Happy New Year Potluck

I was listening to a radio interview with a Rabbi (Jesus was also a Rabbi, so it seemed good to listen to some other folks in his line of work), and heard something I’d known for ages but hadn’t connected with: Passover is celebrated in the home. The meal is a family event, with mother lighting the candles and the youngest child asking the questions, and this is the way they tell the, THE, massively most important story of their faith. Not in the synagogue, but at home, around the dinner table. Granted, there is a tradition of Sabbath dinners every weekend (how often do we sit down with our families -without our phones or the television as distraction- for a meal anymore?), but this central identifying story isn’t something left only to the synagogue to tell. It’s a story told at home, shared within the family. Shrinking congregations worry so much about filling the pews Sunday mornings, but what about encouraging what goes on at home? How do we strengthen families, with their busy schedules, to share holy time in their everyday time together? Surely God doesn’t wait until we’re gathered in the Sanctuary to speak to us words of forgiveness and grace.

potluck-imageSo Sunday, this first Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday of the new church year, we will gather around shared dinner tables for a potluck with prayer and Story telling. Instead of 10am liturgy (take your time driving home after Thanksgiving) our liturgy will be at 4pm in the fellowship hall downstairs (and our lift runs smoothly from the outside of the building to take you downstairs). We will gather and light candles, we will notice where we have noticed God lately, we will listen for God in the Scriptures and in each other, we will pray, we will sing, we will break bread and bless and be encouraged for the coming winter. Perhaps in this practice we will even find ways to shape our home dinner conversations, with our partners and our children and our neighbors, toward remembering who we are and the love to whom we belong. It’s a great experiment we take on together. So far it’s just the one Sunday night we’ve got planned for this sort of gathering, but perhaps with a little conversation we can see what works best for future alternative gathering times and styles. Come with your hunger and your curiosity and your imagination, and let’s explore where the Spirit will lead us while She feeds us in fellowship and Eucharist.



Pastor Nelson

Chatham Interfaith Thanksgiving a Joyful Celebration of Radical Hospitality

On the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving, St James Catholic Church at the corner of 66 and 203 was packed full of people gathered for songs, stories, prayers, blessings, as the annual Interfaith Thanksgiving event was a great success. When the planning began for this event, it was decided the theme would be “City of Strangers – Family of Friends,” both in response to the Syrian refugee crisis, and remembering the traditional Thanksgiving story of the first pilgrims being welcomed by natives all those years ago. Participants from a variety of faiths including diverse Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian traditions shared songs and stories and blessings on the theme of welcoming and being welcomed. Food offerings were collected for the local pantries, and money was collected for the United Nations response to the Syrian refugee crisis. The theme verse for the night was chosen from the Christian scriptures, the New Testament letter to the Hebrews, chapter 13: “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”

refugees-are-human-beings-okiThat’s the long and the short of it. Small town folk gathering for an annual celebration of gratitude and togetherness in all of our differences of belief and practice, centering again and again on the Golden Rule common to so many of the major world religions. In the word shared from Imam Salim Chishti from the Abode of the Message: “One is not a believer until he loves for his neighbor what he loves for himself.” Perhaps more commonly known as “love your neighbor as yourself,” or “do not do to a neighbor what is hateful to yourself.” Considering the latest fear-based rhetoric against a ‘land of the free and home of the brave’ welcome for Syrian refugees, this annual event carried extra significance especially this year. Remembering our vow to ‘never forget’ neither the sacrifice of soldiers made for a more peaceful world nor the horrific tragedies of the Holocaust when so many Jews seeking refuge at our shores were turned away and sent back to the oven, this annual Interfaith gathering was a joyful witness of love, and a powerful refusal to fear the neighbor, who is only a stranger until they are a friend. Voices joined together at the end of the evening in a loud and hopeful singing of Bill Withers’ classic “Lean on Me,” an appropriate culmination to the stories shared of compassion and healing, experienced as very real in our midst.

