Space at the Table

This morning, I had a phone call with two friends of mine. We met during the summer of 2020 in an online class designed for white people to reckon with the realities of racism in our country both systemic and personal, and we have stayed in touch ever since.

These two friends aren’t like any other friends I have. They aren’t particularly religious, though they are always interested in my perspective as someone who is. They are profoundly political, but not affiliated with a particular party. Our main commonality is a desire to stay involved and invested in this work of antiracism, and a realization that it starts at home: with our individual thoughts and attitudes and willingness to talk about what we’re learning and do something with it.

So far, our conversations have involved a lot of abstract ideas, a lot of big-picture reflections on what we see going on around us, and some laments about it. But not much that’s really practical and immediate. And thus, not a lot that we disagree strongly on.

Until today.

Today, I think we found a point where we really differ, on the topic of Thanksgiving.

One of my friends steadfastly refuses to celebrate. She has indigenous friends who will be grieving on Thursday, and given both the historic and ongoing oppression of indigenous peoples in America and around the world, doesn’t feel she can in good conscience have a celebratory meal.

I, on the other hand, am celebrating. I mentioned that recently the Evanston Public Library came out with a beautiful land acknowledgement (read more here) that I intend to share at my table. And that I hope to find a way to make this day more about receiving God’s blessings and being thankful for them, than a story about happy pilgrim and native American relationships. But I’m making a turkey, and the sides, and pie, and I’ll eat them with friends and be pretty glad about it.

Still, she challenged me to think about whether this was possible. Can we still celebrate, while people are suffering? Can we sit down to tables that are filled while others go hungry?

The truth is, I don’t know.

I said something about redemption – about the work that God does out of tragedy, taking a thing that seems beyond hope, and offering some grace or healing or wisdom to come out of it. And that maybe we can find some redemption in our current treatment of the Thanksgiving holiday. That it can give us an opportunity to think about what we’re doing to create a land where all can flourish, and all have enough. That we can reckon with our past and imagine a different future and then start working towards it.

I believe firmly in redemption. But I also firmly believe that God is the initiator of it. God desires our help, sure, but we can’t redeem on our own.

So I’m still undecided. Can we celebrate Thanksgiving? I want to try to. To find space at my table for the grief of the day, and for the gift of it. For the people who suffered as this country was founded and grew, and for the lives who have benefited from America’s opportunities and possibilities. For the food that we are blessed to eat, and for the knowledge that the people who grew and gathered it may have a hard time making a living wage.

For both lament and hope.

I think that’s what the gospel calls us to. I think it’s possible, although difficult.

And I just hope that we are setting tables this week, and always, that are big enough to hold space for all of that.


Pastor Jen

These Days are Changing

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea. (Psalm 46:1-2)

These days are changing With each leaf shimmering down in sunshine And frosty air through my bedroom window These days are changing

These days are changing Children growing up, parents growing old Death is stilling the laughter of friends These days are changing.

Yet you, God of everything do not change Forever hiding us in Your love Still helping us to face our troubles You become a man and change our days

These days are changing Forever creeps closer like snow Many glad reunions, the laughter of heavenly friends These days are changing

So come, changing days Blow winter-time of life with all your challenge and pain Meet our Refuge and Strength Who conquers for us your trouble

These days are changing Falling leaves promise us that life shall come again And for now, until then Refuge and Strength, very present help

Peter Hawkinson, October, 2000

A Time to Give

As you might have noticed, either from the calendar, or the letter that showed up in your mailbox last week, or the sermon from this past Sunday…it’s Stewardship season.

The time of the year when we aim to think prayerfully about things that don’t always feel very prayerful: budgets and percentages and tax-deductible donations and pledge cards.

My mom is an accountant, and I like math too, so my first instinct when this time rolls around is to get out my calculator and crunch numbers: think about my income, my expenses, my ability to give.

