April 2021 Pastor’s Corner – It’s Just Not The Same

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb. 10:25)

One of the most incredible aspects of the past year is how businesses and people adapted to the realities of the pandemic and stay-at-home orders.  Things we used to only be able to do by leaving the house transformed in a few short weeks into things you could do from the comfort of your couch.  Need groceries?  Place the order online and you can pick them up without ever leaving your car.  Want to eat out?  No problem, they’ll bring the food and leave it at your door.  The latest blockbuster movie? Catch it on release day right there in your living  room.  A year ago only the largest and wealthiest churches were live-streaming, but now almost every church is doing so, including ours.  These are amazing and wonderful advances and changes, for which there is much to be thankful.

But can we be honest for a moment?  As great as all of that is, it’s just not the same.  How many times have you purchased the wrong quantity of something because you couldn’t tell how big it was from the teeny picture on your phone?  We’ve almost finished a 25lb bag of flour we accidentally bought last April.  Being able to use Doordash and UberEats is great… but no matter how quick they are, nothing beats the ambiance of the restaurant and eating it fresh from the kitchen.  And Greyhound and Soul were amazing movies… but something gets lost when you’re not seeing it on the big screen.

All of that is even more true when it comes to church and corporate worship.  We’ve learned a lot over the past year about what it truly means to be the church, that in many ways we are able to do more “Kingdom work” outside these walls than within them.  And we are so grateful to be able to provide the ability to worship together when we can’t physically be present at the church.  But, again, can we be honest?  It really isn’t the same.  And it shouldn’t be the same.

Much moreso than eating out, going to the movies or shopping for groceries, worshipping our Lord and Savior is meant to be done by being physically present with other believers.  Yes, the Holy Spirit is still present with us and unites us together even when we’re apart, but there is something crucial and important that happens when we gather together for Sunday worship.  Whether it’s singing our praises to the Lord, praying for one another, celebrating the Sacraments, or hearing the Word of God proclaimed, it’s meant to be experienced in-person, not over a screen.

You’ll see throughout this newsletter how we are moving back to in-person worship, ministry and mission.  We’ll be talking about it more as the weather warms up as well.  Right now, we’re looking at Pentecost Sunday as our “target date” for coming together as the Body of Christ.  You are welcomed and encouraged to join us for in-person worship before that date or on it.  Please know we’re not choosing to ignore the realities of the pandemic or letting our guard down.  We are recognizing that great strides have been taken over the past few months and that we are now at a place where we can, with confidence, say, it’s time to gather back as the Body of Christ and get to work on the mission Christ has given to us in Madison Heights, Amherst County, and around the world.  As our website says,

We are a biblically-based Presbyterian church seeking to experience and share God’s love to transform our homes, community and the world. We hope you will join us.

See you soon!

Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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Youth Ministry April 2021 Update

With the latest guidance from the CDC and VDH, guidance that says social distancing for schools is now down to 3ft, the increase in vaccinations, and indoor groups expanded to 50, we have decided to no longer continue the Zoom youth group meetings. We hope all students will join us in person.
 
Note: There will be No Youth Group on Easter Sunday, April 4 or the following Sunday, April 11, for Spring Break.

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March 2021 Pastor’s Corner – Casting Your Cares

Cast your cares on the LORD and He will sustain you;
He will never let the righteous be shaken. — Psalm 55:22

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. — 1 Peter 5:7

How are you doing, really?  By the time this month ends, we’ll have lived in this pandemic with the ensuing quarantine and social distancing for an entire year.  While some are anticipating that we’ll reach “herd immunity” by April, President Biden is suggesting that we shouldn’t expect a return to “normal” until Christmas.  I think we’re all feeling the weight and strain in a heavier, more difficult way right now.  It’s the weariness of being under stress and anxiety for a far longer period of time than our minds, our bodies and our emotions were meant to endure.  And, of course, on top of the pandemic sits all of the pain and hurts that simply come with being human and being alive — pains and hurts that can be difficult enough to bear when we aren’t in a pandemic, but become nearly impossible to bear due to the pandemic.  What are you doing with your hurts and pains (emotional and physical), the anxieties and fears, the weights and burdens of living in these hard times? 

As the verses above remind and encourage us, God wants us to bring all of our cares and anxieties to him.  But just what does that look like?  I’m sure most of us have, at some point in time, cried out to the Lord and verbally thrown everything at him at once.  That can be therapeutic — much like the whistle of a teapot lets off the pressure of the boiling water — and if you haven’t unburdened your soul that way in a long time, I absolutely encourage you to do so.  But, if you have done that, you’ve probably found the same thing I have: while the immediate pressure release is helpful, the burdens and weights are still there.  I’d like to invite you to try an ancient spiritual practice that helps us to hand our cares to the Lord in a more intentional way, a way that invites the Holy Spirit to sustain us more deeply.