Pastor Andrew Nelson


I have a confession to make: I really want to say something before I go on vacation, as a way to keep the website updated, because we have to stay relevant. But I can’t get past this morning’s shift at Starbucks, because I have gotten far too angry about the red cups conversation. There was a man who ordered a drink and had us put ‘Merry Christmas’ on the sticker as the name to call when it was ready. This is NOT the way to keep Christ in Christmas. It is not cheery, it is triumphalistic. It is not festive, it is bullying. It is Rome occupying Jerusalem, not God in a manger.

redCupsWhat do I mean by that? God in Christ was putting aside all power and authority and living in the mud with the poor and outcast. Jesus was part of a community of people who were bullied and beaten regularly to be kept in their place. His followers were academic and social rejects. For the first hundred years of Christianity, being called a “Christian” was a slur, and many of us were killed for being found to follow ‘The Way’ of this Rabbi who took care of widows and orphans, who laid hands on the sick and ate dinner with rejects.

How have we fallen so far that more media attention is given to the way Christians get upset over holiday decorations than the way Christians are reaching out to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, bring justice to the oppressed? Why do we see, and readily jump on the bandwagon for, the arguments about a secular company running a business without keeping our particular brand of Christian symbols at the center, when there are children being bought and sold for sex, refugees being thrown out of their homes because of wars they did not want, veterans returning home from war only to succumb to suicide, and myriads of New Yorkers working three full-time jobs who still cannot afford decent housing and a healthy meal? How have we come to the point where we would rather sit in the relative comfort of positions of power than take an honest look at the broken world and our place in that brokenness and seek the healing God has brought for the whole cosmos?

GodChristianity is not easy. It doesn’t guarantee life will be easy. It doesn’t guarantee we will always be right, or happy, or successful. It doesn’t even guarantee that people will like us. Jesus told his followers he would be the source of family division, even setting mother against daughter and father against son. If we’re torn apart by something as passing as red paper cups, what will happen when we’re called on to make real change for justice, or to decide between keeping our pension and standing by our values in a way that might lead to losing a job or actually put our life at risk? There are black college students right now in Missouri who feel threatened, and have had their lives publicly threatened in the last week, just for being black (it’s there in the threats themselves that they’d better stay home away from campus lest they get shot), and white administration and white students are not taking them seriously, are not standing up to protect them and take down the threats. But where is God to be found in all of this if not among those who are crucified? Where is God to be found except in the eyes and the heart of children who are bought and sold for sex and cheap labor? Where is God except in the overly tight shoulders of a single mom working three full-time jobs to support her kids so they can get a good education? Where is God except in the community of families sitting up all night at the bedside of a loved one who still has not woken up two months after a car accident? Where is God in our world if not in the muck and the mess of the manger?

That’s what “Merry Christmas” means, brothers and sisters. For the Christ Mass is the celebration of the Anointed One come into the world, God-With-Us in every nook and cranny and hiding place where we would rather not be found, Emmanuel in every spot of shame brought to the light and set free, when every piercing pain of our hands and hearts is born in His heart and hands. It doesn’t mean we always get our way, thank God. It means God stops at nothing to save us all. Not even death can keep God from making this scattered and shattered world, even us and our inane arguing over icons, whole again.

Pastor Nelson

Narcan training

Christ our Emmanuel Lutheran Church on Park Row in Chatham was recently the site of a community heroin awareness event. This event was held in conjunction with the ELCA’s (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America),”God’s work Our Hands” Sunday. This is a day held annually in Lutheran churches across the nation dedicated to serving our communities in ways that show God’s love to all people.

narcanRepresentatives from Catholic Charities’ Project Safe Point provided Narcan training with a free kit to anyone who attended. Narcan is the life saving medication that can be given to someone who overdoses on an opiate, to reverse the effects & save that person’s life. A representative from Friends of Recovery (FOR-NY) was also present to share her personal story of addiction & recovery. She discussed how we can work as a community to fight heroin addiction in Chatham & our surrounding communities.

Christ our Emmanuel wishes to thank Catholic Charities & Friends of Recovery for their assistance with this event.
For information on Narcan training or opiate addiction services contact Catholic Charities @ 449-3581 or Friends of Recovery-NY @ FOR-NY.org or 487-4395. Christ our Emmanuel Lutheran Church holds Sunday School @ 9:30 am & church services on Sunday at 10am. All are welcome!

What’s a Conference?

So. Our congregation is a local expression of the larger church of which we are a part. The Upstate New York Synod is a larger collection of congregations who work together to support each other and get mission and ministry done on a larger scale, like camps and campus ministries. The ELCA is the national church body of which each of our Synods is a part, through which we serve in the Lutheran World Federation, Lutheran World Relief, Young Adults in Global Mission, the Malaria Campaign, and so on. Conferences are smaller than the synod and larger than the congregation, and our Conference is the Hudson/Mohawk Conference. We had our Fall Assembly this past weekend, full of reports of summer activities like senior high camp, upcoming retirements, two county strategy conversations ongoing, Women of the ELCA events, and the like. Then we got on to the exciting part… the budget!
Okay, yes, I know money is a piece of anxiety for a lot of people. But our budget is a huge picture of what our values are, and we’ve got a lot going on in the conference to be excited about! I’m a bit biased toward supporting the ministry happening at UAlbany, since I’m on the board, but campus ministry was a huge part of my own faith formation when I was in college, and along with camping it’s an area making a huge impact in the lives of our young people even though funding for these areas continues to be cut year after year. Our Conference has support of the UAlbany Cornerstone Campus Ministry written into our budget every year, as well as money to help offset the cost of Confirmation Camp and the Senior High Camp so more kids can experience the unique community that is our homegrown summer camp ministry.

Also pretty exciting is the grant we have been stewarding since the close of some parishes (First English, St Mark’s, Our Savior) who left a legacy fund to help finance ministries for years to come. The FESMOS Grant is a fantastic gift to the wider church, and our Fall Conference Assembly got to review applications for grant monies to be distributed from that fund for five different organizations. What a gift to be able to say ‘yes’ to these organizations asking for help!
That’s right – our conference, of which we are a part, is connected to wider church ministries than we see in our own neighborhood. Talk about a gift of faith and trust, to give to something of which we may never see the benefits. We get to hear about the good work this grant is funding every time the Conference gets together. Work like the Capital Area Council of Churches emergency overflow shelter that provided three thousand (3,000) bed nights last year to young men who couldn’t get into traditional shelters. Or the Campus Protestant Ministry which provides safe and welcoming community for Schenectady County Community College students, and the RPI campus ministry, too. Schenectady Inner City Ministry provides free camp programming for up to 30 campers for 6 weeks, and this grant helps fund that work. Then there’s the emergency shelter for mothers and their children at the St Paul’s Center, and the Troy Area United Ministries which serves families fleeing domestic violence.

We may seem like a small church when we gather on Sundays. Some weeks we have only twenty other faces to look at when we sing and pray in the pews. There are so many other faces we do not see who are also there with us, though. College students on their campuses, Albany Maritime ministries, homeless and nearly homeless families looking for safe space, inner city kids… who would have guessed looking at our usual Sunday gathering that we are part of such a large community!
What amazing ministries we are part of by being part of the Hudson Mohawk Conference, the Upstate NY Synod, the ELCA, God’s church alive in the world!

The Mills Brothers and Our New Steps

One of my grandfather’s favorite groups to sing along with on the radio was the Mills Brothers. They became one of my favorites pretty quickly, too, with their harmonies and of course with the nostalgia of hearing them and remembering Grandpa. They would sing songs like “Glow Worm,” and “Cab Driver,” and “You’re Nobody ‘Till Somebody Loves You.”

millBrothersIt’s this last one that I’m thinking of today. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWoHazIDN0E) The lyric I remember goes “you’re nobody ‘till somebody loves you. You’re nobody till somebody cares. You may be king, you may possess the world and its gold, but gold won’t bring you happiness when you’re growing old….” There are a lot of families experiencing tragedy who don’t know how much they’re cared for until the community rallies around them with support, bringing casseroles and offering babysitting or grocery runs, lifting them up in prayer and listening without judgment as they grieve and wrestle. We’ve got quite a gift in our church to be a presence and hold space available in those times of need, whether it be for prayer after natural disasters or funerals or celebrations that need to be marked somehow in sacred space. There is a long history of people coming into our building for sanctuary, safety, comfort, and care, which we celebrate whenever we tell our part of God’s story.

