The Future…and the Past

I have noted in difficult and uncertain present moments that the need for a little reflection backwards goes a long way. I don’t know about you, but I struggle with decisions and directions — the “fork in the road” type that are part of life’s journey. Which way? I don’t know.

When I stop long enough to look back over my life, I can see clearly how God has led me along — sometimes even into hard seasons so necessary. Trying not to be simplistic or over-spiritual about life, I believe my journey and yours too to be sacred — filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit as it unfolds and sometimes changes directions.

My dear friend and colleague Judi Geake is helping me once again to rest in this, and find comfort when the present living moment seems up in the air. Yesterday at our staff gathering she read this poem, from John O’Donohue, that seems to capture both the anticipatory excitement and exhaustive unknown about new chapters of life:

For a New Beginning


In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.


For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.


It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.


Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.


Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.


Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.


John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space between Us

Then, this morning while searching for a book in the church library, a poster-board sign leaning against her desk, likely brought by by someone and left says this:

“I trust the next chapter because I know the author.”

here’s much about life’s journey and direction that’s always up for grabs. Growing older I realize how much I keep waiting for that to change, instead of embracing the journey as it is in all its mysteries. What helps me in this is faith in the One who bears all good gifts, and whose will is always for good, and who is present and active in my journey, sometimes pushing, sometimes pulling me along. I’ll admit I am one of those crazy enough to believe such a thing and who finds a settled comfort in God’s presence and promises. In the end, it also beckons me forward as the poem says, “awakening your spirit to adventure”, and as the poster-board says, “because I know the author.”

That’s enough to face the unknowns and big decisions ahead with hope.

Question — Where do these thoughts settle in your own spirit and on our own journey in the season? How is God’s Spirit speaking to you?

Love From Here, and thanks to Judi!

Peter Hawkinson

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.

Yours,

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

PETER HAWKINSON

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

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.

“HOW FIRM A FOUNDATION” (437, TCH)

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.

“WHY SHOULD I BE ANXIOUS?” (431, TCH)

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.

“IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL” (451, TCH)

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.

“DAY BY DAY AND WITH EACH PASSING MOMENT” (435, TCH)

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.

“NOW, ANXIOUS HEART, AWAKE FROM YOUR SADNESS” (472, TCH)

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