The time it takes

Holy Week hits me a little differently every year.

As a kid, I used to love and long for this week, because it meant extra opportunities to be at church, and to come in the evening, when the lights were low and everything felt a little more sacred and special.

Admittedly, since I started serving as a pastor, it became one of the busiest weeks of my year, when there was barely time to breathe between finishing one service and preparing for another.

And there are times even now that, despite how meaningful and full this week is, I want to rush through the heartache of the story and get to Easter Sunday.

That feeling is hitting me especially hard this year. I don’t want to sit in the pain and the sorrow and the loss of Thursday and Friday. I’ve felt those things too much and too often already, in the last year. (And I’m sure most of you have, too.)

I want to get to sunshine and empty tombs and Easter hymns.

I don’t even want to detour through sadness.

But there is no wiggle room in the liturgical year. No speeding things up when I want them over, no slowing things down when I want them to last longer. Just the same seven days between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday.

There is almost a discipline to it, to willing myself to stay right where I am in the story, and in the week. To not rush away from Jesus’ last supper with the disciples, or race out of the Garden of Gethsemane.

To be present to the pain, and the fear, and the loss. Because the only way out is through. Because I spend so much of my life trying to get to the next thing, instead of being right where I am, and looking for God there.

And perhaps also because Jesus didn’t take any shortcuts or outs, either.

So this week, I invite you to join me – and your church family.

Sit with us, if you can, each evening at 7 PM for a reflection, and prayer, and scripture. Some nights there will be music, and some nights just quiet. But we will not rush this week; we will travel it together. A day at a time. Taking the time it takes, to get to Sunday. Seeing what God might reveal to us, and teach us, along the way.

And we can trust that no matter how long it feels until then, how much the week seems to stretch out…that precious Easter day is coming. Thanks be to God.

-Pastor Jen

Words, Thoughts, and our Hearts

(Carl Balsam, Guest Blogger. Please be in touch if you’d like to contribute a blog entry!)

Reflecting on these past twelve months, and examine my own heart, I have concluded that two areas that need constructive work for me, and maybe for you as well, are my words and my thoughts.

“Words matter” was the response by Amanda Gorman when questioned about her stunning poetry, recited at the January presidential inauguration. Words can be used to inspire, to encourage, and to build up (as in the case of the young poet laureate) or they can be used to hurt, to enflame and to tear down (and we can all give examples of that). The dual impact of words is highlighted in the book of James, “With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!” (James 3:9-10)

Just as important as our words, however, are our thoughts. Thoughts are born out of the preoccupations of our hearts. Luke records Jesus’ teaching that “…out of the overflow of the heart, a person speaks.”(Luke 6:45)

Our heart reflects who we are. Our words betray who we are to others. There have been many times in the past year when I was tempted to comment on news broadcasts or social media posts or thoughts expressed by others with my own harsh words of “put-down” or “one-upmanship.” The fact that I did not publicly share most of those thoughts may seem honorable but, unfortunately, I don’t get a pass — my heart was wrong. And, my words could have been hurtful words — arrogant words.

There is a pattern that I have noticed when someone is confronted about their verbal indiscretions or outrageous declarations. It goes something like this: “If I have offended anyone, then I am sorry and I apologize. What I said does not reflect who I am. I’m not really like that.” But, frightfully, that is who we are! Our words betray us; they reveal our thoughts, consciously or unconsciously. The apostle Paul, in his marvelous passage in Philippians (4:8) challenges us:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

Paul has the antidote to wrong thinking. When our thoughts are focused on the right things, destructive thoughts cannot take root. I have a hunch (based on personal observation) that when we are under stress and faced with uncertainty, our minds can play tricks on us if left to ruminate on the wrong things. We create realities, though untrue, to reinforce our personal preferences. Our thoughts need to be redirected to the framework described by the apostle Paul.

