Pastor’s Note: Church transition update

Dear Friends,

I want to update you on some significant developments regarding the transition of SJ First to becoming a Hispanic/Latino United Methodist Church. On Saturday, March 6, Pastor Gerardo and I participated in an important virtual meeting with many Spanish-speaking members and constituents where there was a shared vision and passion for SJ First to become the Flagship Hispanic/Latino United Methodist Church in the Annual Conference, a Center for Ministry in Downtown San Jose:

  • Where Hispanic/Latino people are leaders of the church they love.
  • Where cultures and traditions are woven into the theological and ecclesial fabric of the church.
  • Where the building is used for ministry to its potential.
  • Where the church is connecting with the surrounding community.
  • Where the church has space made sacred by generations past to baptize and make disciples for generations to come.

The response was inspiring. I have no doubt the bold witness of God’s light and love, and the legacy of SJ First’s commitment to acts of compassion and service, will be carried faithfully into the future by our Hispanic/Latino brothers and sisters in Christ.

The next step written in chalk

The next step in the transition takes place at our VLT meeting, Wednesday, March 17. The District Superintendent, Rev. Hong, has authorized the VLT to elect a new Nominations Committee that will be constituted by Hispanic/Latino persons. Pastor Gerardo, and me as Chair of the Committee, will present the names of those to be elected as the new Nominations Committee.

Following the VLT meeting, the new Nominations Committee will nominate new leaders and committees constituted by Hispanic/Latino persons who will be formally elected at a Special Charge Conference, authorized by the District Superintendent. The date of the Special Charge Conference has not yet been determined, but it will likely occur in a timely manner while also meeting Disciplinary requirements.

At the Special Charge Conference, the District Superintendent will identify an effective start date when the newly elected leaders and committees will officially begin, which will also likely happen in a timely manner.

Along the way, Pastor Gerardo and I will be working with our Hispanic/Latino sisters and brothers in Christ, orienting them to leadership and committee transition. Importantly, we are working with the District and Conference to identify resources that would be helpful in the orientation and training of committees.

Sunday, June 13 will be the last day for English-speaking services. I will, however, continue to be available for pastoral emergencies through June 30 before beginning a new appointment at a different church July 1.

As I mentioned in the previous Pastor’s Note, when the building can be re- opened and safely hold in-person worship services again, there will be a special worship service when all English-speaking members and constituents will be invited to mark the occasion by passing the torch, so to speak, and bless Pastor Gerardo and the Hispanic/Latino congregation as they carry the legacy of SJ First faithfully into the future.

Grace and Peace,

SJ First UMC – Historical Summary

To read a full summary of San Jose First UMC’s history, including a detailed summary of the last decade, please view this PDF document.

Church building exterior

Nota del pastor

Queridos amigos,

Como probablemente ya sabrá, San José First UMC se encuentra en medio de una significativa transición en lo que se refiere al ministerio futuro y la misión de la iglesia; es decir, para hacer la transición de SJ First a una Iglesia Metodista Unida Hispana / Latina y descontinuar los servicios de habla en inglés.

Soy consciente de que las transiciones como esta son difíciles y traen consigo una mezcla de emociones, particularmente sentimientos de dolor y pérdida.

 Por favor, sepa que el pastor Gerardo y yo estamos aquí para apoyarlo en lo mejor de nuestra capacidad. Nuestras copresidentas de atención congregacional, Ellen Shaner y Susan Cassens, también estamos aquí para apoyarlo y cuidarlo a medida que avanzamos con la transición y la visión de futuro de SJ First.

Una visión para que SJ First se convierta en La Primera Iglesia Metodista Unida hispana / latino insignia en la Conferencia Anual, un Centro de Ministerio en el Centro de San José:

  • Donde las personas hispanas / latinas son líderes de la iglesia que aman.
  • Donde las culturas y tradiciones se entrelazan con lo teológico y tejido eclesial de la iglesia.
  • Donde el edificio se utiliza para el ministerio en todo su potencial.
  • Dónde la iglesia se conecta con la comunidad circundante.
  • Donde la iglesia tiene un espacio sagrado por generaciones pasadas a bautizar y hacer discípulos para las generaciones venideras.

Durante los próximos meses, el pastor Gerardo y yo estaremos trabajando con nuestros hermanos y hermanas hispanos / latinos en Cristo, preparándolos para el liderazgo.

