Beginning again

Caroline Noll, Associate Pastor and Pastor for Children and Families

Fall is actually here! At least on paper. All August, friends kept saying, “I can’t wait for September!” My thought was, why? Do you remember September in Texas? It doesn’t feel a whole lot different than August.

But now the State Fair is here! I remember mom used to say that the weather always changes sometime during the fair.

One of my favorite parts of welcoming fall is the changing colors of the leaves. Other parts of the country are famous for their fall foliage, but I’m content with the few bursts of color in our neighborhood and on my drive to church.

A giant tree on the corner of our street slowly changes from yellow to orange to brilliant red. There’s another we named the “James and the Giant Peach” tree because of its shape and color. Smaller scarlet trees and the golden confetti from our cedar elms … I enjoy them all.

I wonder how it came to be that some trees keep their green leaves and needles and others undergo such transformation from year to year.

Some trees and plants seem only to grow and grow until very old age or disease finally set in, and others continually renew and transform with the seasons.

How did this come to be?

If one had only ever lived among evergreens, what would they think the first time a mighty oak or pecan began to shed what seemed like every green and growing thing from its branches?

Would they panic? Would they be puzzled? Would they worry? Would their hopes for growth, resources and shade diminish? Maybe.

But you and I have not only lived among evergreens.

We have experienced many aspects of God’s spectacular creation: its wonders, its mysteries, its beauty, and its decay.

We have enjoyed times of planting, times of growth, seasons of heat and drought, the delight and surprise of the changing of seasons, and the cold and gray of winter.

I don’t know what season you are experiencing. What I do know is, whatever season you are in, it is not the last. There is no last season.

Creation doesn’t go in a line, beginning in spring and ending in winter. Creation begins and ends and begins again. New creation! It is true for nature, it is true for you and me, and it is true for our church.

Those little golden leaves collecting on my sidewalk bring me joy and hope. Those leaves have served their purpose well.

When they fall, the tree may look bare for a season, but the branches still reach high into the sky. They join together in a solid and strong trunk which connects them to their deep and far reaching roots.

And from those roots new life will grow. May it be so with you, with me, with us.

Holy rhythms

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

As your ministry staff, we discussed “Holy Rhythms,” the theme for our next worship series as we move from a wonderfully unstructured summer into the routine of the new school year.

We contemplated how each season has its time and purpose. How both structured and unstructured times are important. How all times are holy.

Ecclesiastes 3 comes to mind. 

Everything Has Its Time

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

A time for war, and a time for peace …

In July, a group from our Chancel Choir went to France to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Invasion of Normandy.

In L’église de la Madeleine, we sang a memorial concert with other choirs from the United States.

More than 800 people came to hear the concert. Over and over we heard, “The people of France are thankful to the allied forces.”

Although I learned about D-Day in a classroom, the magnitude of the consequences of this day did not sink in until our visit.

Our tour guide Andreas told us he would not be here if it weren’t for the commitment of those soldiers. 

In Normandy, we visited the American Cemetery, Point du Hoc and Omaha Beach, where on D-Day, June 6, 1944 about 6,000 American servicemen died.

(And that figure does not include all the allied forces that were lost.)

While on Omaha Beach, I imagined the blood stained surf and beach.

I imagined how I would feel if I were the mother of one of those soldiers who fought that day, which was the beginning of a movement that would reclaim Europe and restore it to a more justified and peaceful existence.

Our moods were somber. We were on sacred ground.

However, on this day in July 2019, the sky was blue, the air was cool and the water was almost turquoise. This time, the day and the place were beautiful. 

As we walked the beach, it finally happened!

Our young traveling companion couldn’t contain herself! Margaret Noll literally frolicked on the beach, running and kicking up water.

I reminisce about that day with Caroline Noll, Margaret’s mother and our Pastor for Children and Families. Wouldn’t that be what the soldiers desired – someone playing on that beach? 

At the cemetery, there is a bronze statue called Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves. When I watched Margaret, I thought, “How fitting – the title of that statue.”

I’m thankful for parents like Patrick and Caroline, who teach their children the importance of the past and the joy of the present day. 

As this season begins, let this daily prayer remind you that each action and moment are of holy worth: 

Christ beside me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, King of my heart:
Christ within me, Christ below me
Christ above me never to part.

Christ on my right hand, Christ on my left hand,
Christ all around me, shield in my strife;

Christ in my sleeping, Christ in my sitting,
Christ in my rising light of my life.

Are you ready?

Caroline Noll, Pastor for Children and Families

Summer ministries are winding down. My season of travels to workshops, camps, travels and rest has come to a close. It’s difficult to reconcile the end of summer with the first couple of days of August!  And just like that, with the turn of the calendar page, comes one particular question.  Are you ready for school to start?

Are you ready?

At first the question makes me laugh and think of familiar parenting advice.  Don’t ask a question unless you want an answer. What if I say no? What if the children say no? Ready or not, here it comes. 

With the laugh, though, comes the anxiety. What do I need to be ready? Do we have the schedule? How is everyone getting to and from school this year? When do we meet the teachers? Do we have clothes that still fit? An outfit for the first day? Do we need new shoes? Will last year’s backpack still work? Who has school supplies on sale and what’s on the list? What do they want in their lunch boxes this year? Do I have everything checked off the list to be ready?

And then I have to breathe. And wonder about being ready.  What really helps us get ready.

In Godly Play, we have some practices to help us get ready. We arrive early to prepare our rooms and ourselves.  We are mindful of thresholds, of crossing over from one space to the next, expecting to join the circle with God and one another.  We find a place that is just right for us in the circle. We settle our bodies in order to focus our minds and spirits. We breathe. We watch. We listen. And then all we can do is begin.

As this season changes, may we make ourselves ready to encounter God in worship and in the world.