Sundays at The Old Stone Well Farm

In the midst of all the protesting and division in our country this weekend, Pastor Donna invites you to step away from it all and to reflect on what it means to come together and remember the promise to those walking in darkness that light is indeed shining.

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

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 19—Holy Silences

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 19

What did I love most about being an accidental country pastor?

Many things, but if I had to mention one it would be the holy silences I often found myself immersed in during the season of Advent and Christmas.

Silences?images

Holy?

In the season of Christmas?

I know, I know. You’re probably wondering what in heaven’s name am I talking about, especially now in this the final mad dash to the BIG DAY, when there are very few moments of silence to be had.

Christmas music plays nonstop in the background of malls and grocery stores, reminding you to hurry and shop for time is a wasting. Then there are the churches with their cantatas and choral societies with their concerts tugging at your time. Let’s not forget schools as well have their schedules of winter concerts to attend. On top of all the noise of musical offerings filling up the Christmas airwaves, there is the chatter of all the Christmas parties, both work and family, edging out any opportunity for a moment of holy silence.

And yet my time at the little white church there was always the beauty of the holy silences of Christmas all around me that I treasured.

There was the holy silence in the early morning walk to the chicken coop to say good morning to Drumstick, BBQ, Red, Chick, Sam and Fido. Don’t ask. The kids at the church named my chickens for me.

There was something so healing to my soul to greet my feathered friends and give them fresh water and then peek inside the coop to see what gifts they had waiting for me.

In that quiet moment, all anxious thoughts as to what to preach Christmas Eve melted away into a peaceful assurance that the words would indeed come.

While the coop was a ways from the house and not equipped with any electric, thus, my daily routine of chipping out the ice in their water dish and replenishing it with fresh water, I never minded the walk even in many feet of snow to trudge through.

When I was done tending to them, I would turn back towards the house only to notice how beautifully the sun was coming up over the field. Many times I would find myself standing there in the snow besides the coop not believing God had actually given me this life.

There I stood in holy silence, interrupted only by an occasional cluck, cluck from Drumstick—or Fido—they both sounded the same. There I stood allowing the holy silence to fill my heart with a song of never-ending praise that began my day in the most perfect way.

There was also the holy silence of the season of just sitting on the back porch in the late afternoon before dinner was ready and then heading out to my nighttime commitments at the church.

I would sit on the porch swing and look up at the tree line on the hills of the property. As the sun was setting its beams would peek through the bare trees in such a way that it always formed the image of a cross.

I tried as often as I could to make sure I was sitting on the porch swing at just the right time so I could be blessed by the sun’s gift of an illumined cross appearing, reminding me once again, the best gifts are not from a store. The best gifts are the ones God gives to us that are all around us.

I would swing gently back and forth. No Christmas music, no chatter, not even the sound of car going by…just a sweet stillness and a cross to mediate on.

And then there was my most favorite holy silence. The one that came on Christmas Eve when I would enter into the sanctuary of the little white church yet to be filled with holiday worshippers. With only the light of the setting sun coming through the multi-paned clear windows, I would stop and stare at the beauty of a heavenly warmth washing over the sanctuary’s colonial décor of cheerful yellow walls and wooden pews painted white.

The strong smell of evergreen wafted in the room as there was always a big tree given to the church by a local farm. The holy silence of an empty sanctuary before the doors would open for Christmas Eve worship was for me my time of worship. My time to be still before God and to receive the gift of His blessed presence.

Holy silences are important in our lives. They are especially important at Christmastime for it is in the quiet moments when we finally stop “doing” Christmas that we actual begin to experience Christ with us. And that’s what Christmas is really all about.

And yet we feel there is still have so much to do to make Christmas what we think it should be. Here’s a gentle reality check if your Christmas list still has many items yet to be crossed off.

Jesus came that Christmas so long ago into a world that was not quite ready for him. Mary and Joseph were making a road trip to Bethlehem, thinking they probably would have time to get that darn census taking care of before Mary gave birth. But the baby came before Mary and Joseph were ready. There was no room at the inn. There weren’t any baby clothes or blankets or crib waiting. It’s safe to say there were items left undone on Mary’s list at that first Christmas.