La transición del comité. Anticipo el primer comité al que haremos la transición será el Comité de Nominaciones / Liderazgo Laico en nuestro VLT de marzo reunión. Esta acción permitirá la nominación y elección de otros comités en abril y, si es necesario, mayo.

En este momento, lamentablemente no tenemos una fecha para cuando los hablantes de inglés los servicios se suspenderán, aunque probablemente será antes del 1 de julio.

Estamos trabajando duro en esto y nos aseguraremos de compartir esa información con todos ustedes tan pronto como podamos.

En una fecha posterior, cuando podamos reabrir el edificio y mantener en persona de manera segura servicios de adoración de nuevo, habrá un servicio de adoración especial para todos.

Se invitará a miembros y electores de habla en ingles a marcar la ocasión pasando la antorcha, por así decirlo, y bendecir al pastor Gerardo y a la congregación hispana / latina a medida que llevan el legado de SJ First al futuro.

Paz y gracia,
Rev. Jeffrey Hall

A History of Immigrants in the United States

The North! When I was a child in my bed at night in the dark, I listened to my parents talk about The North (the United States). They talked about life here in the United States where many people emigrate to have a better life. They travel north to work, and they save money to return to their villages, buy a house, start a business, get married, and everyone is happy. In the morning when my mother awoke, I told her that when I grew up I would go to The North and buy a big house for everyone. She would get excited, but then fearfully she would tell me that in The North people get eaten, and that they no longer return to their villages. They get lost, as she lost her father when she was seven years old.

In Mexico when a person leaves his town for the border by bus, he begins to feel discrimination in his own country, since there are many Mexican emigration checkpoints with federal and customs agents. Adding to this discomfort is the danger caused by organized crime people who roam throughout the country extorting and assaulting men and women who travel. They go around looking for Central American centers or other places where immigrants cross the border looking for the American dream but end up being assaulted and abused. Victims are from many countries, including Mexico. I know this, since I was one of the many who experienced the expertise of those robbers and extortionists.

When immigrants finally arrive in this great country, they are dazzled by the wealth that is evident. Even bathrooms are beautiful, and one cannot escape the joy of knowing that there is immediate hot water for bathing just by opening the shower faucet. There are wide streets and so many parks and recreation areas. The first illusion is that one can find a job and earn money to pay for food and to send back to the family to pay debts caused by borrowing money to travel. Existing in poverty is the norm for many who live that way in their countries due to lack of opportunities.

Many times people arrive and cannot find a job. They do not speak English and only know how to work hard so that no one can say that they are lazy. Many immigrants are ashamed and proud and want to earn a living and pay their own way. Also there is a common belief that if someone is ever cared for by the government, he will not be able to become legalized. Or, if he entered the country without documents, employers may exploit him by paying very little for his labor and treating him like a slave who lives day by day and is poorly fed.

Many people do not know that immigrants pay federal and state taxes; yet, ironically, they will never benefit from a retirement pension, since they do not exist for the government. The IRS gives them a personal identification number (ITN) so that they pay taxes, and immigrants pay them to avoid getting into trouble. Many do not ask for any help from the government, since they live in anonymity.

So, the American dream is starting to get very difficult to achieve, since immigrants have to live in hiding from the police, gangs, and immigration agents (la migra). In addition, some of them suffer from racism, because some people think that they abuse the system. They are considered as criminals, because that is what is heard from some politicians in the media.

The search for the American dream stops. Many immigrants cannot return to their villages, because the years of looking for the dream have already passed. That reality does not arrive due to the low wages they earn. Individuals marry or get together with someone like them so as not to feel alone and to support each other. Children are born and raised here, and some yearn to return to their countries of origin.

Among groups of Latinos there is a lot of resentment due to profiling. Many Central Americans who crossed Mexico by road suffered from the abuses I mentioned earlier, and they think that all Mexicans are the same. They do not befriend Mexicans unless they know them well. There are some couples where the man is Mexican and the woman is Guatemalan or vice versa or from other countries where their children have 3 nationalities: Mexican, Salvadoran and American. If the father or mother of the family is detained by immigration authorities, one wonders where these children will be going. They also live in fear; they do not know how to explain that they don’t speak English, and they cannot say that their parents have no documents.

Many live in houses or apartments where there are more than two families living together in order to be able to pay the large rents. The parents live without health insurance for a variety of reasons: they cannot pay for it; they do not qualify due to their immigration status; or because, fearing discovery, they do not get registered.