Earlier in my life, I had an experience with flawed thinking, leading to conspiracy ideas. As a senior administrator involved in the merger of two small Christian colleges in New England, I saw firsthand faculty, staff, and alumni under severe stress. To create one strong institution to face significant and foreseen challenges in the years ahead, the campus of Barrington College (Barrington, RI) was to be sold and its programs merged with Gordon College (Wenham, MA). Loss of that campus and its associated heritage was met with anger, frustration, severe criticism and accusations of foul play. Regrettably, a necessary but painful decision led to a community under much angst. “Certainly, this must be nefarious administrative overreach!” Rumor and conspiracy theory, offered with certainty, suggested that, months before the merger announcement, the president of Barrington College had purchased a condo near the Gordon College campus to prepare for a key position at the merged institution. (Not an ounce of truth to that conspiracy). Stress, uncertainty, anger, loss of control– these losses and emotions can drive careless thinking and can make people gravitate towards, and believe, the worst scenario. I have never forgotten that experience.

During the stress and charged circumstances of the past year, perhaps, you, just like me, have had moments of careless thinking and harsh words. Have we created or entertained unhealthy ideas of reality– assumed the worst scenario — maybe because outcomes did not fit our preference? Have we made hurtful comments to or about those whose ideas may not be congruent with our own? And when we believe we are speaking the truth, do we do it with love for the other? I must confess to having entertained some less than charitable thinking and made some less than kind remarks.

There is a helpful passage from the book of Proverbs that has focused my attention in recent days. Prov 4:23-24:

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or to the left; keep your foot from evil.”

Above all else, guard your heart”, we are told. That sounds pretty important to me.

May you, with me, be challenged to “Guard your heart.” May this lead to constructive thinking (Phil 4:8), kind and seasoned words, and the right outlook for the life that lies ahead.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

Carl Balsam

Back To Basics

(Our Guest blogger today is Mary Rhodes. Thank you Mary! We hope to keep our blogging going and hope you might consider adding your voice. Please be in touch with any of the pastors and we can guide you through this process.)


All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

I hat to admit it, but a few Sundays ago–while my husband stood at the WCC lectern reading Genesis 9– my mind started to wander. Right behind my husband Steve was the lovely lavender lenten floral arrangement that Sharon Johnson gave the church, and…have we talked about what a gardening talent Sharon is? And those spectacular shades of purple! Then, quickly, I caught myself and got back to focusing on the story of Noah and the rainbow in Genesis 9. The truth is, I don’t always bring my “A” game to Sunday morning services. Sometimes, I’m slow-moving and fuzzy, and I’m no Bible scholar. Scripture readings can be hard, at first pass, to follow and grasp.

The good news is, I’ve discovered a way to turn that around. Rather than blindly plunging into centuries-old syntax each Sunday morning, I’ve found a new way to ease into scripture slowly. And it’s transforming the way I view Sunday mornings.

What’s changed? Well, I’m getting a little help. Each Thursday night, three Thursdays a month, I attend “Reading Together”. On any given week, about ten of us are connecting with Peter on Zoom to read and explore the upcoming Sunday’s three scripture verses. We would love to have you join us! Peter sends the verses to the entire church on Wednesday, along with the invitation to attend. The next evening, he guides with his own questions and insights as we work to break down the text. Peter also shares issues he’s grappling with as he prepares for the Sunday sermon. What a bonus to preview his thinking, and see the clear connection between the text and his upcoming message.

Some Thursdays my husband and I ask ourselves: do we have the brain-power and energy to do this? But we always walk away so refreshed and inspired. It’s a little like having your favorite college professor meet with you before the lecture so you know what’s coming! I don’t know any churches that offer an opportunity like this. I think we’re privileged at WCC to have pastors willing to give their time and energy in such a meaningful way. But the real surprise is how my husband and I now feel as we approach Sunday mornings.

We have this new confidence. Why? Because we’re already plugged in. We know what our pastor is thinking; we know what’s coming; and we can’t wait! It’s a little like getting to read the next chapter of a good book. No matter how scattered we might feel on a Sunday morning, we’re already invested and connected with the scripture-reading and sermon that ties it all together. All because we invested one hour on a Thursday night. I’d encourage anyone who can carve out time to give it a try. It’s also fun to connect with members with whom you might not normally cross paths. We are all in this together.