And besides a heavenly host of angels and some shepherds swinging by to see baby Jesus, the world didn’t really do anything extraordinary for our Savior’s birth. Jesus came into a world that was simply going about its business.

We need to remember the lesson in that. So often we look for God in the extraordinary moments of life when in fact God is right there in all the mundane routines—and unfinished tasks—of life. And sometimes the best realization of Emmanuel, God with us, happens when we simply stop running around and allow the holy silences to speak to us.

As the Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” sings “how silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given” we are reminded the wondrous gift is still given in the silences we need to either seek or carve out in a busy, loud world.

So if you are looking to create a magical Christmas, start with the holy silences.

I am enjoying one right now as I sit here and type and listen to nothing but a soft snore coming from my bumbling Bernese Mountain dog, Sofie, who is sleeping in the glow of nothing but the Christmas tree lights on in my living room.

I know this holy silence will not last. I have things on my Christmas list still to check off, but I am not going to stress over it. For now I have been given the gift of God’s presence and in this, my holy silence, I whisper my thank you to God.

The countdown to Christmas has begun and with it comes a flurry of last minute items to attend to, but try to make it a priority to create or find some holy silences.

For while the wondrous gift is given in silence, it is also in the holy silences the wondrous gift is truly received.

 

 

Day 3—The Angel Ornament

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 3

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Luke 2:13,14

The angel ornament had to be somewhere in one of the many boxes still needing to be unpacked, but which one? I looked at my watch. It was already 9:30 a.m. and my first cup of coffee was still sitting on my dining room table growing cold. Next to it was my lofty list of things to get done scribbled out on a piece of scrap paper I thankfully found in the bottom of my bag, for my note paper was also sitting in one of the many boxes needing to be unpacked.   images

I had only just moved to my new rural home. One week to be exact, and already I was in full pastor mode, trying to assimilate and adjust in what was perhaps the craziest time of year to assimilate and adjust—Christmas. On top of getting to know where the grocery store was—hint, more than a 15 minute drive—when choir met for rehearsal, where any of my congregants lived (because all their addresses in the church directory were post office boxes!), I was now called upon to walk with a family through the toughest walk we can ever make—the one through the valley of death.

“Pastor, you need to visit Judy. She is not good at all. She’s been fighting cancer. She’s now home. Hospice is there attending to her and her family. Pastor, you need to meet Judy. You need to see the family,” I was told after my first Sunday worship.

I was also told to expect a huge gathering for her funeral, which would be held at the church I was pastor of, for Judy, I learned was much loved in this rural village, an angel who shared her love for music with all. There didn’t seem to be one person in the village whom Judy did not touch.

So that Monday I went to Judy’s home, which was right across the street from the old white church. I am not going to lie. I was anxious. I was a new pastor and this was my first pastoral visit to a home in which I would be called upon to offer the peace and comfort of God’s promises: “even though I walk through the darkest valleys, you are with me, your rod and staff, they comfort me.”

I awkwardly introduced myself as “the new pastor” and tried to keep out of the way of the family scurrying about to make lunch, to administer meds, and to greet the stream of visitors coming to the home. I walked into the room where Judy was and gently sat down on the bed next to her.

“Hi, I’m the new pastor,” didn’t seem to be the appropriate thing to say and so when her eyes opened and she quizzically looked at me, I took her hand and said, “Judy, I can’t tell you how grateful I am to be meeting you. I have heard from many how you have touched their lives. You are an angel and I am so honored to be here with you.”

Her feeble hand gripped mine and she smiled and whispered, “It’s good to meet you, Pastor.”

One week into the job of pastor became two, and I had a lot going on. But “darn, I wish I could find that angel ornament” was all I could think about as I put on my coat to head into the village to visit Judy again and check on my messages in the church office. Perhaps, I could simply buy another ornament later that night when I made my run into the next town over for some much-needed groceries.

The ornament I was fixated on was going to be for the special Christmas tree Judy’s family was asking for the community to decorate as a gift for the much-loved music teacher. As soon as I heard this call out to the community for ornaments to decorate the tree, I thought of my angel ornament a dear friend gave to me years ago. It was special to me for it was an angel that sparkled on a sad-looking tree the year in which I was walking through one of those dark valleys myself.