But that usually ends up being not all that prayerful either. It feels more self-focused: I’ll make sure I get my needs met, and then if there’s anything left over, maybe I’ll give it away.

It’s a complex conversation, I get that – any time we talk about money it’s complicated. It’s a topic laden with the baggage of whatever we’ve been taught about money, whatever our childhood experiences with money were, whatever our adult experiences are. There are real financial obligations we have to meet in our society, and yet I also think that when we focus exclusively on those, our conversations about stewardship fall short.

It is, after all, called stewardship season – not charitable giving season – a subtle reminder that we are, after all, just stewards of whatever resources we’ve been given.

Whatever resources – not just financial.

Also our time, and our talents.

Which is why, this year, we’re inviting you to several types of pledging and giving.

Not just the money one, although that remains important. But also considering how you can give some time, and some of your skills or interests to help the mission and ministry of our church.

You’ve probably heard about our restructuring – changing the structure of our church leadership, doing away with a few committees, redoing several others. The goal of which has been to make it easier to understand what our needs are as a congregation, and easier to jump in and meet them.

So this year, we’re also offering a “time and talents” pledge sheet, where you can read briefly about all those opportunities to serve, and then fill it out based on how you’d like to participate this year.

As with financial gifts, no offer of help is too small.

As with financial gifts, we need everyone to participate as they can.

As with financial gifts, we hope that you’ll be prayerful as you consider where you can help, and what you’d enjoy doing.

And finally, as with all types of gifts, we hope that you’ll be even more blessed in your giving than in receiving.

Click here to fill out the time and talents sheet online, or look for it in your bulletin this coming Sunday. We’ll fill out the cards together during worship and place them in the offering plate, along with our pledge cards for the year.

Please be in touch, as always, with any questions.

With love,

Pastor Jen

A Grandpa Larson Story

“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.” (Psalms 31:24)

My maternal grandfather, Leonard Larson, died when I was just 8 years old. He, along with his wife Alice had quite a life! Both of them grew up in Worthington, Minnesota, and were high school sweethearts. Leonard was a chaplain and cook in the First World War, and during the 1920s he and Alice served the Covenant Church as missionaries in China, where he ran the school for all the missionary children. Eventually they settled in Kansas City, Kansas where he served as pastor of First Covenant Church for 35 years. My mother, Alyce (different spelling!) was the sixth of seven children born to them. Whenever I’m with my Larson family, and as I grow older, I’m told I’m the one who looks most like him.

There is one ministry story that I come back to again and again, in those times when discouragement and doubt creep in. Somewhere in one of those fallow seasons of church life that come, Leonard went back to his war cook roots and decided to invite the neighborhood to the church basement for a chili supper. (Tangent here, grandpa Larson’s chili is one of many delicious recipes of his. His baked beans, Limpa bread and many other family recipes can be found in the Larson family cookbook). He was famous for delicious food and making a mess while doing it!

Back to the story. No one from the neighborhood came to the chili supper. And I’m sure he was discouraged about that.

But what he decided to do was go and find small containers and fill them up and take them up and down the street and welcome the neighborhood. He took the party out to the people, he brought the beloved community into the neighborhood in a moment when it would have been most appropriate to pack up, wipe the dust off his feet, and go home.

When he was an old man, years later, when I knew him and we made our yearly visit to Kansas City, doctors would need to turn down the level of his pacemaker because of his excitement and hutzpah. That’s who Leonard was.

I think it’s true that I bear his resemblance in many ways, for which I’m grateful. I can only hope too to learn his tenacity and strong faith, and his way of ministering the love of God.

As you reflect on your own life’s journey these days, how does the defunct and redeemed chili supper story speak to you?

Love from here


On the Threshold

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working my way through a wonderful little book called Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul lent to me by one of our church members (thanks Sam!).

It explores the wisdom of Celtic Christianity through the lens of nine different men and women throughout the ages, making applications to our present day with its particular needs and questions.