In the countries of origin parents of these immigrants grow old and often die and do not have the opportunity to see their children who traveled North for a better life, one they could not achieve. Likewise, immigrants grow old, and their American citizen children grow up and do not want to return with their parents to their countries. They no longer know Mexican culture, they do not speak Spanish well, and there is no work for them. On top of this, they are stuck in a country where opportunities are limited by their lack of documentation, and they can no longer leave. I remember my mother saying the North eats people.

So, where can immigrants feel protected, not judged, condemned, or attacked?

Answer: in the churches since they are the houses of God. Well yes, but there are some churches where they cannot live their faith or participate in the traditions of the church. Many women are single mothers or live in a free union because they have not been able to marry. This is because they may live with someone who cannot marry because one of them is divorced. Or they are from the LGBTQ community. None of these groups can receive communion or the sacrament, because their theology says they live in sin.

Communion chalices and wafers and bible in rainbow colors

Being able to receive communion gives the recipient the confidence of being close to those who do not reject him or her, including Our Lord Jesus Christ. I like to visit churches to see the participation of the people. After looking into some Protestant and Catholic churches, I’ve found that some priests and pastors deny the sacraments to these people. What broke my heart one day was that during communion in a Catholic church in this area I saw women with the desire to receive communion lined up towards the priest. Before they reached him, knowing they could not take communion, they crossed their arms to at least signal to the priest that they wanted to receive his blessing. For me, looking at that is humiliation where the whole church can see that they do not take communion, because they are not worthy to do so.

The life of immigrants in the United States is not easy, and many times the American dream becomes unattainable.

My reflection on this story is that we are all immigrants in some way, since we, our grandparents, and/or our ancestors traveled to this great country looking for a better life. Jesus Christ invites us to open the door to our churches since He and many of the great characters of the Bible also were immigrants.

Pastor Gerardo Vázquez-Padilla

Note from Pastor Jeffrey

(Nota del pastor, en español)

Dear Friends,

As you likely know by now, San Jose First UMC is in the midst of a significant transition where it concerns the future ministry and mission of the church; namely, to transition SJ First to a Hispanic/Latino United Methodist Church and discontinue English-speaking services. I am aware transitions like this are difficult and bring with them a mixture of emotions, particularly feelings of grief and loss. Please know Pastor Gerardo and I are here to support you to the best of our ability. Our Congregational Care Co-Chairs, Ellen Shaner and Susan Cassens, are also here to support and care for you as we go forward with the transition and future vision for SJ First.

A vision for SJ First to become the Flagship Hispanic/Latino United Methodist Church in the Annual Conference, a Center for Ministry in Downtown San Jose:

  • Where Hispanic/Latino people are leaders of the church they love.
  • Where cultures and traditions are woven into the theological and ecclesial fabric of the church.
  • Where the building is used for ministry to its potential.
  • Where the church is connecting with the surrounding community.
  • Where the church has space made sacred by generations past to baptize and make disciples for generations to come.

Over the next few months, Pastor Gerardo and I will be working with our Hispanic/Latino brothers and sisters in Christ, preparing them for leadership and committee transition. I anticipate the first committee we will transition will be the Nominations/Lay Leadership Committee at our March VLT meeting. This action will allow for the nomination and election of other committees in April and, if necessary, May.

The next step

At this time, we unfortunately do not have a date for when English-speaking services will be discontinued, although it will likely be before July 1. We are working hard on this and will be sure to share that information with all of you as soon as we are able.

At a later date, when we can re-open the building and safely hold in-person worship services again, there will be a special worship service when all current English-speaking members and constituents will be invited to mark the occasion by passing the torch, so to speak, and bless Pastor Gerardo and the Hispanic/Latino congregation as they carry the legacy of SJ First into the future.

Grace and Peace,

God’s Mission in El Maguey

The love for my call to the service of God is the best thing that could happen to me. For me, it is a privilege to serve God, since his blessings are immense.

During this pandemic, many very sad experiences have emerged with loss of work, education, family reunions, life of a family member, and the social contact that we need to live as humans. Fortunately, technology has helped us to be in touch with our loved ones and with the world.

With the grace of God, I decided to preach on Facebook to the Hispanic/Latino congregation of San José First UMC. The people of Atotonilco El Alto, Jalisco, were added to our broadcasts and were able to learn more about our church and Methodism. The addition of this group brings more love and solidarity with our neighbors, even if they are far from us and we don’t know them in person.