The Daily Replay

The process is called The Daily Examen and was developed by St. Ignatius centuries ago.  It is a 5-step process of prayerfully reviewing your day and anticipating the day to come. While meant to be practiced each day, it can be prayed at any point during the day.  How long you take to work through the prayer is up to you — it could be as short as 5 minutes or as long as you need. Here’s an overview of what the process looks like:

1. Become aware of God’s presence.

Take several moments to breathe, relax, and invite God to be present with you.

Sometimes settling our body and mind is really difficult, especially when we have a lot going on.

One trick is to focus on our breathing. When we breathe slow and deep, we let our body and souls know that it is okay to relax and rest in God’s presence. Slowly take three seconds to breathe in through your nose, making sure to fill your belly with air . . . and then take three seconds to breathe out slowly through your mouth. Pause, then breathe in again. Repeat that a few times.

As you continue to breathe deeply and slowly, acknowledge God’s presence with each breath.

(Pause for a few moments)

2. Review the day with gratitude.

Look back through your day as if you were watching scenes from a movie. What happened? What were you like? What were others doing around you?

What are the good things that have happened today? What can you give thanks for?

(Pause for a few moments)

3. Pay attention to your emotions.

Ask yourself about how you felt at different points during the day.

What moments throughout your day have been difficult or tense?

When did you feel happy, excited, or at peace?

(Pause for a few moments)

4. Forgive, and ask for forgiveness.

Who are you angry or frustrated at?

Are there things you can forgive and let go in order to have peace?

What would you like to be forgiven for?

(Pause for a few moments)

5. Look toward tomorrow.

How might tomorrow be different?

What would you like to ask God to help with?

(Pause for a few moments)

Take some time to wrap up your conversation with God silently.

This kind of contemplative prayer can seem strange at first, but once we settle into the rhythm of it, I think you’ll find your awareness of the presence of God is growing stronger.  Instead of just throwing our cares at God, through this process we more intentionally place them in God’s hands.  Here are a few online resources to help you with The Daily Examen:

Blessings,

Rev. David Garrison


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Ash Wednesday – Out of Dust

As is obvious by now, we are not having an Ash Wednesday service this year, nor are the Community Lenten Services happening.  The pandemic continues to take its toll.  I know that for many of us, the Ash Wednesday service and the Community Lenten Services play a significant role in helping us mark the season of Lent.  Not having those services makes it hard to feel like it’s really Lent.  It would be like having Advent without Christmas music or decorations.  It’s just not the same.
 
I spent a large chunk of today working on a video about Ash Wednesday, something to tie together the beginning of Lent, the significance of Ash Wednesday, and the struggles we all face dealing with a pandemic that is working through its 11th month.  To be honest, it was a frustrating process that just never quite came together the way I was hoping it would.  So, I took a break and went for a walk.  Sometimes, you just need to clear your head for a bit.
 
While I was walking, one of my favorite songs started playing.  The song is Beautiful Things by Gungor.  As I let the song wash over me, I realized that this song pretty much covers everything I wanted to say, much better than I could have said it.  So, I’m including the video here, for your encouragement, enjoyment and edification.  May it help focus and center you for this season of Lent.
 


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October 2020 Pastor’s Corner – Pulling Together — For The Kingdom

He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christians in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.— Eph. 4:11–13 THE MESSAGE)
 
I’ve been watching a trend recently that has me concerned. It has become increasingly difficult to find people who are able and willing to serve in the various ministries and missions of the church. Our committees have been shrinking and appeals for folks to get involved and help out have gone unanswered. As a pastor, I am concerned about this trend and spend much of my time praying about why this is and what we might do about it.
 
Perhaps you might be thinking, well, we are in a pandemic. We are discouraged from participating in the very things that are part-and-parcel of church ministry. This is true. But what the pandemic has done is accelerate what was already happening. Even in my short three years at Northminster, I’ve noticed a very steady decrease in volunteer activity in the church. The pandemic creates problems with solving this issue; it doesn’t explain the cause.
 
A better diagnosis might be found in the reality that we are an aging congregation. Many of you have served the Kingdom of God and this congregation faithfully for decades. You have tirelessly poured yourselves out for the sake of Northminster, and have done so willingly and gladly. There are not enough words to express the gratitude I, and everyone else, feels, for your service. You have earned a rest, and you deserve a rest.
 
The hard truth is that aging congregation or not, global pandemic or not, the work, ministry and mission of the church goes forward. No church can function without its volunteers — for small churches like ours, though, it’s more than essential. God has gathered this congregation together, and He has given each of us gifts and abilities meant to be used for the building up of the Body of Christ. An essential part of our growth as disciples, of our maturing as Christians, is putting into practice “skilled servant work” as we read above. In order for the church to be healthy, we all need to participate. How we go about that work might look a little bit different in the midst of a pandemic, but nevertheless the work goes on.
 