We’ve got new steps, beautifully crafted and hopefully welcoming to the community around us, that all who pass by know they’re invited inside for prayer and song and fellowship. Of course, it’s not just the stairs and the building that invites people into a space, it’s the events and the people making personal contact and direct invitations that let folks know we’re waiting and wanting for them to join us. We’ll bless those steps this Sunday at the start of our worship service, in gratitude for the many hands that worked so hard to make them available – the contractors and the Tag Sale and the extra funds brought in by community members so we could afford the materials and labor.steps

Steps go both ways, though. We are not only excited to have steps made more welcoming to those who we need inside with us, we also will be sent down those steps after each worship service, back out into the world to find God already alive and active in the community around us.

The last line of that Mills Brothers song goes “go go out and find yourself somebody to love!” We get to recognize the work of God in one another every other day of the week when we’ve spent time together on Sunday focusing specifically on God’s saving and healing work in the prayers and the Scriptures and the hymns and the fellowship. We go up the stairs to take a breather and be refreshed, reminding one another of the One God who loves us no matter what’s going on, then we go back down those stairs to “find yourself somebody to love.”

Pastor Nelson

People Are Beautiful

One of the things I get to do as a Pastor is be on the board for the SUNY Albany Protestant Campus Ministry. I’m not sure I always feel “adult enough” to be on any sort of board of directors, but if I had a first board to pick from, this would be the sort. We meet monthly at the Interfaith center on campus, and our meetings are followed by “Food and Faith,” where a different congregation each week provides a home-cooked meal for the college students and then leads a sacred conversation or evening devotion. This semester the campus minister has begun gathering students and speakers for a monthly “Justice and Java,” at Professor Java’s Coffee Sanctuary in Albany. This week the conversation was about Black Lives Matter, and we had three speakers, including a member of the Labor-Religion Coalition, Rev. Dr. Roxanne Booth, who is also on the board, and one of the students who grew up in Africa and first encountered racism as an international student here in the States.


So this week I went to that presentation and listened while white and black students and adults shared their of racism, of micro-agressions (like being followed by security while shopping, no matter how you dress and speak), of hopes for the future. One student, barely twenty years old, said she doubted we would be any better at race relations in her lifetime, though she hoped we could learn something. One of the nearly-retired clergy pointed out that we are still basically where we were during the civil rights movement when it comes to race relations. Consider, he said, the white pastors who told MLK, Jr., that the movement just needed to wait, slow down, calm down. We talked about aggression and communication and how hard it is to be mix-race when even within families colorism (valuing lighter skin tones above darker ones) becomes a point of conflict.

And what I heard there in that conversation was freedom, and safety, and pain, and honest sharing of stories without fear of judgment. When we take one another seriously, and believe the stories people tell about their experiences, that’s when healing and reconciliation and justice can begin to build. Just as we welcomed the stories and experiences of addicts and their families last month, though we all have different levels of experience with Heroin, some no exposure at all. What’s important is that we believe one another’s experiences, that we hold one another’s stories as sacred.

Consider it from the point of view of any oppression. Consider, for example, a woman who is catcalled repeatedly, or constantly told to ‘smile,’ who may have been harassed and now finds any sort of flirtatious attention unwelcome and uncomfortable. Do we take her word for it and stop telling her to smile, or do we tell her to lighten up and learn how to take a compliment?

whittierThe next day I sat at Whittier for awhile and watched the nurses and the patients and wondered about their lives before that place. Where did the man in the orange hat come from before he started walking up and down those hallways telling the nurses it was time to milk the cows? What about the woman in blue who looks to be no more than 65 and pages through the magazines in the afternoons? What was her life like before? How little we know about each other when we only trust what we see and assume at first blush! It’s only sad if we continue to think they’re only what we see right now in front of us. Aren’t you more complicated than the job you did or didn’t get to do today?

Take a look at a life you think you know, and delve a bit more deeply into it. Perhaps it’s the story of your spouse, your parent, your child, your neighbor, or even your self. Scripture is full of contradictions, and so are we, made in the image of God. Listen for the minority voices that have no advocate and consider how life, like ecosystems, is made richer by diversity. Remember, too, that you are also somebody’s idea of strange and different. Isn’t it wonderful?

–Pastor Nelson

Seeking & serving with hope, love and faith in Chatham, New York