Pastor Gerardo leading worship service

With the love and kindness that characterizes our heavenly Father, He did the miracle of touching the group of Methodist women and members of our Church to express solidarity with the Cristo Vive church. In fact, the entire El Maguey community has been generously supported by them with grocery bags for the last 6 months.

I felt the need to go to El Maguey, not only to bring food to the tables of the families there, but I also decided to take my vacation time with them. In the midst of a pandemic I knew that it was not the safest thing to do, but I felt the security of God’s will. There were many people waiting for me to arrive, so that I could pray for them and reaffirm their faith on the second Sunday of January. Among those waiting was Luis Ramírez, one of the young people from El Maguey and a member of Cristo Vive. His mother, María Isabel, and his brothers have been attending Cristo Vive for more than 10 years. Luis was going through the terrible disease of leukemia, and every transmission day he connected and asked me to praise God and to ask for him to be well.

On December 10th he and his mother sent me a photo of the results of his medical exams. He was free of leukemia! It was a tremendous joy for them and for me to see that miracle. There was only one step left: Luis took his final week of daily chemotherapy in the mornings and afternoons to ensure that the cancer would not return.

He finished the routine, but after taking it he started to feel bad again. He knew that I would arrive on December 28th and he was waiting for me to pray for him again. On Saturday, December 26th, he gladly wrote to me that he was waiting for me with open arms. Luis’s condition began to get serious, so they took him to the hospital in Guadalajara. There they found that the last week of chemotherapy had resulted in the burning of his lungs, kidneys and the platelets that produce blood. Everything happened very fast. They tubed him so he could breathe. When I arrived at the Guadalajara airport, I decided to go to the hospital to see him; however, when I was renting a car I got the news from María Isabel that Luis had died.

I went to Atotonilco and spoke with María Isabel by phone, to get informed of the time she would arrive with her son’s body, so I could grieve with the family. They arrived at the funeral home at midnight with the body of 18-year-old Luis. I went there to see him and offer the praises to God, that—night after night on Facebook—he had asked me for. I could see in his face that he was peaceful, knowing that I was able to pray for him before he went to his grave.

It was devastating for his parents and for me. I am a man who speaks of faith and miracles, yet Luis died. We embraced each other and became stronger in dealing with the great loss. Both María Isabel and her husband, Javier Ramírez, in the midst of their pain, treated me with respect and love, since I shared the pain with them, with the family, and with all of Luis’s young friends. For me it was an experience that I still cannot explain. I watched hundreds of people, young and old, crying and suffering for the loss of Luis, while at the same time letting myself be led by me as a pastor and friend, singing praises and praying for the family. To me, a possible explanation is that God sent me to be with them to provide love and pastoral care.

Three Kings Day (Epiphany) January 6th

Holy Magi caravan with children gathered round

This was a special day which, for the first time in the community of El Maguey—and I dare say in the entire region—a caravan with the Holy Magi made its appearance. The Magi were represented in costumes by Juan Carlos Anaya, Eduardo Anaya, and Pedro Vázquez. To make this possible, these three and a huge group of volunteers toured the El Maguey neighborhood, (sections Pascual Rojas, and Madre Luisita) where the girls and boys went out to see this festive sight. They received sweets and soccer balls that filled the community members, both young and old, with joy. Christmas carols enlivened the night with smiles and hope, alleviating the stress that people carried during this pandemic. Also, with First Church’s donations, the blessings of God, and the leaders of Cristo Vive, we were able to distribute grocery bags to 200 families in El Maguey.

On January 10th, the day of the baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we began our healing and faith renewal service, scheduled according to the safety protocols in El Maguey with masks and antibacterial gel. On this very important day for Methodism and Christianity, children, youth, adults and the elderly—and without fail María Isabel Aguirre, mother of our angel in heaven, Luis Ramírez, and his family—appeared at this important service directed by Pastors Juan Carlos Anaya and Gerardo Vázquez. The pastors, their servants and the leaders of Cristo Vive all contributed to a service full of faith and love for our neighbors, and praying for the members of San José First, since we are one in God.

I want to express my gratitude in the name of God for all those who made this possible, since it is the call of God to love and respect each other, to cry, to laugh, and to celebrate in union, since that is how we grow stronger.

May the blessing of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit descend upon us. Amen.

