Part of the Dream

Last night, scrolling through Facebook, I saw a post from an old friend. She was a summer intern at my first church in Charlotte, now a fellow seminary graduate and an ordained Presbyterian pastor.

Her post reflected on a Saturday well-spent, with good food, beautiful fall weather, and a favorite tv program. And she added, “also held a funeral for a beloved kind and joy filled saint” at her church, noting, “that is part of the dream too.”

That last part got me.

As you probably know, we are in a season of loss here at WCC. A season when we are saying goodbye to five members of our worshipping community who passed in one short span of time late last month and early this one. But also grieving the loss of extended family members and friends, remembering the first anniversaries of some other passings, and preparing for All Saints Day very soon.

We will have a long list of names to share on that day, as we sit in the sanctuary and stand out in the columbarium, and it will be hard, and holy, and beautiful.

I forget that this, too, is part of the dream of our life together. That we get to stand with one another at the side of the grave, and pronounce that death does not get the last word. That we get to cherish words of resurrection, not as empty promises but as firm hope.

That we get to do this together, after so many months when we couldn’t do it at all, or when memorial services were held in empty sanctuaries with livestreams, or attendance was sparing and counted in the single digits. When we could only call or text or stand outside in summer heat or winter cold to share our condolences.

Now, we get to stand with one another. We get to share hugs again, and sing hymns aloud, and raise our voices in the affirmation of faith that says, “neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We get to celebrate lives well-lived to the glory of God, while also mourning their loss and admitting when those lives felt cut short or we can’t make sense of their ending.

But we get to do it together. And this, too, as my friend said so wisely, is part of the dream.

So in these coming weeks, as we will gather together several more times to remember dear friends and give witness to the resurrection, let us also remember: that this, too, is a gift. This hope. These friends.

And God is with us in all the pain, and hope, and holiness of it.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

-Pastor Jen

A Prescription for Anxiety and Despair

(Our guest blogger today is Royce Eckhardt. This article first appeared in the Covenant Companion in February of 2021. We pray for Royce’s continued healing from a virus and recent hospitalization)

As the Covid-19 pandemic has rolled over us all like a thick, global cloud, I feel its dark shadows over our daily lives in countless ways. We are weary of masks and social restrictions, and missing the fellowship and communal worship of the church. Loved ones, stricken and hospitalized with the virus, are deprived of family visits. Our festive celebrations are robbed of joy when we are isolated.

With no end in sight, we are awash with anxiety and uncertainty. How can we sing the Lord’s song in this strange land?

Certainly, we turn first to Scripture to bolster our trust in the Eternal One, to find comfort and encouragement, to rekindle hope in the midst of adversity. But there is another book, a companion to the Holy Book, rich in the promises of God, that offers me a beacon of hope.

The hymnal offers the witness of saints past and present who relied on God’s sustaining grace in troublesome times. Its words can bring comfort, calm, and reassurance in our seasons of distress.

A hymnal is a rather unique and remarkable book. It is the layperson’s book of theology. It is the voice of the church through the centuries. The great cloud of witnesses resides therein. It is an archive of the rich diversity of Christian witness over the ages. It is a wonderful collection of prayers. It speaks to us from the early centuries of our faith to the new expressions written yesterday—the timelessness of the song of faith.

I share here some capsules of hope and encouragement from The Covenant Hymnal: A Worshipbook (TCH), a prescription for a dose of courage and contentment. Take daily, as needed.


Fear not, I am with you; O be not dismayed,
for I am your God and will still give you aid.

I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand,
upheld by my gracious omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call you to go,
the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow,

for I will be with you in trouble to bless,
and sanctify to you your deepest distress.

Words from Isaiah 43, spoken to a forlorn people in exile, are transformed into a song of hope for people now exiled by a virus. These are words of deliverance and comfort: the Holy One will bring us through the time of trouble. Don’t be dismayed.


Early Covenant songwriter Nils Frykman asked:

Why should I be anxious? I have such a Friend,
who bears in his heart all my woe;

this Friend is the Savior, on him I depend,
his love is eternal, I know.

Frykman knew about trouble and discouragement. He wrote that on his way to a preaching commitment, “I became so overwhelmed by despair that I threw myself to the ground and cried like a . . . child. Yet I knew through it all I was a child of God, saved by grace. After I wept out my burden, I resumed my journey with a light heart and light steps.” Thus, this song was born.


Many readers are acquainted with the story surrounding this hymn. Chicago attorney Horatio Spafford, planning a family vacation in France, sent his wife and four daughters ahead while he was detained by business. He hoped to rejoin them a few days later. While crossing the Atlantic, their ship, the Ville du Harve, collided with another vessel and sank within 15 minutes. Among the hundreds of lives lost were Spafford’s four daughters. Mrs. Spafford survived and, upon reaching land after rescue, telegraphed, “Saved alone.” Spafford immediately set off to join her. A year later, he retraced the ill-fated journey across the ocean. Upon reaching the site of the tragic accident, he was inspired to write:

When peace, like a river, attends my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;

whatever my lot, you have taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”

What unshakable faith and trust in God! These words have brought comfort and hope to many who suffer affliction and despair.