It just seemed this had to be the ornament to place on Judy’s tree, to pass along the blessing it was to me, to make her know she had an angel watching over her. No, no other ornament would do. It had to be the angel. Now which box to look through first?

As life goes, I didn’t have time to find the angel that laid hidden in one of the many still to be unpacked boxes. Judy passed away in the early morning hours and soon I was immersed in planning my first funeral.

The day of the funeral came and, as informed, the white country church was standing room only. The 18th century balconies that had not felt the weight of so many people in many, many years, creaked and moaned, making those sitting under the balcony wonder if perhaps that was not a good pew to sit in.

More people crammed the narthex and even more huddled outside the church doors in hopes to at least hear part of the service.

I put on my clergy robe in my office and took a deep breath before walking in front of a sanctuary filled with grieving hearts. As sometimes it happens, a random thought entered my mind as I made my way into the sanctuary and it was of all things about the angel I couldn’t find that I had wanted so badly to be hanging on what was Judy’s last Christmas tree.

“Darn, I wish I had found that angel for Judy,” was my last thought before making my way to the lectern to greet the crowd gathered.

As I looked out at what was a sea of strangers who would soon become friends, I realized Judy didn’t need my ornament. She had something better. She had hundreds of angels gathered together who were there for her in life and who were now there for her—and for one another—in death.

There in the historic sanctuary, only week 2 in my new role as pastor, in a little rural village, just three days before Christmas, I saw something more dazzling than a heavenly host of angels. I saw a beautiful crowd of earthly angels—men, women and children—who knew something special that only I would come to know in my time serving this rural community. Angels are indeed all around. We just have to look into the hearts of one another to realize that.

Postscript

I never did find my special angel ornament. Not sure what happened to it or how it got lost in my move to rural Upstate New York. But I would like to think that perhaps my little angel made its way onto the Christmas tree of someone who needed to know what I have come know. There is always someone watching over you. Always.

 

 

A Holy High Five

 

It was one of those Sundays where I stood in the narthex in what I’ve come to describe as my “post-preaching daze”—a state of mind in which the adrenaline of the preaching high wears off and I stand there shaking hands while all the time thinking about the following: how the end of the sermon could have ended differently, was the point I was trying to make made, did I really put the Holy Spirit before Jesus once again in my trinitarian benediction and, more importantly, where’s the nearest cup of coffee because, boy, I can use some right now.

On this particular Sunday, though, in my post-preaching daze, I wondered about something else. I wondered where the Spirit was moving among us, because sometimes, just sometimes, God seems to remain silent when you really want to know if what you are doing makes a difference.

So there I stood in my post-preaching daze not expecting much in terms of getting a divine pat on the back or even a holy high five, when two boys came running in from where church school had just been let out. As they made their way over to me I could see they were very excited about something.

Jack, and his younger brother, Tyler, had something in their hands. As they got closer I could see they were holding the white plastic tops to one of those dollar store boxes. Before I could even venture a guess as to what this was all about, they showed me. On the inside of the white lid, in blue marker, was a tracing of their hand with the message, “Place your hand here and we can pray together. God bless you!”

The brothers told me how they put together several shoeboxes for our church’s Operation Christmas Child mission project, going to the store and filling the boxes with gifts for underprivileged children who might not ever feel the generous love of God. The brothers, though, took the shoebox project a step further by inviting the recipient of their box to join them in prayer.

I stood there amazed, dumbfounded and deeply moved. I’ve been talking a lot about the power of prayer and our need to pray more. I’ve said it once, twice, thrice, prayer is the foundation on which anything we do for God needs to be built upon. And now, the youngest among us not only heard, they took action, inviting another child’s hand to “touch” theirs in prayer.

Rendered speechless by the thoughtful act of two boys, I stared at the inside of the lid and slowly placed my hand on top of the one drawn in blue marker.

My wondering as to where the Spirit of God was moving among us was right there in front of me. I had received my holy high five.

ShoeBoxes