This Advent Season we will return to the Church’s
liturgical calendar for worship. The lectionary is a prescribed
set of readings that churches around the globe have used for
hundreds of years to follow the life cycle of the birth, life,
death and resurrection of Christ.
A liturgical group of artists and writers formed a com-
munity called Sanctified Art. They create stories, songs, art,
and writings based on the church’s liturgical calendar. This
year for Advent they came with the theme, “Those Who
Dream…” One author from the group said, “the opening lines
from Psalm 126 jumped off the page in our Bible study while
searching for a theme, ‘When the Lord restored the fortunes
of Zion, we were like those who dream.’”
What does it look like to live as those who dream? The
prophets, the psalmists, John the Baptist, Mary, Elizabeth,
Joseph, Simeon, Anna, the shepherds and the Magi—they
were all dreamers. They received, discovered, and
responded to God’s dreams for the world. In Advent, we step
into the mystery and awe of God’s dreams and pray they
shape our reality.
This theme is for the dreamers in all of us—those who
dream of a deeper connection with God and those who
dream of a better world. It’s for those who dream of comfort
and for those who have given up on their dreams. It’s for
those whose dreams have been crushed and for those who
show us that dreams take time.
Rev. Lauren Wright Pittman, Director of Branding,
Founding Creative Partner of Sanctified Art shared the
following: When considering the theme of “Those Who
Dream….” the image that came to mind most presently was
the image of one eye open, and another eye shut. There is
something about this space between sleep and conscious-
ness that I think is important to pay attention to, and
something about this move toward awakening that feels
deeply relevant to our current context. This imagery can
symbolize many things: the bewildering narratives and
fragments of our dreams, our individual dreams taking on the
form of God's dream, and the collective movement of people
it takes to bring God's dream to life. How do we awaken to
join in God’s dream for the world revealed in Jesus? How
can join in making Christ’s dream a reality?
We will explore those questions with the traditional stories
of advent with Hope, Love, Joy and Peace! Join us this
Advent as we dream alongside prophets and angels, Mary
and the Magi. Join us as we seek and sow God’s dreams for
Blessings, Rev. Trey Hegar
An eccentric widow in Italy left $13 million to her cat. A real estate mogul in New York left $3 million to his dog and another $1 million to a domestic care giver for the dog. That’s crazy! Well, the church needs a few crazy Christians.
We live in unprecedented times. Never before in the history of the world have so many voices had a platform to promote whatever cause or belief they render as important. Many of these agencies compete against one another. For example, you may open your mailbox and receive an ad for the NRA (National Rifle Association) and an ad for legislative gun control, both asking for financial contributions, both finding many who give. There is a competition for charitable donations. Colleges, hospitals, elementary schools, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Parks and Wildlife, and many more all clamor for our gifts. They are unhesitant in asking and relentless in their quest. They will cater to large donors. They will spend $1 million to make $2 million.
In this competitive landscape, the church also needs to stand-out. We can’t just expect people to give to the church out of obligation. We have to make a case for why people should give to the church. Why be that crazy person who gave so much money people had to talk about it?
The #1 reason is the world needs to see the Way of Jesus!
Our church is known for being a voice of compassion and justice. We have earned a reputation as people who not only talk about loving our neighbors, but as people who visibly take action to demonstrate that love. The call for such action comes from Jesus. More than any time in our lives, we need the Way of Jesus to be upheld and supported.
One of my favorite all-time hymns, “Here I am, Lord,” asks the question, “Whom shall I send?” It asks who will go to tend to the poor and lame, the sick and outcast? Who will be a voice for justice and promote Christ-like ideals amongst the people? The refrain answers the question saying, “Here, I am Lord…
I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.”
The church is an ambassador for Christ in the world. The people of the church are the representatives. I would love to have a few crazy Christians support this work and leave the church $30 million dollars instead of their pet. More realistically, I am asking for us to each go big in our own way. Please prayerfully consider giving generously again, so that we may continue to “share God’s love and shine God’s light.”
Rev. Trey Hegar
The week was a disaster. Sarah was off on a well-earned vacation. However, that meant I had extra the daddy duties. That should be read as “doodies.” Most of you know our little angel Hudson can be a little devil sometimes, too. I was happy to do it and glad to send Sarah off for respite, but it is humbling to take on all that she does for Hudson and me. At one point I walked in the kitchen and said, “this place is a disaster.” It was clean before Sarah returned.
