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

Sunday School – Pastor Nelson with Curriculum

Council asked me to put together an outline of the Sunday School year ahead, with themes and scriptures as a starting point for our Sunday School volunteers. Here is a two-page brochure-style PDF of the year ahead, from October 18 until the first Sunday after Pentecost, with the assumption that the 4th Sundays are Family Sundays without Sunday School class. That being said, with the kids and teachers gathering at 9:30 so all can attend worship, we can still have some education time on those 4th Sundays, if we want to look at the colors of the church year or so a special project or learn a special song to use in worship. This is simply a starting place for our thinking about who has time and energy and ideas for each week. So if you see a theme or a favorite Bible story on the calendar, have a song or skit or kids book or craft that goes along, or a co-teacher you’d like to invite, we’ll start sign-ups at the coffee hour table after worship this week, just before our first of two conversations on the Rachel Held Evans book “Searching for Sunday.”

Peace and blessings,
Pastor Nelson

Below is another link to the curriculum – just in case you missed it!


Sunday School – from Pastor Tomi

Hi there
I wanted to share that the church I am ministering with(in Fairport) is using the Deep Blue curriculum— which is a one room with multi ages faith formation program. So far we are having success with it. I recommend it. It is very thorough with activities and lessons geared to readers and non readers. You might want to look into it. There are sample lessons available online.
We also use teachers on a rotating basis— which means teachers only teach 1-2 times per season.


The children are OUR future!

From Jeannette – Sunday School

Our kids need us– we need to come together to set up a schedule to work with our children on Sundays. There are 21 Sundays that we will have Sunday school. This excludes Family Sunday and those Sundays during school holidays. We would like to start SS @ 9:30 so the children can join their family for church and those teaching will also be there for church.
My thought is to start October 18. This will give all time to choose a Sunday or two to give our children the Sunday school they so enjoy. Tara and Ann gave us a good start and we need to continue.
I am willing to coordinate, but will be away for the next few Sundays caring for my brother. Email me the Sunday you want and I will set up a schedule. Let’s not let our kids down, they are our future!
You can read and discuss a bible story, do a simple craft, teach the Lord’s prayer. Keep it simple, we will supply the supplies. We need to get this done! Thank you—-jeanette

Jesus and Java

“Death is something empires worry about, not something gardeners worry about. It is certainly not something resurrection people worry about.” – Rachel Held Evans, “Searching for Sunday”

We are going to talk about the ideas in this book at our next “Jesus and Java” after worship with coffee on October 11, and at the season’s first “Theology on Tap” on Tuesday, October 13, 6-7:30pm at Peint O Gwrw. As the author says in the introduction, “it’s less about searching for a Sunday church and more about searching for Sunday resurrection.” Because who are we, really, and what is this whole ‘church’ thing about? Generally speaking, that is. Come November, we can have a “”Lutheranism 101” get-together, but in the broad sense, the starting point for ritual and meaning and moving through the large and small holy moments in life, Evans’ book will be our entryway into ongoing conversation.

What draws you to worship? Is it lighting candles? Singing hymns with your neighbor? Finding community with common struggles? Gratitude for grandparents who carry your children so you can have one sweet full night of sleep? Watching the lunar eclipse? Running cross country? Seeing your child on stage at a dance recital? What fills your heart with awe and connects you to love of the people who surround you? What gives you the strength to stay in community with the people in your community even when you don’t understand each other?

So this is a lot of questions. And I hope we have a lot of questions and the freedom, trust, time, and space to ask them of and with each other. Theology on Tap, Jesus and Java, coffee fellowship, water cooler conversations, prayers of Intercession… we have time and space. We need not be afraid of asking our questions, of not knowing the answers, of changing our minds over and over again, of entrusting each other with our stories and our struggles. It is, indeed, the work of the Spirit to do so.

Even if you haven’t read the book by the time we gather, please join us at one of the two times scheduled. Even if you can’t come to one of the two times set aside, please make our community life together richer with your questions. Even if you think you’re supposed to have all the answers (even though none of us does), know that you are loved and welcome in your entirety, with questions and doubts and struggles and certainties.

