Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Season of Light

What are your Christmas traditions? Perhaps you tell stories about people who cannot be with you, for whatever reason. Maybe you go to church to hear the story of Christmas. Perhaps you decorate your house with lights to pierce the darkness. Maybe you send an annual Christmas letter.

As I've grown older, I've realized that my family doesn't have many Christmas traditions, but it does feel like there's something missing if we don't have a tree, with soothing lights and sparkly ornaments. This year, Syed and I finally have a home big enough for a tree, and we went and bought an ornament together to remember our first Christmas in Ithaca. Every time the lights of our tree are lit, it makes me feel a bit closer to my family and more at home here in Ithaca.

Lighting the Advent candles also makes me feel more connected to the season - especially now that I'm back in the Northeast, where the days are very short and any little bit of light is welcome! At our Advent Monday night services, we turned the chapel into a walkable Advent wreath, with prayer stations at each candle.

Today is the beginning of Hanukkah, the Jewish celebration of the miracle of light - when the oil lasted long enough to provide light for 8 days. And starting December 26, many will celebrate Kwanzaa with 7 candles to represent 7 foundational African values.

In his article "From Darkness to Light: Entering Holy Time," Eitan Fishbane writes that the true meaning of Hannukah is "to awaken light and redemption from within our darkest places, both as individuals and as a community. To break through the barriers and the hardships that hold us back. To realize that the yearning of our heart and the force of our intention can bring about the miracle of transformation."

A few weeks ago, I invited you to join me in resting in hope, while darkness does its work. Now, as we look toward Christmas, I hope we can all rejoice in the miracle of light as we seek to follow the Light of the World. May we all, together, "awaken light and redemption from within our darkest places, both as individuals and as a community." I hope to see you at our Christmas Eve and Christmas morning services, and if you are traveling, may you have safe travels and a joyous Christmas.

Many blessings,

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Building Up the Body of Christ

On Sunday, we had a lovely worship service of music, scripture, and prayer. Thanks to all who participated, particularly Bill and all our musicians! We also welcomed 4 new members, and because they have all started attending our church within the last year, I wanted to give you the opportunity to learn more about them. All 4 of them have jumped right in - among other things, Andi has joined the choir and sang a solo on Sunday, Chris has read scripture in worship, Kate has joined Bible studies at church, and Delphia has participated in women's retreats. They all bring many gifts to our congregation, and I hope you'll take the opportunity to greet them and get to know them better!

Every one of you is a treasured and important member of the Body of Christ. Paul wrote, "The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ" (1 Corinthians 12:12). So even as you get to know our 4 newest members, I hope you'll let them - and all of us - get to know you better as well. We need each other to build up the Body of Christ.

Hope to see you at one or more of our opportunities to gather and worship this week.

Kate Booth was born and raised on a farm in Northwest Missouri until her family moved to town, where she discovered the joys and drawbacks of neighbors.  She attended Missouri Western State University where she received her B.S. in Economics and Business Administration. After graduating, Kate was the Director of Childcare Services for the Saint Joseph School District and oversaw the District's 15 childcare centers. Miraculously, all 1000 children survived her tenure in the position.  In 2009, she accepted a position with the local Community Action Agency as the Director of Research and Planning.  Currently, Kate is the Assistant Director for the Cayuga Heights School Age Program. She is helping coach two elementary basketball teams at CHES and loves to be physically active: working out at the gym, hiking, and playing softball, basketball and golf. She enjoys cooking, taking naps, and being with her wonderful new Ithaca  friends! She is a huge women's basketball fan (Go Lady Vols!) and the proud mother of Stella, a 1-year old puppy. She does not like spicy food but is committed to trying at least one bite of everything.

Delphia Shanks is a second year PhD student in the department of Policy Analysis and Management at Cornell University where she studies poverty, inequality and social policy. She loves living in Ithaca and has been excited to become involved at FCC so early in her residence here. Although she had hobbies before graduate school, she no longer remembers what they were and now divides her time between reading at the library and reading at home. She has taught swing dancing, nonprofit board management, and long division. Previously, she lived in St. Joseph, Missouri, where she worked for a Community Action Agency, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she completed Teach for America, and in Grinnell, Iowa, where she completed her undergraduate degree and a GrinnellCorps fellowship.

Andrea (“Andi”) and Chris Dietrich both grew up in Michigan,met in 1998, married in 2005, and moved to Ithaca in 2008. They jus discovered our church, and dove right in!
Andi works at Cornell as a C-Print Captionist, attending classes with deaf and hard of hearing students and transcribing lectures in real time. When she's not working, she spends a lot of my time in various choirs – the Madrigal Choir of Binghamton, the Ithaca Community Chorus, and of course our choir and handbell choir. She is a certified geek, and enjoy gaming, sci-fi and fantasy, Muppets, and dice, among other things! She crochets, and does a lot of gluten-free baking when she has the time. Andi is thrilled to have found such a wonderful church to call “home!” :)

Chris is the sort of person that spends a long time on a bio where he is depicted as being raised by a pack of wild Esperanto-speaking turnips before settling for an accurate description of himself. He grew up in Michigan, but has lived in Ithaca for the past few years. Chris is an avowed geek-of-all-trades, repository for an amusing excess of trivia, and a self-described “conversational black hole.” While Chris hopes to professionally return to the field of disability rights and advocacy, he is currently working as a research assistant at Cornell's Survey Research Institute and as a freelance educational game-master.
From Left: Delphia, Kate, Andi, Chris

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"Traditions....Always the Same.... Always Changing"

I am thinking that many of us have holiday traditions that we hold dear, some of them came from our own childhoods and others, we created along the way.

Lighting the candles on the Advent Wreath is a tradition in many families and in many congregations. Avary and I always had an Advent Wreath on our dining room table and lit the candles each night. I don't, however, remember even seeing an Advent Wreath until my 30's and I was in seminary.

Where did we get a tradition of Advent Wreaths? One theory is that some German Pastor in the 19th Century reclaimed a pagan solstice tradition to help children visually move through the long days of winter. (click here to read more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advent_candles).

There are basics to an Advent Wreath - a wreath of greenery and candles. And, from there the variations are great! The number of the candles, the colors of the candles and the names of the candles. Like my mother's Christmas tree, Advent Wreaths seems to be popular as a tradition, but over time they change and change and change.

In our church, we have a tradition of having members light the candles each week at the beginning of worship and at both services on Christmas Eve. I am sure the basics have remained the same, but the specifics have changed over the years.

When the whole church moved from the purple of penitence and royalty to the blue of hoping and waiting as the color for the Advent Season, we changed to blue candles. We have changed from a rather square arrangement to a round one. We have used different songs and prayers. And, we have sometimes had a pink candle for the third Sunday (traditionally symbolizing rejoicing, but somehow changing to 'love') and sometimes not. We have used traditional names for the candles and we've changed the names to help us focus on our Advent theme.

Our tradition of lighting the Advent Candles in worship is basic, precious and ever-changing. It always reminds us of the Light of Christ, of the church family we share and of this amazing season of hope and waiting. AND, it changes to surprise us and remind us that God is always the same and always changing in our lives. So, enjoy the traditions this year and be surprised by the ways they change. Keep the holidays this year with the old and the new. You'll be glad you did!

Blessings Always - Laura Lee