This hymn, dear to the hearts of many Covenanters, has found its way into a number of American hymnals, for Lina Sandell’s text speaks comfort and assurance across denominational lines. It first appeared in 1886 along with an allegory about a wall clock whose pendulum suddenly stopped working. When the dial investigated the cause, the pendulum proclaimed it was weary of swinging 86,400 times each day. Said the dial, “Try swinging only six times.” The pendulum agreed and admitted that it was easy. “But,” it complained, “it’s not just the six times but the thought of 60 million times that disturbs me.” The wise dial replied, “While you think of millions of swings, only one at a time will be required of you.” God gives us grace and strength for each day. We do not lay future concerns on the present moment. Read these familiar words with fresh understanding:

Day by day, and with each passing moment,
strength I find to meet my trials here;

trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.

He whose heart is kind beyond all measure
gives unto each day what he deems best—

lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
mingling toil with peace and rest.


The apostle Paul wrote, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Yet still we worry. An old Sunday school chorus said, “Why worry when you can pray?” Perhaps for some of us it’s, “Why pray when you can worry?” This hymn by Carl Olaf Rosenius, famed Swedish preacher and author, reminds us through some searching questions to look beyond our troubles to see that which is eternal:

Now, anxious heart, awake from your sadness,
have you forgotten the things that remain:

grace and communion, unbroken union
with Christ arisen and ever the same?

Is God not still your heavenly Father,
has Jesus changed since he suffered and died?

Is not the Spirit, pleading and leading,
ever the counselor, helper, and guide?

Are not the saints a trifle confusing,
they speak of joy but great trials endure,

kingdoms possessing, pleading a blessing,
safe in God’s keeping but never secure?

So, anxious heart, awake from your sadness,
rise to remember your blessings to claim.

Though skies be clouded and the sun shrouded,
never forget it is there just the same.

“BE STILL” (88, TCH)

“In quietness and in trust shall be your strength,” proclaims Isaiah (30:15). Covenant pastor/songwriter Rick Carlson’s song so beautifully expresses this both in mood and message:

When life is scatter’d I’m not far away.
When life is heavy I’ll carry you.

When life is treacherous along the way,
I will deliver you.

Be still and know I am with you,
still, for I will sustain you

throughout your life I will always be near.
Be still and know I am God.

This small sampling of hymns in The Covenant Hymnal speaks peace and calm to us in anxious times. The hymns can give us the power of the right word at the right time. While we wait for vaccines to combat Covid-19, a balm for our anxious hearts awaits in the hymnal. Read these hymns. Pray them. Sing them!

Royce Eckhardt

Creation’s Witness

“All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your faithful shall bless you.” (Psalm 145:6)

I have just returned from the grand golden state of California and a visit with my brother Eric and family there — a blessed reunion after three years. There’s something about that place that calls me home. I don’t know, I was born there and maybe that holds sway more than I realize.

Where the California Hawkinsons live is in the Central Valley which is two hours from everywhere, it seems! It’s a day trip paradise. And every direction leads one to the incredible beauty of God’s creation. We logged over 1200 miles in a week!

One day it was the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay, Muir Woods Marin County and the Napa Valley. Another it was the rolling foothills leading to Sonoma and gold rush country. Just getting started, the Carmel Coast and Monterey Peninsula brought us to the lone pine of Pebble Beach and the Pacific’s mighty rolling tide. Finally, it was the majestic grandeur of Yosemite National Park’s granite faces and mountain peaks.

All of this beauty lifts my spirit, and bids me to find a grateful spirit of worship and awe, realizing that I experience God’s presence through God’s creation. I make the connection of the psalmist, that all creation gives thanks, bears witness to the wonderful creator, and drags my spirit along for the ride. I bless the One, I thank the One who creates with such beauty and power, and who has planted us as human beings in its environs to flourish in beauty and abundance, and to join the in the thankful song that creation sings.

I was hoping to include a couple pictures here, but cannot get my computer to obey. Maybe that’s as it should be, after all. Maybe, instead, more meaningful will be for you to join me in getting up and getting out into the fresh air and glowing autumn to ind gratitude, right where you are. Whatever the day is bringing, I guarantee you there’s a beautiful show going on outside! Find it, and join the trees and hills, the water and the woods, the gleaming city and the bright endless blue skies in praise and thanks.

Take a walk or a run or a bike or a ride and catch the upcoming sunset, or set the alarm and get down to Gillson park at 7:02 tomorrow morning when the sun will surely rise on the horizon and begin to warm up a new day. For our God is most surely with us, and creation is a daily and even momentary reminder.

Bless the One whose mighty works are laid bare for your eyes to see, your ears to hear, your nose to smell, and your hands to touch.

Love from here!

Peter Hawkinson

Reflections on a holiday

Today is Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and yet for some it is still Columbus Day.

At least in the confusion, there is now some grappling with the complex reality of what the day has always been: for some, a celebration of a man who “discovered” the Americas (to European minds); for others, a painful reminder of what his so-called discovery cost the indigenous peoples of our land.

