This Way of Life Lenten Journey

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.”

Day 3: Go Now in Peace

There’s a song the little white church would sing every week at the very end of worship. It was called “Go Now in Peace.” I had never heard of this song before nor have I ever worshipped or worked in a church in which a choral benediction was sung. So the first time I experienced this choral benediction it was indeed quite memorable.

It was the Sunday I preached for the congregation as their prospective new minister. Boy was I nervous. Would they like me? Would they be pleased with my sermon? I knew it really wasn’t about me but about God’s Spirit at work leading us both to the right partnership, but still, you can’t stop that tape playing in your head that they are looking at you and not beyond to what God is leading them to. Anyway, I gave the blessing and as the music began to play for the choral benediction, I walked to the back of the sanctuary. That’s when it happened. A divine moment. I stood there the soon-to-be next minister of the little white church and I looked out at people that God was bringing into my life to lead and to learn from. I stood and listened to their voices sing a song I was not familiar with.

Go now in peace. Never be afraid. God will be with you each hour of every day. Reach out to others…

I watched and listened to them sing this song that many knew by heart. And I wondered. How many really believed the words they were singing? Were they afraid? Did they know God was there each hour of every day? Were they reaching out to others?

I wondered about these people I had yet come to know, had yet to be there in their griefs, had yet to be their in their joys, had yet to journey with them in faith.

But as I listened I felt something there in the sanctuary. I felt a strange movement of the Spirit I had never felt before. It was as soft as breeze, but I realized then the Spirit was just beginning to move and among these people something powerful was going to emerge. Voices that were singing hesitantly were on the verge of singing boldly.

The vote to become the next pastor of the little white was unanimous and I walked back to the front of the sanctuary that God knew I—an avid lover of 18th architecture—would appreciate. I looked out at those gathered in the colonial era white wooden pews still with the doors attached and lifted my hands to give the blessing. As I did I felt that gentle breeze of the Spirit pick up a bit more.

“Go now in peace. Know He will guide you in all you do,” I said, borrowing from the choral benediction that was a little white church tradition.

Our ministry had began and as days turned into weeks that turned into months that turned into years, the Spirit’s breeze kept blowing and leading and waking hearts up. And then it happened.

One Sunday in Lent as the little white church sang their traditional choral benediction, I had yet another divine moment—a moment that almost brought tears to my eyes.

I heard their voices sing as I never heard before. This time I clearly heard voices that were stronger in aith and voices that were singing the words, “Reach out to others…” with conviction and passion. The words weren’t just words sung by rote. The words were being sung out of the experiences that we had together, experiences of growing in our faith together and experiences of really reaching out beyond our own doors and into the community. The words had come to life.

I stopped singing at one point and just stared at the cross on the communion table, listening to the strength and conviction that was coming out of the voices of the many men and women and children gathered for worship.

“God,” I said, “Can you hear them? Can you hear the belief in their voice? Can you hear the strength? Can you hear the love? Can you hear the determination to really reach out to others so all the world can see? God can you hear your children coming alive by your Spirit moving among them?”

I then lifted my eyes from the cross and looked over at all who were singing and noticed not only were their voices strong, but their faces were transformed. They were shining. Some people had their eyes closed, some had their eyes lifted up towards heaven and one man in my congregation did what he has done since the first day I came to the little white church. At the moment in the song when we sang, “God will be there, watching from above…” this man, in true devotion to God, always lifted his hands up towards heaven.

I carry this memory close to my heart because whenever I find myself wondering where God is or questioning the movement of the Spirit in my life because I haven’t felt any gentle breeze against my skin, I can close my eyes and go back to the little white church and hear the voices of God’s children sing.

I can remember how I was priviledged to see God’s Spirit breathing new life into tired bones and how words once sang by rote became words of transformation and new life.

God will be with you each hour of every day…

In this season of Lent, as we are invited to enter into the wilderness, let us not be afaid. Rather as we walk let us become aware of how closely God watches over us and how wonderfully God leads us. And may the song you sing along the way be sung with newfound strength, love and conviction.

Go now in peace. Never be afraid. 


God will go with you each hour of every day. 


Go now in faith, steadfast, strong and true. 


Know He will guide you in all you do. 


Go now in love, and show you believe. 


Reach out to others so all the world can see. 


God will be there watching from above.


Go now in peace, in faith, and in love.

 

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Is your walk with God drudgery? Are you tired? Are you wondering where is this power of the Spirit you hear about? Whatever you do, don’t stop walking. Don’t stop singing. Challenge yourself this day to take one more step in faith and take it without any fear, trusting God all the way. For God does go with you each hour of every day.

Day 21—A Circle of Light

A Little White Church Christmas

As we approach Christmas Eve, hear the stories of God incarnate working in and among the people of the little white church nestled in a village in Upstate New York. These stories of “Emmanuel”—God with us—were gathered during Donna Frischknecht’s time serving as minister of a historic white clapboard church right on the border of Vermont, from 2007-2013.

December 21

I spoke the last word of my Christmas Eve sermon and as I did I secretly breathed a sigh of relief. No matter how long one has been at his or her craft—Christmas Eve worship always brings a bit of anxiety.There’s the anxiety of trying to tell the old familiar story in a fresh, new way. images

(Reminder to self: just let God’s Word speak, don’t get cute or fancy. Just be real.)