On some evenings, Pete wishes our group a good night’s rest. I feel like we’ve earned it! At the same time, the words of 2 Timothy 3:16 have never felt more clear: “All Scripture is inspired by God.”

Week by week I’m learning how to open the door to God’s Word to let in a little more light. (And by the way, that Sunday morning battle with Genesis 9? It happened on the third Sunday of the month, the only week “Reading Together” doesn’t meet!)

Mary Rhodes

What I Missed Before

These days, I’m reading a lot. Perhaps more than I have in years. It started with a little New Years’ goal of reading 21 minutes a day in 2021, courtesy of one of my favorite podcasts. Before I knew it, I was opting to read, choosing it over tv or scrolling on my phone – and it has meant that I’m going through more books, and different books, than I have in quite a while.

One of those books, which I picked up on a whim during a trip to the library, is Rachel Held Evans’ last book for adults, Inspired. It’s a book about the Bible, specifically about what the Bible is and isn’t, and how to read it in ways that honor what it IS (not a textbook, not a scientific or historical treatise, not a set of rules or doctrines, but a story of God’s relationship with God’s children).

I’ll be honest: I’ve read a lot of books about the Bible in the last nine years of grad school and ministry, so my hopes weren’t very high – but I was wrong. Very wrong. Wrong enough that I bought a copy of the book before I’d even finished it. It’s that good.

Refreshing and engaging, it made me think twice about how I understand passages of scripture, especially those ones I usually skip right over, or skim through. Right now, I’m working my way through the Bible again on a 1-year reading plan, and I landed right in Exodus. Not the exciting part of Exodus, either, with plagues of locusts and frogs and blood in the Nile, but the dry part where God is giving Moses some very exacting details for how to build a tabernacle and the furnishings for inside. Normally, I find this stuff about as engaging as watching paint dry…but after reading Rachel’s book, I thought about it again.

She writes that most of the Old Testament scriptures we have were compiled during the time of the Babylonian Exile, when the Israelites were far from home and worried a lot about their lost traditions and their future. Writing down these stories of their history as a people of faith was a way to preserve their past and celebrate their identity in a foreign land.

When I think about that, I can read even the descriptions of how to construct an altar with a little more imagination. Just like I hope to one day tell my kids all about the church I grew up in, or my grandmother’s kitchen, or my favorite teacher’s room in high school – the Israelites, maybe, wanted to tell their children about this central place in their community life and worship. They wanted their kids to understand how the bronze gleamed, and how the incense smelled; how the bells on the priest’s garments rang out when he went into the holiest place.

When I think this way, there is life again in this ancient text. There is meaning and wonder, curiosity and possibility.

And I think we could all use a little more of those things, especially these days.

So if you, like me, needed the invitation: read the book (maybe start with Rachel’s, and then go to The Book – the Bible). Read it like a story that your grandparents in the faith are telling you, a story open to interpretation and questions. Read it like a treasured tale, one that invites you to look at your life now with new eyes.

I hope you, too, find things that you missed before. I hope you are surprised and engaged, and you find that after all it really is a Living Word.

-Pastor Jen


adjective, “Intensely irritated and frustrated”.

I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me! When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the LORD. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted. I think of God and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help. (Psalm 77:1-3, NLT).

On this 1 year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, I am borrowing this word that fits my spirit’s locale. Borrowing it, I say because in the past few days six, count em, six friends have used the word on social media. I am exasperated by the many and ever growing number of ways life has been hijacked by this dreadful scourge. Reflecting on the death of 520,000 of our fellow citizens, it seems really selfish to feel what I do, that I want my life back again, with all its lovely rhythms and relationships. How about you?