Pastor Gerardo Vázquez-Padilla

Pastor’s Note: 40 Days of Lent

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear…The Lord of hosts is with us…Be still, and know that I am God. (Psalm 46)

Lent is traditionally a season when we give ourselves to spiritual practices we may have neglected. This year, it begins on Ash Wednesday, February 17. It’s a season of preparation; characterized by silence, solitude, prayer, fasting, and acts of mercy. It’s a season to “quiet our minds and open our hearts,” to borrow a phrase from Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield. Many of us think of prayer as primarily talking to God. Some of you have learned prayer as listening to God. Still fewer have experienced prayer as being with God.

Hands with fingers clasped in a praying position

Of course, if our image of God is a vengeful God, we will more than likely find it hard to be with God because we can’t trust a God whose right hand is ready to smite us at any moment. Similarly, if our image of the Holy One is a Judge, gavel in hand and ready to level an eternal life-sentence, we may also find it difficult to be with God because we cannot rest in God while awaiting our “sentence,” so to speak, which sadly many people fear is outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. If the Almighty is something of a Cosmic Vending Machine where we drop some silver, push a button and purchase what we want, this is not being with God either because we cannot be with God in the deepest way if our experience of the Everlasting One is little more than a transaction. Franciscan Priest, Richard Rohr, writes: “A lot of us pray as if prayer is really twisting the arm of God or convincing God to do something. We think by saying more words we’ll talk God into it. We think, “If I say it one more time, God will agree with me.” That very attitude is an alienating attitude. It keeps us in the role of doing it “right” or often enough to convince an unready or unwilling God.”

In short, our experience of being with God is compromised if there is always something to protect, to merit, to fear, or to pay for. However, if God-with-us is a Loving Presence, as close and dear to us as our own breath, and as necessary, then we can learn to trust, to surrender, to be still…to love. Then we can learn to quiet our minds and open our hearts and welcome the wonder of being with the God who is forever with us.

Grace and Peace,

Lenten Study Group

Our Lenten study will begin on February 22 and end on March 29 (six weeks). We’ll meet on ZOOM from 7:00 to 8:30pm.

We’ll be studying “The Way – Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus” by Adam Hamilton. The study will be led by Pastor Jeffrey.

Using historical information, archaeological data, and stories of the faith, Hamilton follows in the footsteps of Jesus from his baptism to the temptations to the heart of his ministry, including the people he loved, the parables he taught, the enemies he made, and the healing he brought.

Paperback books are cheaper through Cokesbury than at Amazon. e-books are the same price at Amazon and Cokesbury. If you would like Susan to order your book from Cokesbury, please let her know by February 5. The cost will be $12.00.

If you would like to join the study, but order your own book, please let Susan know by February 17 so we can be sure you receive any pre-study information.

Pastor’s Note: I Would Have Despaired Unless…

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.  (Psalm 27:13-14)

As I write this Pastor’s Note, we are one week from the insurrection on January 6 and one week from the Inaugurationon January 20. You have all read the headlines, seen the pictures, watched the videos, and hit your social media platforms by now.

We are one week from the day the 45th President of the United States of America led a mob of thousands, via social media, to violently storm the Capitol. Members of congress hid under desks or escaped through secret passageways while angry, predominantly white, Trump loyalists carried out orders from their Commander and Chief, mounting an assault against one of our nation’s symbols for democracy, thereby temporarily halting the constitutional process of certifying the election of Joe Biden as the next President of the United States. 

We will likely not forget the images of that dark day anytime soon: Images of Trumps red-hat rioters dressed in maga apparel and/or camouflage uniforms and/or pajama bottoms and sweatshirts carrying American Flags, Confederate Flags, the Christian Flag, and the battle flags that bore Trumps name. Images of so called “protesters” pushing through barricades and barriers, breaking windows, destroying property, hell-bent on not only disruption but destruction of not simply property, but something much more precious; namely, democracy. And, for heaven and earth’s sake, if the image of the make-shift gallows does not make anyone gasp, then Trump has succeeded in leading this country to the edge of an abyss. All of this is disturbing, if not terrifying.

What is perhaps most troubling are not the images of violence or flag waving fascists. What is especially disturbing is how the image of a bare-chested, face-painted, heavily tattooed man in Nordic Costume complete with some sort of hat with horns, who goes by the name “Q-Shaman,” has become the poster child of this terrible event.