On top of that I was assigned to the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance task force for Cedar Rapids. I was literally working on a disaster recovery from the “Derecho” storm with 140 mph wind gusts. I was busy with extra planning and coordinating meetings. The brainstorming of how to do the most good seemed to be as chaotic as the storm.
Then, we had the worst kind of disaster. Scott and Amy Lowe lost their lives in a plane crash. A lovely family and community lost two souls who were a mom and dad, son and daughter, brother and sister, and fabulous friends.
My goodness, the week was a disaster. It’s enough to make a pastor sit down and reflect, “Where do I see God in the disasters of life?” I asked myself that question. I didn’t like where my mind took me.
As I ruminated, I came to the conclusion long reached by others, “2020 has been a disaster.” We have experienced Covid-19, race riots, economic insecurity, anxiety, and political divisions that are straining our emotional lives.
Knock, knock: “Hello, God? It’s me Trey. Can we talk?”
God and I spoke, not literally of course, but spiritually.
I recalled lessons from other pastors, teachers, devotions, and books I have read. It was like the Holy Spirit was bringing to mind memories about what I have learned about finding God in tragedy and chaos.
One of my favorite lessons from scriptures is the story of Elijah. Hiding in a cave, Elijah voices his complaint that all of God’s prophets had been killed by Jezebel and he alone had survived. God instructed him to stand on the mountain in God’s presence. Then the Lord sent a mighty wind which broke the rocks in pieces; then he sent an earthquake and a fire, but his voice was in none of them. After all that, the Lord spoke to Elijah in the still small voice, or “gentle whisper.”
The point of God speaking in the still small voice was to show Elijah that the work of God need not always be accompanied by dramatic revelation or manifestations. Divine silence does not necessarily mean divine inactivity. Zechariah 4:6 says God’s work is “not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,” meaning that overt displays of power are not necessary for God to work.
But God is not limited in how God speaks. As one friend said after hearing this lesson about Elijah, “I don’t want my God to be quiet and passive.” God has also spoke loudly through the writers of Scripture. The common thread in all the prophets is the phrase, “Thus says the Lord.” Then they proclaim that the disastrous calamities shall not last. The people of God will rise again.
Most graciously, however, God speaks in times of Chaos through Jesus. The writer to the Hebrews opens his letter with this truth: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son who says, “My spirit is with you.” We are then instructed to heal the broken
hearted, give food and water to those in need, bring release and comfort from disaster.
God’s people have weathered disasters. They are more worn for having gone through a catastrophe. Yet, as one old saying goes (and pardon my language), “If you are going through hell, KEEP GOING!” As God’s people we have historically kept going! The Good News is that our ancestors made it through. However, it wasn’t on their strength alone. We find God’s strength in the disasters of life.
Rev. Trey Hegar
"Crisis speeds up change,” says Carey Nieuwhof, a pastor and ministry coach. Some of the changes that were likely arriving in 5-10 years (like the normalization of remote work) arrived in days after the Coronavirus Shutdown. For churches, the shift from facility-centered ministry to home-based online ministry happened in hours. “Crisis, after all, is not just a disruptor, it’s an accelerator.”
I don’t like all these trends either, but that doesn’t mean they’re not happening. The best question to ask in a time of disruption is, “What does this make possible?”
For us at First Presbyterian Church of Mount Pleasant, this creates an opportunity to lead into the future. Let’s look at the week of June 7 for an example.
100 people were in worship at the Old Threshers pavilion.
187 viewed the worship service on Facebook live.
5 attended through Zoom and
36 watched the service on YouTube.
That’s 328 for worship on one Sunday! Our Meals-on-Wheels partnership post on Facebook had over 1,000 views.
Now, I know it’s not about the numbers. However, it is about the message and lives transformed and nurtured through “sharing God’s love, shining God’s light, and shaping God’s people.”
Now, here is a quote from Pastor Nieuwhof that won’t help him or me win a popularity contest, “Churches Will Become Digital Organizations with Physical Locations.” Growing churches in the future will become digital organizations with physical expressions, not physical organizations with a digital presence.
He goes on to explain that the difference in this trend is as stark as JC Penny and Amazon.
JC Penny (which recently filed for Chapter 11), like Sears and ToysRUs, were physical retailers that slowly adapted an online presence, behaving like most people still wanted an in-person experience. Amazon, of course, started as a digital retailer that gradually moved into physical stores.
