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Posts Tagged ‘duncannon’

A Beautiful People

Four years ago, I walked into a church building. It seemed almost accidental. They needed someone to preach that day and I was available. It was the second Sunday of Advent and I was greeted at the door by a gentleman who introduced himself as Charles (that is his name but no one calls him that). I had no idea what how the next four years would play out.

 
These days, I am in that same building quite often. I like that I can walk out the front door and onto the Appalachian Trail. I also like that when I walk out the back door, I can see the Susquehanna River. Earlier this week I walked outside and saw snowcapped mountains. These will never be confused with the Rockies, but they were wearing a snow cap. Looking south from the front sidewalk, standing on the trail, a white cap was visible on Cove Mountain. Looking east from the back door, across the river, a white cap was visible on Peters Mountain. I tried to take pictures but they did not do it justice.

 
Now, four years later, we are again walking through the season of Advent together. I love that we are surrounded by some fascinating geography. But the real beauty is not the landscape, it is these people. It is privilege to gather with them to read old texts, sing old songs, light candles and explore ways to best serve this community.

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Twenty-two of us gathered around a table in the basement last night to talk about Christmas. We also eat at these gatherings. We seem to take cues from those first century gatherings we read about in an old book we call Acts so when we get together we are often eating (I suspect some come for the eating). We weren’t quite talking about Christmas, but about Advent. One has to go through Advent in order to get to Christmas. We are preparing. We are waiting. We are getting ready. In a way, I suspect we are like shepherds tending sheep in the fields or like Magi traveling from the east.

 
Our conversation actually included a prophet for hire and a donkey who talked. These are great stories but it was the words of the hired prophet that stick out in a context for Advent. “I see him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel.”

 
I love these meetings. While I do not tend to like labels, we have had people who call themselves Congregationalists and Methodists and Lutherans and Pentecostals attend these meetings. What do you get when you put a group like this in the basement with a holiness preacher for the purpose of listening to old texts together? I think you get a great picture of church. Sometimes this text simply fascinates us. Sometimes it creates more questions than answers. Sometimes it challenges us in ways we did not expect. But we always benefit when we get together for the purpose to hear what it says.

 
It is our hope that our readings and discussions lead to things like belief and behavior and belonging. If they don’t, then why spend time in the basement on a cold, dark night anyway? We don’t want to be a people who just talk about things. We want these things to spill out onto the street and into the surrounding community. What happens at 212 N High Street, doesn’t stay at 212 N High Street.

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A Gathering

At first glance, 212 North High Street may not stand out. There, you will find a fine brick building with plenty of character. The imprint in the concrete near the front steps say it was built in 1912. Multiple things go on here. In just the next few weeks, among other things, the building will serve as the site for a dinner, study sessions, the local food distribution, a board meeting, and a party. Next Thursday evening, we will sit on the front steps and give treats to the neighbors.

 
But the primary thing that happens here is a gathering on Sunday mornings. We don’t take these gatherings casually; in fact, we believe heaven and earth meet here. We gather with allies to acknowledge who rules the world. We gather to remind ourselves of our role in such an important narrative. We gather to pray, sing, and bless one another for the ongoing journey. We enter sacred space and read words of hope out loud. We are reminded of what is real in contrast to the artificial news we hear so much of the time. On account of these things, I suspect most of our gatherings leave attenders somewhat ‘spirited.’

 
But recently we were reminded that what we do is not always ‘spirited’, at least not in a sense that feels good. In fact, we were reminded that our gatherings can be sobering. It is hard to feel good when one of your own is hurting. It is easy to talk about retaliating toward a perpetrator. It is difficult to talk about forgiving them. It doesn’t feel good when a friend is pouring out the emotional pain of her soul because of a literal catastrophe.

 
At first glance, 212 North High Street may not stand out. But there is something going on in those Sunday gatherings where we attempt to “bless those who persecute… rejoice with those who rejoice… mourn with those who mourn.”

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I am a pastor. I serve with the folks at Christ Reformed Church in Duncannon (a borough named after the family Duncan, it says so on the sign when you enter town). Christ Reformed Church is a small church (a church named after, well I think you can figure that one out). I have come to realize it is silly to argue over the size of a church (an argument more natural in the world than the church). Small is not better, nor is it worse, it is simply our present reality. When we take a look at the kingdom, small churches are the most common expression of the kingdom (and I suspect that has always been the case). 

Karl Vaters says that “Small churches are like the cockroaches of the Christian world.” Though it may not sound like it, he means that as a sincere compliment. “After whatever cultural nuclear bomb comes along to destroy all other visible expressions of the church, small congregations will scurry out from under the baseboards. When the money runs out, small churches will find a way to keep going. When there’s a failure of leadership, small churches will lead themselves. After denominations topple, small churches will rise up.” 

I don’t know why I haven’t heard of this Vaters guy before, I agree as he goes on to say; 

After what’s cool and new starts feeling cliched and trite, small churches will still matter. After most of our church buildings, both large and small, are empty, demolished or converted into hipster apartments, small churches will find somewhere else to meet. After we’ve grown sick of programs and events, small churches will remind us of our essential need for relationship. After we’ve torn ourselves apart with politically-charged rhetoric, small churches will still be there to bring God’s people together. After persecution has come, small churches will meet in secret. After our plans have failed, small churches will still be a big part of God’s plan.” 

Obviously, some of what Vaters says is true of churches no matter the size. Still, it is true of small churches. Not better, not worse, just our present reality. And whatever comes our way, even when cultural bombs go off and if hipster apartments rise up all around us – we remain a big part of God’s plan.

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It was Sunday morning and we were gathered for worship. There had already been some excitement in town that morning. A herd of cows had escaped from a nearby pasture and had been wandering around in the borough. Most had been returned to where they came from, but some had spent the night in town and were yet to be found. Sounds like just another day in Duncannon.

During morning announcements, Crystal shared she had seen a cow that morning. She had texted her son who told her she should have invited it to church, then it would be a “holy cow.” She reported she did not, so there was no “holy cow” in worship. She then went on to say there would however be holy communion. I heard Joel who was seated near the front quickly reply “Holy Cow-munion?” (great word Joel)! