, there were times you could hear the soft echo of the little village’s church bell chiming a melodious old hymn. And so I wasn’t going to let a little snow slow me down.

On went my boots and out the door I went. I passed by the old stone well as I made my way to the bottom of the steep hill. I decided to challenge myself to climb up in the deep snow, knowing my huffing and puffing would be rewarded by the most breathtaking view below me. I was not disappointed.

The valley below me looked like a jewelry box sprinkled with diamonds as the sun’s rays made the snow glisten and sparkle. I continued up and over to the rail trail behind the hill. That’s when the roadblocks hit.

Trees, many of them bowed down from the weight of the snow, blocked the path in front of me. I had a choice to turn back or to move forward. I was resolved in my mission to pray and walk. Onward it was.

I ducked under, hopped over and skirted around the white birch trees lying prostrate to the ground. I was growing tired and frustrated. My walk had become not only a physical obstacle but a spiritual one as well. I just couldn’t focus my thoughts on God when I had to focus on not getting whacked with an icy branch. I was about to turn back, until I had a thought.

As I stared at that sad fallen trees I wondered what would happen if I helped them up. Were they really down for the count? I decided to try.

I started with the smaller tree. With my fuzzy mittens on, I grabbed hold of the trunk and loosened the branches iced tightly to the ground. Swish. With great force and speed the tree sprung up. I moved on to the next tree. Then the next. I even tackled the larger trees, freeing them from their state of downtrodden-ness. Each one, with a little help, was soon back to standing tall.

My prayer walk had turn into a mission project. I was there to help the trees. And with each tree that bounced back up, I began to remembering the times in my life when someone noticed me down for the count and chose not to hop over me or skirt around me. Rather, with a compassionate hand they helped me to stand tall again. My walk was just about over.

I turned and looked back at the path now lined with graceful white birch, their limbs lifted high to the heavens in praise. It was a beautiful sight.

Christmas is almost near. And if you are wondering what is the perfect present to give loved ones—to give the world—I think a hand stretched out to help is perfect. For God gave us that exact gift on that holy night. And His hand has never stopped lifting us up.

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Sofie walks on the snow path, helping Pastor Donna lift up the bowed down birch trees.

 

Sunday Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

Welcome to the second week of Advent. So glad you are joining the Accidental Country Pastor as she shares a message of hope and love. Today’s she reflects on the opportunity of the lifetime we have when we take time to prepare the way of the Lord. Thanks for sharing this time of worship. Share with a friend as our online worshipping community continues to grow. Blessings!

 

Led by the Light

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. 

Advent Day 2:

The other night I asked my husband what his favorite Christmas song was. I did put a disclaimer stating it couldn’t have the words “snowman” or “reindeer” in it. He thought for a bit and smiled and said he wasn’t going to tell me because I wouldn’t put it in the category of Christmas, but rather in the season of Epiphany. I insisted he tell me.

Okay. I did bite my tongue and refrained from saying “We Three Kings” didn’t count as a Christmas song. He knew, though, what I was thinking and we both started laughing. He then asked me what my favorite song was. I really couldn’t tell him because I tend to like them all and what usually happens is each year one specific song will tug at my heart more than others, depending on where my heart is at that particular moment.

The song tugging at my heart this year? “O Holy Night.”

I had it playing in my car the other day as I made my way to the store. Now mind you, running to the store here in God’s country is not a quick trip. It’s over the river and through the woods and involves many curves and bends through valleys and hills. I was on my way to the store early in the morning as I had a full day of writing and ministry. I had just moved back home to the area and I was thinking about all the amazing God moments that had already happened in such a short time. How I ran into a pastor colleague of mine in the coffee shop and the warm hug he gave me was just what I needed. How another pastor friend I used to see at the gym years ago, spotted me in the store and told me of several ministries happening that I might get involved with. As we parted he said, “It’s good to have you back. This is definitely God’s mission field and God needs you here.”

And then there was this elderly couple who kept staring at me while in the post office finally came up to me to ask, “Weren’t you the pastor who visited our bee farm years ago?” I was. And I hugged the white-haired, grandmotherly woman with the most amazing blue eyes, tightly, as my way of thanking her for remembering me. As we hugged she said, “It’s good to have you home.”

A short visit to a bee farm so many years ago with people I only saw that one time…who would have thought they would remember?

“O Holy Night” was playing in my car as thought about all these connections being made. I drove. I thought. I listened. I watched. I watched the early morning sun rise up over the mountains, casting a heavenly glow on the frosted ground before. It was then the line that tugged at my heart came.

Led by the light of faith supremely beaming.

Led by the light. I was indeed led by the light so many years ago to come to rural America and make this place my home. It was a light that no one else could see, but I could. And I trusted enough to follow. And once again God’s light led me back home. The light of faith supremely beaming.

The sun rising over the mountains got brighter and as it did my joy grew greater. Yes, I know there will be challenges. There will be uncertainties. There will be struggles, grief, sickness in life. It will not always be rays of light shining of my path. But this I know. When you are led by the light, a light that no one else can see, you know all will be well. For you will find yourself exactly in the place you are supposed to be.

What hymn of faith is tugging at your heart this year?

 

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Led by the light…a country pastor finds her way back home, thanks to the light of faith beaming supremely. May this Advent season you trust God and be led by His light. 

This Thanksgiving

 

Thanksgiving is drawing to a close. The turkey, stuffing and yams (what’s left of them) are sitting in the fridge in Tupperware bowls. The dishwasher is tackling the dishes I rather not tackle. And the pecan and pumpkin pies are waiting to be warmed, sliced and topped with ice cream. The holiday dinner finale, however, will have to wait. I need to do something important. And I need to do it now.

I need to pause, take a look around and fall on my knees in prayerful thanks to God who answered the cry of my heart in the most amazing way. I have to offer my tears of joy to God and recommit my service to Him who has brought me here to the place I am right now. Home. Home in the little red house where cows are my neighbors and Vermont’s Green Mountains are my backyard. Home where those who once knew me “the pastor of the little white church” still remember me as such and who have shown excitement to have me back and who have embraced me with their hugs and blessings on the streets of the village, in the coffee shop, post office and gas station. Home. A place where one’s heart is content and is guaranteed to find strength for the trying days and refuge in life’s storms.

Yes, I am home.

If you asked my husband and I a few months ago if we would be saying a Thanksgiving grace at our farm table with the slight slant due to the old 18th century floors in our house, I would not have believed it. For a few months ago the possibility of returning home seemed to be a “not now, but later” dream as I struggled with leaving a good ministry job. I, admittedly, allowed the security of an income cloud my belief in God who makes all things possible. I had let the expectations of the world—a good job with benefits—dim my talents and passion for serving God beyond a church building. Dare I say, I had, gulp, lost my faith in God and began trusting in my own abilities to make a life worth living. And where did it get me? Nowhere.

But God is patient with us. God doesn’t give up on us. God continues to work in our lives, even when we have taken over the steering wheel. And so in the spring, God ever so gently led me to a retreat for clergy. A gift of sorts to step away and discern the next steps in ministry. Every morning I woke up early to go for a walk. As the mist hovered over the lake and the birds awoke with song, I felt something. I felt a connection to the divine again. And I heard it. I heard God whisper, “You can do all things. Trust me.”

You can do all things. Trust me.

But how will I pay the bills if I move back to Vermont?

Haven’t I provided for you before? You can do all things. Trust me.

But where will I preach and share the amazing promises of a God who never leaves us alone?

I will show you how to reach my children. I will provide the opportunities. You can do all things. Trust me.

But…

“Donna, can we pray for you?”

The offer came from the retreat leaders one afternoon. Perhaps they saw me deep in thought. Perhaps they saw right through my smile and sensed the worry within. Perhaps they could see I, like Jacob, was having one heck of a wrestling match with God.

Whatever they saw, I accepted their offer and told them about the strong pull on my heart to go back home and to become an advocate, a voice, for small rural churches, but I just couldn’t see a clear way back. They gave me a warm, reassuring smile that told me they completely understood where I was at that moment. They had been there once as well. They asked what was on my heart and I shared. I shared with them how I could see myself back home in rural Vermont, serving God, serving His children, but that I didn’t the way to get there. I told them how I wanted to get back to my writing roots and still be a pastor. I told them the ideas I had for cooperative rural ministry where it wasn’t about just one church, but a network of churches serving together. I told them about my ideas for a rural ministry network, offering resources and prayer support. I told them my dreams. Now it was time to turn to God and hear His dreams for me.

We clasped hands, bowed our heads and prayed. We prayed for surrender. We prayed for strength. We prayed for provision. But most of all we prayed for God to use me as God wanted to.

After the “amen” we began to make our way to lunch. It was then one of those prayer angels stopped me before entering the room and reassured me, “You will be home and home just in time for the holidays. I just know it. You will be serving God beautifully. I can see it.”

On the last day of the retreat, each participant was given a stone embossed with the word “Credo” on it. It would be a reminder for us to live out the dreams God had awakened in each us, to realize the responsibility we had to use our talents in glorifying God, to live out our life’s creed and not fall victim to simply making a living, but rather unleashing the life God has planned for us. I carried that stone with me for months, caressing it, holding it, praying with it and tonight it sits on the fireplace mantel surrounded by the gourds I have once again received as a gift from a dear woman from the little white church who has always made sure the pastor’s house looked perfect for the holidays.

Yes, the pecan and pumpkin pies will have to wait to be warmed, sliced and topped with ice cream. For I need to fall on my knees in prayerful thanks to God who heard my cry and who has led me to where I am at this moment. I am home. Surrounded by cows, Green Mountains, gourds and many welcome home hugs.

And so a blessed Thanksgiving to you from me, the girl who once lived in Manhattan and wore cute little heels but who dared to trust God and leave it all behind for the joy and privilege of being an “accidental country pastor.”

 

A Prayer

 Loving God, you see the struggles in our hearts. We want to follow You and trust, but the worry and fear seem stronger and greater than our faith. Forgive us. Increase our faith in You. Help us to let go of all the what if’s. Help us to realize life is too short not to trust You. Help us this very moment to see the impossible can be possible. With you by our sides God let us dare to dream big, dare to stand up and make the world a better place, dare to go against what the world says is living and live with You at the center of our lives. Let us always be thankful and praise You for the wonderful way you lead each one of us to that place of belonging, fulfillment, contentment and joy—to that place we call home. Amen.

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Ash Wednesday

This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

When the cold of winter turns into the bleakness of mud season, hope is hard to find. Yet beneath the hard ground and in the midst of life’s muddiness, there is always new life waiting to bloom. Join Pastor Donna as she reflects on the transforming power of Lent and takes you on a 40-day journey of discovering God’s message of hope and renewal that she discovered in a little white church and in the hearts of the people who called that church “home.”

February 10 images

There I stood in the sanctuary, cold and alone, tired and a bit aggravated. It was Ash Wednesday and the little country churches in the rural area I was serving decided to pool their resources together and hold a combined Ash Wednesday service—of sorts.

I say of sorts because Ash Wednesday worship really wasn’t “our thing.” Or so I was told by one of the pastors who had a long tenure in the area. I guess she was right. After all, I could remember growing up and doing nothing for Ash Wednesday in my church.

For me Ash Wednesday was a Catholic thing where my friends would show up to school or an afternoon play date with strange smudges on their foreheads that I couldn’t decide if they were meant to be crosses or squashed bugs. When I asked my mom about the smudges she would say, “Oh, those are ashes. We don’t do that.”

So the Ash Wednesday service put together by the area churches would not be a traditional worship service, complete with worship bulletins, organ music, choirs singing, pastors preaching, etc. What would be offered to the community was an opportunity to have an interactive worship experience where activity stations would be set up to explore.

There would be an area for writing prayers to our service men and women and another area for making prayer beads. I can’t remember what the other activities were but I do remember volunteering for the station where the ashes would be received. Thus, how I found myself standing in a sanctuary of a neighboring church, cold and alone, tired and a big aggravated… because there were very few people showing up. The snow that fell outside didn’t help an already anticipated low attendance event.

“Why didn’t we just cancel tonight’s activity?” I thought. I was new to the area and so I was still not used to braving wintery elements that surprisingly kept very few folks at home in these parts of the woods. In fact, it seemed nothing was ever really cancelled due to a little—or a lot—of snow falling.

I stood there in the sanctuary waiting for foreheads to show up so that I could master the art of the perfectly shaped ash cross. When I became ordained I vowed I would not have my crosses looking like squashed bugs. (FYI…I have failed in the perfectly shaped cross department but I have excelled at squashed bugs.)

Sporadically, a few people trickled into where I stood and, given the informality of the imposition of ashes, they would linger afterwards and make small talk with me. I, of course, used this time to inquire how bad the weather was getting outside. Each report was not good. The snow had turned into ice and roads were getting tricky. My angst increased, but I tried to focus on my pastoral duty.

From dust you came, to dust you shall return…smudge finger in burnt palms and make a cross…darn, another squashed bug. The next one will be better. I promise.

In the background were the whispers from the few gathered about the icy roads.

How am I going to get home on these country roads that I still was not familiar with. Why didn’t I just stay home?

When it became apparent that no one else would be coming to this joint Ash Wednesday service of sorts, I quickly threw on my coat and said a rushed good bye to the other pastors. I just wanted to face the elements and get home safely.

Sure enough the front stone steps of the church were coated with ice and I slid right down, making me more anxious and frustrated.

I picked myself up and began making my way to my car not looking forward to having to scrape off an inch or so of ice. The hood to my coat was pulled down as far as it could go so as to block the pelting ice from face. The hood, though, blocked something else.

What I didn’t see was the gentleman standing by my car scraping the ice off of the windshield.

“Beautiful night, pastor, don’t you think?” he said, without a hint of sarcasm. He actually did think it was a beautiful night.

“Um, well, I guess. I’m not too happy with the ice or having to drive home in this,” I said, wondering if then he would confess that he really didn’t think this weather was beautiful at all. No confession came.

“Don’t fret. You’ll be just fine. Take it slow and trust God,” he said.

Trust God. I was in no mood for hearing my words thrown back at me.

“Yeah, I guess I can do that. You know you really didn’t have to do this for me. I mean, I do appreciate it, but why did you come out in this storm to clear off my car?” I asked, only then noticing this man wore no gloves and had only a thin jacket on.

Without stopping the ice scraping, he said, “You came out tonight for us, didn’t you? It’s the least I could do for you.”

I guess he noticed the surprised look on my face because he then said, “This is what we do for one another around here. This is our way of life.”

While I didn’t know him, he knew me. He knew I was the “new” pastor from the big city where this way of life, that is, life spent really caring for one another, was a rarity. He knew I didn’t understand yet the beauty of life in a small rural village. In time I would not only understand. I would come to treasure it.

All of sudden my anxiety of having to drive home faded away. My frustration with having to be at a service where hardly anyone showed up melted.

The windshield was free from ice. I was ready to go. As I leaned forward to shake this man’s hand, I noticed he didn’t have a black smudge on his forehead. He didn’t come out in this weather for the worship service “of sorts” we were having. He came out for another kind of service—the one that matters more than a smudge of ashes on one’s forehead. He came out for the ultimate service of helping someone else.

Ash Wednesday really isn’t our thing. I disagree. Ash Wednesday was indeed this little village’s “thing.” For I got to see a true worship service in action in the way of a stranger reaching out to me, the new pastor. I was going to like this way of life.

“This Way of Life” Lenten Challenge:

Seek to worship God out in your community by the acts of kindness you can do for others when they least expect them. 

 

 

Day 15—O Little Town Of…

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 15

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past. Micah 5:2

You’re going where?

That was the reaction I received from friends who knew me from my well-heeled days—and my not so perfectly manicured nails—as a Manhattan editor, when I told them I was going to be moving to rural America to pastor a little white church from the 1700s.images

Let me explain here about the not so perfectly manicured nails. I had—and still have—a habit of nibbling on them while deep in the writing process. In fact, one nail just bit the dust right now.

Anyway, the reaction of where I was going didn’t get any better from ministry colleagues whom I thought would understand that this “call from God” thing often took you to the very place you least expected to go.

“I didn’t know you had aspirations of blessing cows,” was the joke made to me when I had to tell the chair of the Committee on Preparation for Ministry (Presbyterian lingo for the committee that guides you through the process to ordination and accepting a call).

“Very funny,” I said, trying to hide my annoyance and then trying to explain the unexplainable. When I realized I wasn’t getting anywhere with the chair of the committee—or anyone else—I would just give up and go along with them.

“Yep, well, what can I say? I’m looking forward to blessing the goats as well.”

Truth was, this move to a little rural village in which few had heard of didn’t make complete sense to me as well. And yet every time I thought of ministry there I was filled with hopeful anticipation and excitement for what God would reveal to me. I just had this incredible peace that certainly did pass all understanding that God was leading me to something I just couldn’t even imagine for myself.

It just didn’t make sense to my Manhattan friends or to my ministry colleagues or even to me. Yet it made complete sense to God. And day-by-day as I settled into role of an accidental country pastor something happened. I fell in love with a region of the country I never thought I would live in.

Each and every day I was in awe of the amazing sunrises. Each night awe struck again by how beautiful the sun set over hills and mountains and fields. The mooing of the cows echoing in the night brought a peaceful smile to my face. Even the smell of freshly sprayed manure made me smile.

My father grew up on a farm in Switzerland and a visit to the family home nestled in the Alps when I was a little girl certainly had its share of freshly sprayed fields. So in a way, the smell was sentimental, connecting me to my Swiss heritage.

I fell in love with the little rural village and its hills and fields and mountains. I also fell in love with its people who showed me it was possible to still smile even when life was tough. The perseverance mixed with a strong sense of community was refreshing and unique having come from city living where one didn’t even know the neighbor living in the apartment right next door to you.

Most of all, though, I fell in love with my life once again for when I first moved to the village on the border of Vermont, I had baggage to unpack. I’m not talking about boxes with my dishes or books in them. I had baggage of being 40 and single and still aching from the unanswered question as to why my boyfriend was killed years before, leaving me on this path of having to live life alone—or so it seemed.

Day-by-day, though, I unpacked the baggage of love lost and crushed dreams and before I knew it, I was coming back to life. But I was coming back to a life I had never expected to live, let alone fall in love with.

And so imagine my dismay when at one Advent Bible study at the little white church, while exploring the significance of Jesus being from Nazareth, a town in which one of his soon-to-be followers initially questioned, “Can anything good come from there?” the remark was made, “It’s like asking if anything good can come from this little rural village.”

Knowing smiles and chuckles came from those sitting at the table. A few days later, while hanging out with the children at the church’s after school program, we began talking about the same piece of scripture the adults had discussed. Same reaction came.

“Can anything good come from…”

“YES!” was my response. Yes, it can and it will. For that is the beauty of the Christmas story. God sees great significance in what the world says is insignificant. God didn’t raise a great ruler from a big and powerful city. God chose a little town. God didn’t choose the brightest and the richest to be the parents to Jesus. God chose regular working class people. God didn’t break the news of the birth of a Savior to the elite. God chose to let the lowly shepherds in on the good news first.

Can anything good come from a little rural village let alone a little rural village ministry?

Yes! It can and it did as day-by-day I saw hearts open to God and wills surrendering to God’s mysterious plans that proved way better than any of our plans.

O little town of…

In the middle of writing this, my reflections of a blessed ministry at a little white church in a rural village, I received an email from a friend who lived just down the block from the church and who would visit me every Sunday morning as I prepared for worship. He wrote:

I am glad this little town, in the middle of nowhere, has made a difference [to you]. It really helps to know that we actually matter, in such a big world. May the love and remembrances of Christmas past fill your heart with the anticipation of Christmas future.

Can anything good come from…

Yes. Good came.

In a a little village my heart was healed and I found a life I never thought I would ever find. I fell in love with the region, the people, my now husband who came from the little rural village and, I fell ever more deeply in love with the God I have come to trust a little bit more.

May we never look at things as little or insignificant, for they are the very things God smiles upon and uses for His purpose of hope and healing.

 

 

 

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 an accidental country pastor in a historic white clapboard church in upstate New York, right on the border of Vermont, from 2007-2013.

December 1: Gathering the Evergreen

It is I who answer and look after you.
I am like an evergreen cypress;
your faithfulness comes from me. 
Hosea 14:8

The first Sunday in Advent was approaching and apprehension and excitement filled my heart. This wasn’t just any first Sunday in Advent. It was for me my first Sunday in Advent of my first church as a newly ordained pastor who would be lighting the first candle on the Advent wreath with my first ever congregation.

Whew! There were definitely a lot of “firsts” taking place in my life and taking place all at once it seemed, as this was also the first time I was some distance from my mom and dad. A twinge of homesickness struck as I realized an impromptu cup of coffee with them was not going to happen as it once did. I looked around at the boxes still to be unpacked in my new “home sweet home”—an antique saltbox dating back to 1760-something—and as I did, I began humming the Christmas classic, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

My trusty roommate, Sullivan, an elderly eighteen pound cat who had come to me as a kitten when I was still an editor living in Manhattan and who had not-so-patiently endured the long drive to his new country abode, jumped on top of the table where I worked on the worship bulletin and nuzzled his head against my hand.

Please have snow and mistletoe…

The good news was my new home already had snow as the day after the moving van unloaded my belongings white flakes had fallen, covering the world in a peaceful beauty that only newly fallen snow can do. And mistletoe? Well, that was also in abundance. All I had to do was walk into the woods and fields and rolling hills surrounding me to get myself some festive boughs of any and all kind.

I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams…

The first Sunday in Advent was approaching. Apprehension, excitement and a wee bit of homesickness filled my heart.

“Sully,” I said to my trusty feline companion. “I know just what we need.” On went my coat and my mittens and off I went to explore the woods and fields and rolling hills to gather greenery of all kinds to make an Advent wreath for my new home. This would ease my apprehension. This would take away the twinge of homesickness.

As a child, making the Advent wreath was a much-awaited tradition that came after the last of the Thanksgiving turkey was eaten. But being we lived in a congested area in New Jersey, we often had to go to a nursery and buy an armful of evergreen for our wreath. Here, though, in what was known by locals as “God’s country” there was evergreen to be had right at your fingertips.

The walk in God’s country turned out to be the healing balm I needed for as I walked in the crisp air and heard nothing but the crunching of snow beneath me, I was reminded of why we deck our homes with evergreen in this barren time of year.

For just as God reminded his prophet Hosea, God reminds us all that He is like an evergreen cypress or a flourishing juniper or a tall fir (depending on which Bible translation you read). Our faithfulness and our hope come from God and God alone. With each evergreen bough I placed in my arms, I held on to the truth that God’s great faithfulness had never failed me. Nor would it ever. This was going to be one very special Advent wreath that would get me through the many firsts happening in my life.

That night as I opened a can of soup for my dinner for one, I decided to prematurely light the first candle on my newly created Advent wreath. Perhaps I did so because I needed the promise of hope to shine now rather than to shine later. And so I lit the candle. Sully jumped up on to my lap and together we watched the one flame dance a dance of joy made ever more joyful with the drafts that blew through the many cracks and gaps in the windows of the old saltbox. As it danced, I wondered…

What would my first Sunday in Advent at the first church I was pastoring with my first congregation be like? What would the music be like? What would the attendance be? I wondered about those I would meet and come to know in the days and months and years to come. And all of a sudden, I wondered what would their Advent wreath be like? Would fake evergreen be used? Would there be no evergreen in favor of just a wrought iron ring?

My Sunday morning of firsts finally arrived. As I entered into the quiet sanctuary an hour before worship began, I noticed something that took away my apprehension and replaced my twinge of homesickness with the most reassuring “welcome home.” There before me was the church’s Advent wreath that looked oh so familiar. The wreath featured the same evergreen of every kind that I had just picked out in the woods, the fields and the hills of my new home. I soon learned that each year the wreath was made by the loving hands of those who knew what I had come to know—there is a healing balm out in the woods and hills and fields that God has blessed us with. And it is there in the simplicity of life, like gathering evergreen from your own backyard, that one can see more clearly that with God there is always an abundance of beauty to gaze upon, of daily bread to eat, and of grace to receive.

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The Advent wreath of evergreen collected from the woods and hills and fields all around the little white church. 

The first candle in Advent was lit on the first Sunday as an installed ordained pastor in the first church I was pastoring with my first ever faith family. And the candle danced with hope and with joy around a wreath of evergreen that reminded us all—God is like an evergreen cypress, a flourishing juniper…God’s faithfulness never ends.

May today you gather evergreen for your home and may it not be just some holiday decoration. May it be the reminder we need reminding of always—God is forever faithful.