What’s surprising is that sometimes the digital connections have been as or more meaningful than the in-person connections.
I realize there will be many who push back against this, but it’s foolish to ignore the fact that people connect more easily online and often admit the truth more readily online than they do in-person.
Digital church is one of the greatest opportunities the church today has to reach people. If the Coronavirus has accelerated one trend more than any other, it has been the decrease in church attendance. This has been happening for decades. Then, boom, overnight, nothing. And although churches are slowly re-opening, there will not be a return to “normal” anytime soon.
If we don’t adapt, according to Nieuwhof, our church will end up like malls in the age of Amazon, just hoping for people to show up again.
For the moment, forget the fact that everyone is zoomed out and longing for human connection: digital ministry isn’t going away. It will continue to grow and advance.
Furthermore, many want digital to be at least an option, if not a preferred method of engagement, where geography and other barriers prevent access.
Online church transcends geographic, physical and time barriers in a way that we could never have done before.
We have a chance for exponential growth in making disciples. Growing “our” church used to mean inviting a friend to a physical service and having them sit in a pew. Now, it means liking and sharing our online presence. It means saying to someone in an email or on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter,
“Go watch the music in worship on YouTube,” or “go listen to the message in the sermon,” or “look at the resources on racism and join our class online.”
Will we still have in-person, physical gatherings and services? Absolutely! And while there will be a return to some version of normal, normal as we knew is likely gone, at least for a while. It’s hard to go back to normal, when normal disappeared.
Nieuwhof says, “The good news is that leaders who embrace change, who find the energy, passion and time to keep adapting, will likely end up advancing their mission in the future.” Let’s advance the mission of the church! Like and share!
Rev. Trey Hegar
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1). So begins the account of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church in the book of Acts. As we approach the day of Pentecost in the year 2020, we understand that it may not be possible for the members of our congregation to be “all together in one place” this year. While some restrictions are being lifted in some places and for some people, the ongoing threat of the Covid-19 global pandemic will require that we return to church in a way that is measured and mindful of the needs of the most vulnerable among us. While some may begin to attend public worship in person, we know that some will need to continue to worship at home for some time.
We give thanks, then, for the promise of our faith—that the Lord God will bless and keep us, the risen Christ is with us, and the Holy Spirit connects us with believers near and far. We take comfort and inspiration from the example of the earliest believers, who “spent much time together in the temple” and “broke bread at home ... with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46). As we anxiously track the news in these times—with numbers of new cases, numbers of persons who have died, and numbers of those who are recovering—we remember the good news of Pentecost: the promise of the Holy Spirit was gifted to the church and the people near and far, even behind locked doors.
As our congregation begins to resume public activities, please know that we will do so through a careful process of discussion and discernment, with an abundance of caution and concern for those who are most vulnerable, upon consideration of the best scientific knowledge at our
disposal, in the spirit of constant prayer, and with full trust in the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.
We may make mistakes along the way. There will surely be awkward moments as we adjust to new protocols and practices. There will be times of frustration, disappointment, and grief. We will have countless opportunities to exercise the spiritual gifts of patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.
But there will also be blessings. There will be wonderful surprises, great celebrations, and moments of deep satisfaction. We will get to see glimpses of the new thing God is doing, even now. We will have opportunities to savor the spiritual gifts of love, joy, peace, generosity, and faithfulness.
Let us be faithful, then—to God and to one another—as we receive the gifts and work through the challenges of this time in the life of our congregation and world. Let us remember that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus.
Here are some things we are working on in our transition:
WORSHIP (Session formed a reopening task force.)
Meetings will begin as soon as possible and the leaders and hosts will be trained and ready to go.
REV TREY HEGAR
Psalm 18 was the verse of the day. David, the Psalmist, was surrounded by enemies. There was trouble on his left and trouble on his right. In the midst of his plight he looked forward to hope in God. He imagined the day when the festival banners would fly and the trumpets would be blown in joy. He knew that day would come because of God’s promise.
Indeed, we may feel surrounded with trouble now. However, we know that our hope is in Christ and that we will be renewed with strength. We shall fly like eagles. We will run and not get tired (Isaiah 40:31). We will fly the festal banner. Sounds of worship will fill the church again! We know God will make this happen!