Originally, the term “poster child” was used for the image of a child suffering from a disease depicted on a poster in order to invite compassion and raise awareness to combat the disease. In this sense, on the one hand I suppose Q-Shaman (his real name is Jake Angeli born Jacob Anthony Angeli Chansely) is the poster child for a disease spreading across this land and we should thank him for raising awareness. On the other hand, if the events of January 6, 2021 are reduced to a delusional silly man in a costume, who reportedly still lives with his mother, complains about the lack of organic food while presently in jail, and thinks of himself along the lines of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, then the deeply troubling events can be too easily dismissed and, therefore, forgotten, which will a) likely only lead to more violence on the part of those who claim feeling dismissed or forgotten in the first place, and b) allow this ideology to continue to spread and infect more and more people regardless who holds the Office of the President post Trump.  

No, we cannot reduce January 6 to a silly man in a costume and, therefore, dismiss the events as easily as we might be tempted to dismiss him. Remember, people died. We must meet this moment in history, we must meet Mr. Jacob Angeli Chansely and all others like him, with courage, compassion, wisdom, a keen sense of justice, and love. Above all else, love. The only thing that is capable of freeing humankind from hatred and fear is love – a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13)

american flag waving in front of the sun

I have read more so called “protests” are planned at capitols in all 50 states across this great land on Inauguration Day.

  • We must pray for a peaceful transition of power.
  • We must be a peaceful people in thought, word, and deed.
  • We must pray: “God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.” And the lesser-known verse of the hymn too: “God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control thy liberty in law.”
  • We must listen with understanding, act with wisdom and compassion, and speak with courage.
  • Above all else, we must love our neighbor as ourselves…and our enemy too. (Matthew 5, Luke 7)

I would have despaired on Wednesday, January 6, 2021 unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Come what may on Inauguration Day and thereafter, I will not despair. I will not despair because of the One whose hope strengthens the weary, whose light dispels the darkness, whose grace saves even a wretch like me, and whose love conquers sin and death. Be strong. Take heart. Wait for the Lord.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor’s Note: The Peace Light

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

These words of assurance remind us no matter how tragic the circumstance, no matter how dire the situation, no matter how grim the prognosis, no matter how disturbing the news, no matter how heartbreaking the headline, no matter how grievous the sin, no matter how broken or corrupt the system, no matter the darkness inside you or me, no matter if we believe in God or not the Light of all people has come into the world and cannot be extinguished.

United Methodist Pastor, Todd Outcalt writes the following:

A few years ago, our congregation started an Advent tradition with the Peace Light – a flame that is taken from the grotto of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, carried around the world in a miner’s lantern, and distributed from church to church and home to home via candlelight. The Peace Light usually arrives at our church a few days before Christmas Eve, and people from the church and community bring their own candles in order to retrieve the flame and carry it back to their homes.

The Peace Light has become a powerful connection in our community, and sharing the light of the one candle produces feelings of solidarity, unity, and support. This experience may especially be powerful for those who may be experiencing grief in their lives.

When people pick up the Peace Light, we also distribute a small slip of paper with various scripture readings, including the powerful words from the prophet Isaiah, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light” (quoted in Matthew 4:16), and the words of Psalm 23. Here, in this beloved psalm, we find words that have given aid and comfort to millions of people through the centuries – especially during times of loss. The psalmist, like Isaiah (and Matthew) echoes the promise of God’s light and comfort when we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death…

We do not need a Peace Light from the grotto of the Church of the Nativity in order to experience God’s peace and love. God’s peace is available to us through the abiding presence of the Spirit who encourages us and offers light during difficult times.

single candle in the dark

This week I heard of a group of neighbors who agreed that during this time of living in the shadow of pandemic, isolation, quarantine, and loss one of the ways they could feel connected was to connect their Christmas lights from one house to another, from one front yard to another, from one neighbor to another around a corner and down the block. Indeed, it’s another example of light symbolizing a powerful connection in our community.

This year, Christmas Eve Candlelight Service is going to be different. We will not be together, as we have in the past, with faces aglow singing Silent Night in the sanctuary. No, this year we will be together virtually, our faces aglow by our computer as well as candle. This is not the Christmas Eve Service we hoped for, but we will still be together as a Christian community, as a people of peace…we will still be connected by the Light of all people that will never be extinguished.

Please plan to join us for our Christmas Eve Service Thursday, December 24 at 7:00pm. Please email us for the Zoom link.

May God bless you this Christmas Season!