I’m okay! I really am! I’m just exasperated. I feel it, and I’m feeling your exasperation too. Fuses are short. Patience quotas are in deficit. Exhaustion is everywhere. Relationships are becoming frayed because of different opinions about all sorts of issues. Front and center when it comes to Church are discernments about how and when we can get back to gathering again. Questions come rapid fire. When? How? Where? Why? Why Not?

It’s been fascinating to note the disparity of decisions, actions, and behaviors that churches in America have taken. To over-simplify, many have been gathering for worship and community for months now, and many others have only been doing so virtually. Our discernment and decision has been more the latter than the former. Since our outdoor worship was done in by the weather the end of October, we have been live-streaming our worship and limiting our small group gatherings to zoom. We are hoping that the weather will allow us to gather outside again on Easter Sunday, April 4, to feel once again the energy and excitement of celebrating together. If that happens, it will have been five months of distance, and in the words of George Harrison, “It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter.” Exasperating.

But here comes the sun! And the spring, and life’s hopeful but much too slow return. Vaccinations are ramping up, positivity and death rates are declining, and we’re moving toward herd immunity.

We have begun, along with our worship leaders, to welcome ten worshipers and small groups back into our beloved sanctuary space. Surprisingly, or maybe not, sign-ups and participation have been sparse, reflecting on-going concerns for safety and desires for bigger gatherings. I believe you may safely join us, and I hope you soon will. That number is soon to increase again. I hope you will join us when you feel it’s safe.

A number of you with longing have noted that friends of yours have been going to worship at their church for months, and that we should now be doing the same. Others of you have shared with no less longing for corporate worship that we must continue to follow the distant pattern that keeps us from becoming a community of sickness and death. We all are exasperated and have our opinions about these issues. And that’s as it should be, and comes for all of us from a place of longing and love to sit and stand and sing and pray and fellowship together every week.

My plea for us is for continued patience, love for, and understanding of one another, with the clear and common sense that we will get there together, though not as quickly as any one of us would like. My plea is for grace to abound along with prayers as church leadership faces a constant barrage of decisions that must be made that have never had to be thought through before. And my invitation is that we hold one another in our common experience of exasperation, instead of letting that exasperation drive us apart.

Soon we’ll be able to take our masks off and sing for the joy of being together again, and God’s faithfulness to see us through will be marked another time. If you’re a hugger, you’ll have at it. And because we’re not there quite yet, we keep wearing our masks and move forward slowly. It’s exasperating.

Peter Hawkinson


One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them!” (Mark 9)

The disciples were right, you know! When they locked arms to make a barricade, and shouted at those moms and dads to cease and desist. Their words and actions were simply reflective of the societal view in which children were not valued in the same ways they are these days. On top of that, these kids would only be a bother to someone so important as the Messiah. The disciples were right, at least from the perspective of the world’s ways.

But they had much to learn about God’s ways, and they had God with them to do some shouting of his own. “Don’t stop them!” imagine Jesus blaring out with the veins in his neck bulging. His anger is meant to provide a teaching moment about this Kingdom of God he preaches and teaches. It is counter to the world’s ways, turning the norms upside down and inside out! Let them come! Welcome those who are unimportant, who are devalued, who have little or no power, who are not supposed to have access. It’s children here, and tomorrow and the next day it will be lepers and the demon-possessed, prostitutes and tax collectors, Samaritans and Roman Centurions.

The Church’s welcome should be unqualified! It should bear stark contrast to the world’s ways because of humility, because of our open wide embrace and hospitality that flies in the face of power and privilege as the only assess markers. This is the way of Jesus; this is the Kingdom of God, and an important posture for us as the Christian Church in a time when those who we are trying to witness to often experience distance or rejection.

Dwell on the picture above for a while. Make it your screen saver! It’s a reminder of our welcome. This little girl, without warning, stormed the pulpit! And the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholic Christians was well protected. Nobody, not even this girl, was supposed to get anywhere near him. The only way it happened was because Papa Francis dealt with the access issues and welcomed her. He embraced humility, as he first did when announced to the world, and appeared not in pope attire but in the garments of a parish priest.