In a recent congregational letter, I gave you something
to look forward to as a church. The session approved the kitchen renovation project! As I promised, I am sharing some more details. A task force was formed with Kevin Hoenig, Deb Sinclair, Al Memler, and Bryce Creager; along with help from Jack Becker, Char Hinrichs and Susan Farnsworth.
Again, the plan is to have it ready for Spaghetti Supper and Old Threshers! The estimated cost is $40,000 with a $4,000 contingency for changes. We plan to use funds from endowment and some memorial monies to pay for the project. Later, we will also have a celebratory fundraiser for the kitchen opening. All of these upgrades will also mean the kitchen is certifiable for commercial use. This is required if we prepare and serve meals once a week which we do. It may allow us to earn rental income too.
Here is the scope of the work. The floor is being replaced. We sent a sample in for asbestos testing which came back positive. That will have to be abated. We will put in a new commercial vinyl floor. We discussed polished concrete but the last vinyl floor lasted 40 years and concrete will need to be re-polished more frequently.
The old double convection oven will be replaced with a double stacked residential oven. A commercial refrigerator will be purchased. We are adding two three basin stainless steel sinks. One fits the residential appearance of the counter area, while the other is a commercial style. The ceiling tiles will be replaced with washable tiles. The lighting will be updated to energy efficient LED, which will earn us a refund.
The hanging cabinets and island counter between the dishwasher and stove are being removed. The island counter is being replaced with stainless steel rolling prep tables. This will make the area more open and flexible. Metal wire racks will be installed around the dishwasher for pots and pans storage. This will free up space in the pantry for the items from the hanging cabinets.
All of the “harvest gold” counter tops are being replaced in the kitchen and fellowship hall. The pegboard doors on the cabinets in the fellowship hall will also be replaced. The kitchen walls will be painted so they are smooth and wipe able. The cabinets will be deep cleaned and refinished. Hardware will be replaced as needed. (We decided against painting the cabinets after much debate.)
That is the bulk of the work being done. We tried to think of everything. Please don’t hesitate to ask questions. A small team will clean out the cabinets in May. We have some dishes and kitchen items that they will make available to members. If we don’t have takers, we will donate them. The construction work will start in June. This seems wild to do in our current climate; however, the kitchen is not being used right now. It keeps some people working. It also shows us living into our hope in God’s promised future!
Rev. Trey Hegar
Bodies are an amazing phenomenon. In the letter to the Corinthians, Paul describes the people of the church as one body. One person is the foot and one is the arm, etc. That’s a great metaphor. The foot is good at one thing and the arm is good at something else. The nose needs the eyes and the eyes need the ears. It all makes sense….until….
Until the body wants to add another leg, arm, nose or set of ears. Well, that’s just an odd thing to have happen. It would take quite an effort to get used to having an extra arm or another set of feet. The body would have to learn how to rebalance itself. Hand and eye coordination are difficult enough for some of us. Imagine adding another hand and another eye. A whole new level of coordination would be necessary.
Rev. Sarah Hegar, our Director of Congregational Ministries and JV high school girls’ basketball coach, shared her insights. She said, “Some of my high school athletes are as wobbly as baby giraffes. They are just learning how to grow into their new bodies.” They call it growing pains, because it is painfully endearing to watch. It can be painful to live through as well. One might ask, “Where do I fit in now? Where should I sit? How do I act, dress, talk, run and walk?
I eat more, need more time to get ready, and have new cravings? It can feel like a mixed up time. As one songwriter put it, “There aren’t any Band-Aids for these growing pains.”
Growing the body of the church can be just as awkward and require new effort, too. It takes new coordination and may be met with some resistance. People can feel like they don’t quite know their place anymore. There can be a need for more time and space. The body of Christ can feel like it is stumbling forward, as it begins to change for growth.
However, there is sage advice handed down from generation to generation. One piece of advice is to pray:
Pray for wisdom.
Pray for courage.
Pray for strength.
We can make foolish mistakes in our growing years. That’s normal. We should learn from them and avoid them alto-gether, if possible. So pray for wisdom.
Pray for courage. It takes gumption to walk in a new way. It’s easy to say, “I quit.” You probably did say that a few times as an adolescent. Pray for courage to live into growing.
Pray for strength. Adding to the body is going to take effort and literally more physical stamina. Pray for strength.
Pray for us as a body of Christ to have the wisdom, courage and strength to grow!