I’m only a couple of chapters in, so I’m sure there are many more insights to come, but this morning I was struck by the chapter on Saint Brigid of Kildare.

Not very much is known about her biographically – as the author points out, much more is known hagiographically, as the first biographies about Brigid were written a full century after she lived and died. In a sense, he says, “the question before us is not so much who she was, but rather who she has become in the Celtic heart and imagination over the centuries.”

And who she has become is someone who is capable of uniting apparent opposites, or as the author says, “occupying the liminal space between worlds.”

Legend has it that Brigid was born in-between the nighttime and the sunrise, at twilight; and in-between the inside and the outside of her home, on the threshold.

And in her life she continued to stand in these liminal spaces: uniting the pre-Christian Irish world with that of Christianity; the divine and the human realms; the earth and humanity; what is and what is coming into being.

Reading these reflections on the life of Brigid, I was reminded of something I often try to forget: that we are constantly in transition. We are constantly approaching, standing at, or crossing over thresholds, navigating changes in our lives. We can try to avoid them, or rush through them to minimize the pain and discomfort, or we can do as Brigid invites us to, and stand at the threshold and look for God there.

We can also fall prey to the idea of opposites: in as opposed to out, pre-Christian as opposed to Christian, masculine as opposed to feminine. Or we can live as Brigid did, and find ways to unite them, to have them speak with and interact with each other, allow them to inform and support the other, and deepen our understanding of each.

I’m mindful of this now, as Election Day approaches tomorrow. We are a country of divisions, of opposites, of either-or. We are blue OR red. Pro-life OR pro-choice. Liberal OR conservative. And I don’t think it’s serving us very well.

What would Brigid say to all this? What would she do?

I imagine she might do a lot of listening. That she might look for the commonalities in these so-called opposites. That she would refuse to believe we are so different as we think. And that she might try to stand at the threshold and connect to both sides.

I don’t think it’s a bad place to start, after all. And, like Brigid, as we’re standing at the threshold, we might even notice God there too.

-Pastor Jen

The Joy of saying “Yes!”

…For during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” (2 Cor 8)

The old first Church in Jerusalem is in need. The number of widows to care for is increasing. For a number of reasons, the Church needs help. The Macedonian Christians, who are themselves suffering economic loss because of their faith, are giving freely and with joy! Asking for how they can give and serve. Here the fund-raisers are not begging the would-be givers; here the givers are begging for more opportunities to give. Their challenges somehow increased the generous nature of their giving, and they joy in it too.

Here we are, friends, about to finish up one year and begin another together in life and ministry. Year ninety-five finds us facing our own afflictions and challenges. Post-Covid research indicates a forty percent reduction in church participation and giving across our national landscape.

In many ways, this is a fight or flight kind of moment for us. It’s a moment, a season when we might re-commit ourselves to Christ and to one another in a season of loss, Macedonian style. But we might also join in and flow with the habit of some who are leaving the Church because it’s too inclusive, or because it’s not inclusive enough, or because trust in institutions has been eroded, or fill in the blank. We might choose flight instead of fight, because that’s where the energy seems to be these days, like the little kids who follow the soccer ball wherever it goes.

I get it. I understand the struggle. I’m engaged in it myself.

My encouragement would be practical in nature. When the nominating committee calls, and asks you to serve the church, consider the joy of saying yes. Consider the need of the battered and bruised church to be renewed, re-invigorated, and how you might contribute to that. This is the joy of saying yes.

And my encouragement would be to read the Stewardship letter soon coming your way, and find that pledge card, and make a financial promise to our God and to this community for the year to come, and mail it in, or better yet, come to worship on November 20 and place it on God’s altar, along with hopes and prayers for the year to come. his is the joy of saying yes.

“What explains it was that they had first given themselves unreservedly to God and to us” Paul says.

I am deep in prayer these days for the work of the Spirit among us.

Love From Here

Peter Hawkinson