This year, I am doing a little better about catching myself from calling it Columbus Day, and adopting the new name – in part, because I am learning more about the indigenous people who are deserving of our honor and recognition, and even more so our support and solidarity.

I have joined a denominational initiative called the AntiRacist Discipleship Pathways this year, embarking on year two of a journey for white and BIPOC clergy as we seek to grow in our antiracist understanding, advocacy and ministry. And one of our assignments for this fall is reading Becoming Rooted by Randy Woodley, a one hundred day devotional aimed at “Reconnecting with Sacred Earth.” I’m also, outside of the pathway, working my way through Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, a powerful collection of essays that invites us to consider the intersections of science and indigenous knowledge as they relate to the natural world. It reads like a memoir, like poetry, like an epic tale and a little bit like a science text – fitting for a book that seeks to blend multiple perspectives into a whole, nuanced understanding of creation.

Mostly, I share this with you because I can wholeheartedly recommend both of these books, by indigenous authors. I’m being challenged as I read them, but I’m also learning so much. Both of these authors have a way of looking at the natural world that I can only describe as reverent, even though neither writes from an explicitly Christian point of view. They honor the world, they understand themselves as living in relationship to it, not dominion over it. They are taught by the world, by the ebb and flow of seasons, by plants and by animals. They feel a sense of responsibility to it, and gratitude for it.

I’m only partway through these books, but already I am grateful for what they’ll teach me. I wonder if this isn’t exactly the kind of tender care, stewardship and love that God had in mind when God put the first people in the garden of Eden. I wonder if there isn’t still an opportunity, after all the harm done in the name of God and the name of America and the name of exploration, to step back and to learn from these indigenous voices. Scratch that – I don’t wonder, I know there is.

My hope is to take some of what I’m learning and share it with you, whether in Sunday School classes or sermons or more posts on here. But I’d also love to invite you to learn with me, to join me on a new kind of journey of discovery, one undertaken in humility, one that has healing and hope and justice as its goal.


Pastor Jen

Asking the Right Questions

We’re back! Back to school, back to work, back to church.

Back to mask-optional and in-person meetings; back to coffee hour and passing the offering plate and sharing Wednesday dinners together.

And it feels really, really good.

Not to say that COVID is over – of course not – but that, thanks to a whole variety of reasons, we are largely able to resume the kinds of fellowship, learning, service and worship together that we have always had, and have missed so dearly over the last two and a half years.

I’m grateful for it. Grateful to see and be with you again, to give and receive hugs, to share meals, to sit in our homes and to talk with less anxiety about what unknown germs we might be carrying.

In the midst of my gratitude, though, I’m noticing that the switch back to something-like-normal isn’t immediate, or without its bumps.

We are coming back together carrying all sorts of things: grief, frustration, anger, sadness. Continued anxiety about the present and future. Relationships that were interrupted, or severely damaged, by our differences over COVID, over our discernment process, over politics, over a host of other things.

We are coming back together, which is the important thing. But we are coming back as complex people with complex experiences and feelings about what we’ve been through. And it makes for some friction.

I noticed this last fall, when I went on an annual retreat with several seminary classmates, now old friends and colleagues in ministry of mine. We met early in 2020, in February, just weeks before everything exploded, and then gathered again some twenty months later in October 2021. And we had some bumps. Some moments that went awry. Some tears and aggrieved silences. Some lingering difficult feelings.

I went on that same retreat this weekend, and I admit to feeling lots of trepidation about it this year. Would the same friction rear its head? Would I come home rested or depleted, feeling built up or worn out?

Overall, it was a great weekend. Wonderful food, long slow hours of visiting, devotional times and afternoon rests and walks in the crisp fall air. And also…there were still bumps.

But when we encountered them, I tried something different this year. Instead of retreating internally, to sulk or nurse my wounds, I leaned in. I asked some questions. I tried not to let my assumptions or interpretations of a conversation be the only information I took in, but I interrogated things. I tried to do so gently, and with humility, but also with some courage.

I said things like, “I’m sorry if my words came across this way” or “Here is what I was trying to say.”

I tried to learn more about a situation. To understand why something said or done created an immediate, sharp reaction instead of internalizing it, deciding I was bad or stupid or disliked.

Let me tell you. It wasn’t less tiring.

But it was so much more helpful.

I left those few days of intense, intentional relationship building feeling more connected, feeling at peace, feeling reflective and cared for and centered.

And I am thinking about that all this morning. Wondering if I stumbled, with the help of God and a good therapist, upon some tools that might be useful for all of us, as we come back together.

Not magical fix-its, or easy buttons. But assists. Ways to lean in towards each other, instead of further away. Ways to try and break down some walls, instead of adding to them bit by bit.

I’m going to try this again, and I invite you to join me. The next time you’re with a friend, or in a group, and that friction rears its head…think about some questions you might ask. Some ways you might work toward understanding each other better. Some information you might seek out that brings clarity.

And I hope you’ll also find that the right questions help us find our way back to each other.


Pastor Jen