Then there is the anxiety of what if this would the night in which for the first time ever I blank out up there and forget everything. That’s an anxiety leftover from seminary days.

(Reminder to self: it has yet to happen and so it probably will never happen.)

Then there’s the anxiety of new faces staring back at you from the pews, many of whom probably have no interest in what the church offers beyond Christmas Eve. I have come to realize those who find themselves gathered in a church on that holy night are often gathered out of a sense of tradition, which is not bad at all.

(Reminder to self: the Holy Spirit can work—and does reach hearts—with those simply seeking tradition.)

My task is not to convert people on Christmas Eve. My task is to be as faithful as I can in the telling God’s story of salvation and let my own knowledge of that salvation and grace, speak through me.

Still I have a healthy awareness as to where the Christmas Eve sermon ranks in importance for those gathered to worship.

(Note to self: keep Christmas Eve sermon on the shorter side.)

I would say the sermon is probably at No. 3, right behind wanting to hear the old familiar songs of Christmases past sung once again.

What’s the No. 1 reason many come to church on Christmas Eve?

They come for that incredibly moving moment when the lights go out in the sanctuary. Then, with only the radiant beams shining from hundreds of individual candles, “Silent Night” is softly sung by young and old, believer and doubter, broken and whole, joyful and sorrowful, sinner and saint.

And nowhere more was this beloved tradition so beautifully executed than at the little white church.

It was there that I, a new pastor, was introduced to a new tradition I had never experienced before.

As I was planning my first Christmas Eve, I was told by the faithful and hardworking Worship Committee that while I basically had free reign to do whatever new thing I wanted to do that night, I was not to change how they did the candles during “Silent Night.”

“First we have communion,” said one woman in a way that told me she was used to being in charge. “We have two chalices, one for grape juice and one for wine.”

“We have to remember to put a red bow on the wine chalice so that people know which cup has the alcohol and which one doesn’t,” another committee member chimed in.

(Note to self: remember to announce that on Christmas Eve as well as print the red-bow chalice information in the worship bulletin.)

“Okay,” I said, agreeing with everything so far.

“And then we light our candles from the Christ candle and we begin making a circle all around the sanctuary,” the woman with the drill sergeant voice continued.

(Note to you the reader: This woman with the gruff voice turned out to be one of the most blessed angels in my ministry while at the little white church. I always smile whenever I think of her.)

“You don’t go back to your pews?” I asked, trying to envision the circle being made as folks come up for communion, while others took their lighted candles up the aisles of a church made out of timber some 200-plus years old. I was fond of that church and really didn’t want to see any fires on Christmas Eve.

“Yes,” she said in a way that told me I shouldn’t have questioned it.

“We’ve always done it this way, pastor,” yet another committee member added.

“But what about safety issues?” I asked ever so gently.

“You just have be careful with your candle,” was the reply.

“What about those who have trouble walking and have to remain seated in the pew? We can’t leave them out of the candle lighting?” I asked, thinking of my handicapped brother who would visiting that Christmas Eve and who definitely would be that person forgotten in this beautiful, beloved tradition.

“No problem. Whoever has to remain seated, will stay seated. An elder will light their candle and stay with them as sort of an extension of the circle,” was the reply back.

“Oh, okay. That’s a wonderful solution,” I said, still not certain as to how this was all going to play out on Christmas Eve.

And so I spoke the last word of my Christmas Eve sermon and as I did I secretly breathed a sigh of relief. That part was done. Now, though, there was the angst of the singing of “Silent Night” and the circle of light that would be made in the sanctuary.

Now more than ever I had to trust God.

(Note to self: I am just an instrument. Let God work on this holy night.)

And work He did.

Young and old, believer and doubter, broken and whole, joyful and sorrowful, sinner and saint, all came up to break the bread, then dip in either of the two chalices (the one with the red bow was quite popular), and then light their candle.

Back up the side aisles they began to go. I really couldn’t pay much attention to the formation of the circle, as I was busy administering the sacrament. By the time all were served the bread and the cup, it was time for me to light my candle and say a prayer before the singing of “Silent Night” began.

I looked up and out at the sanctuary for the first time. I couldn’t speak. My throat choked up with emotion and I had to fight the tears.

Before my eyes was an unbroken circle of pure light, with faces all beaming, especially the faces from those on the Worship Committee, who looked at me as if to say, “Isn’t this beautiful? See, you had nothing to worry about, pastor.”

All come for this Christmas Eve moment in which something more powerful than tradition happens—the light of Christ, if only throughout the four or five stanzas of “Silent Night”, is seen by eyes often blind to it.

The smile from a teen as God whispers blessed assurances that life will get better.

The tear coming from the elderly woman as God’s arms wrap around her when her husband’s arms can no longer hug her.

The child, who is fighting his mom to hold his own candle, is finally given the light. He quiets down and holds the light with reverence and awe, as God’s Spirit lights up the world before him.

My brother, seated in the pew, but not alone. The light of Christ shining forth on him in the way of the candle of a church member who chose to stand by him.

Each person, even if it is just for the four or five stanzas in which “Silent Night” is sung, can see the Christ light in their lives.

The little white church’s beloved tradition had become mine. And every year I couldn’t wait to see the circle of light in that historic sanctuary, a reminder of God’s never-ending love upon Christ’s church and its people.