Why do I bring this up? For several reasons. While some ministries are still on hold due to the pandemic, others are still moving forward and we need folks to serve in those areas. One such example is the youth ministry — we have enough students and a broad enough age range that we need to have separate high school and middle school groups. But more than that, it’s time to find our next class of elders to begin serving in 2021. We have two or three elder positions to fill. One of those positions has remained empty since I arrived in 2017. Each year, the challenge before the nominating committee to fill the open seats has increased. This year, we go about this work in the midst of a pandemic.
 
I invite you to search your heart humbly and prayerfully to see if the Holy Spirit is prompting you to step into one of those positions. Under normal circumstances, that can be an intimidating nudge. I know that under these circumstances it’s even moreso. I leave you with these verses to guide your prayers:
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. — 2 Tim. 1:6–7
 
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. — 1 Tim. 3:1
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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Pastor’s Mid-Week Bible Study Begins This Week!

These are strange and unusual times. Last week, the students of Amherst County went back to school – some are going in person, but only two days a week, some are 4 days a week; and others are returning to school virtually. And the life of the church is beginning to adapt to this “new normal” as well. Other than worship and a few circle meetings, for the past 6 months the ministry and life of Northminster has been on pause. It’s time to start some things back up.
 
One of the primary purposes of the church is discipling its members, helping us all grow in the grace and truth of our Lord Jesus Christ. To that end, we are beginning a mid-week pastor’s bible study, starting Wednesday, September 16 from 10:30-11:30am. This bible study will meet in-person and online, at the same time. If you would like to join us in person, we’ll be appropriately socially distanced in the fellowship hall. If you’d prefer to join us online, you can do so through Zoom.
 
We do ask that you please sign up for one of the two groups – you can change between the two at any time, or just sign up for both if you’re feeling indecisive. Signing up will enable us to set up the Fellowship Hall appropriately, and also let us know how many to expect in-person and online. Click on this link to sign up.
 
If you have any questions, please let me know.
 
I look forward to exploring God’s Word with you, beginning this Wednesday.

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Weekly Youth Group Meetings Resume September 27, 2020!

Youth Group met for the first time in 6 months last night – it was so good seeing all of the students after so long, although we missed those who weren’t able to attend.
 
We are planning to resume in two weeks on Sunday, September 27. We’ll meet at Northminster at the usual time, 6:00-7:15pm. We’ll do our best to practice appropriate distancing and mask-wearing, and try to keep either outside or to the largest rooms available.
 
We are also looking at having separate High School and Middle School groups, either for part of the time or all of it. We have quite an age spread now, 6th grade is our youngest, all the way up to 11th grade, and we think we have enough participants to warrant two groups.
 
BUT! If we’re going to do that, we need help. Right now, it’s just me and Karey, and if we’re going to have two separate groups, we need at least two others to help out. If you are interested, or know someone who might be, please let me know.
 
You can learn more about our youth ministry and what we’ll be talking about by clicking here.
 
We look forward to seeing everyone in two weeks!
Rev. David Garrison

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August 2020 Pastor’s Corner – Essential?

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14–17)
 

Essential?

As state and local governments imposed increasingly strict rules regarding public gatherings in response to the rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic this past spring, churches found themselves facing a difficult position. “Essential” businesses were somewhat exempt from the closures, but most states did not classify churches as “essential.” While most churches and pastors submitted to the guidance (and thanks to the blessings of modern technology were able to continue worshipping online or in outdoor settings), the restrictions chafed, particularly the determination that churches were not “essential.” To be honest, for many of us pastors, it chafed because the government was saying out loud what most of us have been feeling for a long time. It’s one thing to feel like you don’t matter… it’s entirely different when someone else says it.
 
As Virginia and many other states have begun reopening and churches, including ours, have resumed in-person worship, this question briefly moved to the background. But as the COVID-19 numbers continue to increase rapidly, many people think it’s just a matter of time before public gatherings are again restricted. Additionally, the Supreme Court recently ruled on a case in Nevada that imposed tighter regulations on churches than on casinos. In his minority dissent, Justice Gorsuch wrote, “In Nevada, it seems, it is better to be in entertainment than religion. Maybe that is nothing new. But the First Amendment prohibits such obvious discrimination against the exercise of religion.” This has returned the question of whether churches are essential or not to the foreground.
 

The Essential Church?