The Venerable Vulnerable

I was watching the news coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to D.C. in bits and pieces while at they gym this week. It was just about noon, when the newscasters reminded us yet again that the Pope had chosen not to sit at table with the big political leaders, in favor of lunching with the homeless, that very venerable – I mean, vulnerable – population.
“Venerable” is not a word we use very often, except in relation to high religious figures, it seems. When I looked up the word on Merriam-Webster online (, I got three main entries for definition: 1. Deserving to be venerated, as “the lowest of three degrees of recognition for sanctity.” (This, I think, is that first step on the way to officially recognized Roman Catholic Sainthood.) 2. Made sacred by religious or historical association. 3. Respect accorded through age, character, benevolence, goodness, etc. (Doris just turned 88 this week, and Betty is 89. I think that qualifies them for the title, then, right?)

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

In any case, the newscaster’s slip of the tongue, changing ‘vulnerable’ to ‘venerable’ when referring to the homeless who would share lunch with the Pope, was not, I think, far from the heart of the matter. Consider Acts 10:34, where Peter stands up in the court and announces “I now realize it is true that God shows no favoritism.” Consider also the first of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians that we have available: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? The Pope could have had lunch with those we consider to be quite powerful, but he chose instead to sit down with the homeless, after speaking briefly on the faith of Joseph who, with Mary, was turned away from the inn and knew what homelessness was like, even while Mary gave birth to Jesus in that feeding trough.
“God venerates the vulnerable” might be another way to pray the Magnificat. You know, that ancient hymn first sung by Hannah, then by Mary when the angel announced to her the pregnancy where she would carry God in her own flesh and blood womb. That hymn we still sing of God turning the world upside-down: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for God has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations shall call me blessed… God has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly, God has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich have been sent away empty…”
Pope Francis has been speaking about the sanctity of life, all the way through abolishing the death penalty and taking better care of the earth. It’s the care of the vulnerable that we’re about, and recognizing our own vulnerability is part of that. We are not superheroes, we are not meant to save the world, we are simply created in the Image and Likeness of the God who creates, redeems, and restores the world. It is in our vulnerability that we are holy, in the sacred broken places of our lives and of the world around us that Jesus meets us, in the homeless and the hurting that saints are found. Faith, in whatever form that takes and however you live out your wrestling with it, encompasses every part of our living, including the parts we would rather not invite God into. Our venerable, holy, giant mystery of a God, became vulnerable to this world in flesh and blood. Therefore, every place of vulnerability becomes a revealing of the venerable.

pastor nelson

Never Forget

The stories we tell shape us, no question about it. Many Americans are telling the stories today of where they were when they got news about hijacked planes flown into the World Trade Center. Loved ones calling each other with tearful farewells. Smoke and ash and bodies falling from above. Firefighters rushing in to save as many people as possible, despite personal risk. Searching through the rubble for days to find bodies.


What do we hold up when we remember?


Sudden tragedy on American soil. Courage of first responders. Resourcefulness of those who rebuild. Compassion reaching out to embrace survivors and families who lost loved ones. I turn again and again this day to Jon Stewart’s opening monologue from that night, and one of the lines he uses in that monologue: “Any fool can destroy, but to see these firefighters with buckets rebuilding, that’s extraordinary… we’ve already won… Chaos can’t sustain itself, it never could. It’s too easy and it’s too unsatisfying.”


Far too often, however, we hold up the chaos, we cling to fear and revenge. It wasn’t just Christians who died on that day. People of many faiths, many skin colors, on the planes and in the towers, frightened and suffering. Sikhs are still targeted for hate crimes in an outpouring of fear and anger, simply because their turbans are an easy mark. Muslims wishing for peace are still labeled as terrorists because we have seared that story into our minds.


What do we remember when we tell the story over and over agin? What story do we promise to “never forget”?


baptismSunday we will witness the baptism of two little girls, where we will promise to “never forget” a God who has certainly never forgotten us. In the days and years to come, those two will learn to remember their baptism, to remember that God has caught them up in a love so much bigger even than the world itself.  And we will tell that story, over and over again, of the day they were baptized, the day we celebrated together and promised to hold one another up in the life of Christian faith and witness. That they, that we, are marked with the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit forever.


This is what we must never forget. We are loved. All of us. The whole world of us. There is no ‘us and them’ anymore, because the love of God embraces all. We must never forget God’s promise to redeem the world, until every heart of stone is made into a heart of flesh once more.  We must not forget that, as Desmond Tutu put it so well, ‘goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger that hate, light is stronger than darkness, life is stronger than death. Victory is ours in Christ who loves us!’

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