May we grow to share more of God’s love, shine more of God’s light, and shape more of God’s people. Amen.
Blessings, Rev. Trey Hegar
First Presbyterian is an anomaly according to the Pew Research study on church growth. Most churches are shrinking. We are growing!
This growth is a gift from the Holy Spirit who unites us in our willingness to follow some simple commands from the New Testament. 1 Corinthians 7:7 says, “The purpose of the spiritual gifts is to build up, inspire, and support the church.”
We seek to use our members’ God given gifts to grow ministries. For instance, we know some of our members have the gift of social justice and compassion. When they asked if they could go to work on behalf of the church to have social justice class we said, “Yes!”
Likewise, when some artists approached and said, “We don’t necessarily feel called to the social justice ministry, but we love sharing God’s beauty in art. Can we do something with our gifts?”
We said, “Yes!” Now we have art rotating on once barren walls in the Gathering Space.
Another group said, we have a passion for teaching children. Can we do something for the kids?
“Yes!” And boom, there was Wednesday Revolution.
Another was for Special Needs families.
Another asked about prisoners.
We said, “Yes!”
Another was for animals.
“Yes!” And we combined the two to form All God’s Creatures.
“Yes,” is how we grow! We say, “yes,” to following Jesus and using our gifts to help connect with others in the Spirit.
These events don’t have to be eternal. I love the one and done type of events and ministry projects that so many of you have; such gifts of teaching an exercise class for older adults, teaching poetry, teaching yoga, doing a woodshed project. Someone said, “Let’s rent a dance floor.” It turns out there is one available to rent in town. So, “Yes! Let’s!” If you have the gift of an idea for the church. “Let’s do it!” We will even help plan it. Who, what, when and where? The answer is “YES!”
I read a story in the book, “Not Your Parent’s Offering Plate!” It was about a professional opera singer who worshiped in a church most Sundays for a decade. She did not sing in the choir or even do a special song for worship. One day a member from the church was at a banquet where the opera singer performed. The church member said, “I had no idea you had such a gift. Why have you never used it at the church?”
The opera singer replied, “I was never asked.”
The opportunity was never offered to the opera singer and likewise the opera singer never freely offered to share her gift. We want you to share your gifts.
I know many of you do not have the gift of singing solos, teaching children or even being on a committee to plan church events.
Yet, I know many of our members have the gift of finan-cial planning and saving. I am asking you to share your gift. Help us say, “Yes,” to more opportunities to grow in minis-try. We are hoping to raise our annual offerings, so we can have an even bigger impact on our community to be a witness to God’s love for all people. You can help us grow with your gift.
Now I don’t want to leave out others who may be on fixed incomes or who give so generously already. You are the reason we have been able to do so much.
For all of us, there are many places we spend and give our money. I am asking you to prayerfully consider giving another $20 a week. It will add up to a big, YES for future growth!
Blessings, Rev. Trey Hegar
We are not doing Advent the same way this year!
Advent is traditionally a time of waiting. We wait for Christ to be born, to celebrate the birth of Jesus and for the world to know peace. Advent waiting helps us to recall why we need peace, hope, love and joy. However, this Advent we are doing things a little differently. This Advent we are going to talk about, “What Can’t Wait.”
A worship group called, “A Sanctified Art” assembled an engaging rethinking of the Advent story by meditating on the precarious timing of Christ’s birth. Here is what one of the writers shared: God chooses an unwed, lower-class, teenage girl forced to travel cross-country to be counted for the census in the midst of her third trimester. Matthew’s gospel tells us that Christ’s birth incites King Herod to mandate a mass genocide, which forces Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to flee to Egypt for refuge. God’s plan to enter the world in human flesh seems so perilous—so much could and did go wrong.
This led me to wonder, what if God had waited? What if God had waited for some perfect day when all the world’s problems were resolved? What if God had waited for a perfect moment in time—or for the perfect family?
But God couldn’t wait. God dove into the mess and the muck of this world so that we might know love.
In the same way, we can’t sit and wait around for our world’s problems to solve themselves. We can’t assume that a perfect moment or a fail-proof plan will emerge if we just hold out for long enough. We can’t wait to join God in being love known in flesh and bone.
We will put these words about what can’t wait into action in worship through art, liturgy, poetry, and music. We will be
sending out Advent Calendars and Daily Devotionals to help you pray and do something about, “What Can’t Wait!”
Blessings, Rev. Trey Hegar