What is it that makes a church “essential”? Frankly, it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) matter what any government says. The Church is not subject to the government, but to Christ. The First Amendment doesn’t give the Church its authority or make it essential, it merely affirms and protects the authority given through Christ to the Church. As Edmund Clowney writes, “The great mark of the church is in the message it proclaims: the gospel of salvation from sin and eternal death through the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life.” (The Church, pg 103). The proclamation of this message comes through what we say and what we do. We proclaim the Gospel through our words by preaching and sharing our testimony and lives with others. We proclaim the Gospel through our actions by the administration of the sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) and acts of service and ministry in which we love our neighbors as ourselves and care for “the orphans and widows” (James 1:27). It is my belief that we, the church in general, have become “non-essential” because we have failed to love and serve our communities well in Jesus’ name. A question I often ask myself and the Session is this: “If Northminster (both the building and the congregation) were to disappear from the corner of Clearview Road and Route 29, would anyone notice?” If the answer to that question is “no” then we have made ourselves non-essential.
 
But there is another reason the Church is essential, one that likely won’t be discussed in many of these conversations. One of the roles of the church is to intercede on behalf of the world. In addition to the call to pray for governing authorities (1 Timothy 2:2), there’s the example of Abraham’s intercession for Lot and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:22-33). We are here to seek God’s healing and blessing for Caesar, our communities and the world. The opportunity we have through our corporate prayer on behalf of the communities and world around us is an enormous privilege and opportunity.
 
As we continue through this pandemic, may the question of whether Northminster is essential or not be answered, not by a government edict, but by the ongoing faithful proclamation of the Word through our words and even more through our acts of love and service to our community.
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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July 2020 Pastor’s Corner – Masking Our Freedom?

A rather surprisingly enormous debate has erupted over whether the government should or should not mandate the wearing of masks. As Romans 13:1-7 makes clear, we should submit to our governing authorities, and the Commonwealth has instituted a mandatory mask policy. Now, there is some question whether this is an example of government overreach, but I’d like to look at the issue from a different angle. While we are citizens of the United States and the Commonwealth of Virginia, and should therefore abide by its governance, we are first and foremost citizens of the Kingdom of God. How might wearing a mask fit into the values of the Kingdom of God? Conveniently, Paul points us toward an answer in the verses following the passage I just referenced.
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Rom. 13:8–10)
 
Some argue that we are obligated to wear a mask, but I think Paul would disagree (“Owe no one anything…”). Rather than obligation, Paul points to the rule of love: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor.” Yes, there is a lot of debate about the efficacy of mask wearing, but there is a lot of agreement that it goes a long way toward protecting others from what germs you may have. And there is even more evidence that we become contagious before we exhibit symptoms, meaning I can make others sick before I am aware that I am sick. I might be doing wrong to my neighbor without even knowing it, so to love my neighbor as myself means I should wear a mask. Not because I owe them or am obligated to do so, but as an act of love and service.
 
A few verses later, Paul makes an equally important point: “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions,” (Rom. 14:1) and then a few verses after that: “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” (Rom. 14:13) We may disagree over whether masks are truly effective or whether the mandate is an example of government overreach, but it does no harm to the individual to wear a mask and is quite likely to do a lot of good in protecting others from what we might not know we have. Be entitled to your opinion, but let us not make our opinions into a stumbling block or hindrance that might keep someone else from growing in their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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What to Expect When Northminster Reopens

This coming Sunday, June 28, we are resuming in-person worship at Northminster. We’ve missed seeing you each and every Sunday and look forward to having you with us. As with most other places, things won’t entirely be normal, so here’s what you can expect when you join us this Sunday:
 

Social Distancing

  • Plan to practice appropriate social distancing. Try to limit hand shaking and hugs.
  • Every other pew will be closed to help facilitate social distancing.
  • Bulletins will be placed on the table outside the sanctuary. Please pick one up on your way in as we will not be handing them out.
  • Offering plates will be on a table just inside the sanctuary doors. Please place your offering in the plate on your way in or out of the sanctuary. We will not be passing them during the service.
 

Masks

  • Masks are encouraged, but not required.
  • Whether you wear a mask or not, we will not judge or criticize your decision.
 

Communion

  • Instead of passing the elements out, each person will come forward to pick up the elements.
  • An elder will dismiss each row at the appropriate time.
  • Please come down the center aisle, and return to your seat by way of the outside aisles, maintaining appropriate social distancing with the person(s) in front of you.
  • The bread and juice will be served in individual, disposable cups. Please pick up both elements and take them back to your seat. We will partake of them together as is our custom.
 

Sanitation

  • The church will be thoroughly cleaned before and after the service.
  • Most doors will be propped open to minimize contact with surfaces.
 
If you have symptoms similar to those of COVID-19, we encourage you to err on the side of caution and stay home. If you are anxious about returning to public spaces, please feel free to stay home. We will continue to broadcast the livestream on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/npcmh) for those who are not able to join us in person.
 
At this time, all other programs and ministries are still postponed. The Session will continue to monitor how things are going and make further decisions at their meeting in July. We appreciate your prayers and support for one another during these highly unusual times, and look forward to seeing you this Sunday, June 28!
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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