Dwell on these things. And pray with me that we can learn from Jesus, let go of our fear, and welcome the world — the whole, messy, sacrosanct world — and every person in it who Jesus loves.

Peter Hawkinson

Rereading the Story

This week, I was preparing – and struggling – to write a sermon on a passage from the gospel of Mark. It encapsulates one of my favorite episodes between Jesus and Peter, one I’ve used many times before to illustrate just how hit or miss Peter’s discipleship can be, and therefore how relatable he is.

In one moment, Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”

And it is Peter, only Peter, who correctly answers him: the Messiah.

Not John the Baptist, not Elijah, not any one of the other prophets, but the Son of Man, the long-awaited redeemer from God.

But Peter doesn’t have long to ride high on his triumph, because only a little further down the page, we read about Jesus teaching of his upcoming suffering and death. Peter immediately takes Jesus aside and starts to rebuke him – to criticize or scold him. And it is that reaction which earns Peter some very harsh words from Jesus: “Get behind me, Satan.”

One moment, he’s a star student, and the next he’s….Satan?

I have always read this passage as one full of anger and frustration. Peter gets mad at Jesus for what he says about suffering and dying; and he says so – and then Jesus gets mad at Peter and yells at him.

But this week, I stalled out partway through writing a sermon based on that message, and I had to phone in a pastor friend for help. She encouraged me to put down my draft, get a cup of coffee, snuggle up with my dog, and reread the book of Mark. And do it, she said, with the assumption that Jesus is always speaking kindly. See how that changes things.

Well, it changed my reading of the text dramatically, which changed my interpretation, which changed my sermon.

But more importantly, it reminded me of the thing that I’m struggling with the most these days, as we approach the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 coming to our area and upending our world.

The lack of kindness.

It’s been there throughout, as we’ve been doling out or receiving lots of judgment over how we react to the virus, over the precautions we do or don’t take, the trips we do or don’t make…and on and on and on. And it seems like things are reaching a fever pitch with the introduction of vaccines. Now, that judgment circles around who is getting the shot, and who isn’t – yet. Around who has access and who can’t find an appointment. Who is sitting by the phone or on the computer trying to get in, and who isn’t sure they will get a shot when it’s their turn.

I’ve heard so many stories and conversations and reports about people who were shamed for getting the vaccine when they did, or who won’t tell others for fear of recrimination. About people whose jobs make them eligible, or whose family situations makes them prioritized, but still toss and turn over whether they should wait to get a shot.

And the truth is that there are many problems with the way vaccines are getting rolled out; places where the most vulnerable can’t get a shot and those in positions of power are wrongfully stepping ahead to get theirs. There are questions to be asked and changes to be made. That’s less of what I am concerned about. What troubles me much more is the way that we are treating each other in the midst of this. And I write as someone equally guilty; someone who was scheduled to get a shot last week, and thought her appointment got canceled, and then spent a long, angry and tearful evening thinking how unfair it was that other people – who could always work from home, who didn’t have members to visit in the hospital – got theirs weeks ago.

I’m just as prey to these feelings as anyone. But I’m not proud of them, and I’m trying not to lean into them.

I’m trying instead to reread the story of my life right now, and the story of COVID-19 and vaccinations with the assumption that so many of these ordinary people, friends and neighbors and colleagues of mine, are just trying to do their best. They’re just running scared, like me, and trying to get themselves and their loved ones protected.

I’m rereading with the assumption that people are basically kind.

And, like rereading Mark with those lenses in place, it is changing my understanding. Changing my feelings. Changing my interpretation. It is changing how I interact with people, and feel about them. It is letting me breathe again.

I might be wrong in my assumption, but I think I’m willing to take that risk. After all, in my case, the risk is that I have a little more love, a little more acceptance, and a little more grace than maybe someone deserves – and isn’t that a lot like Jesus, anyway?

Isn’t that what we all need?

-Pastor Jen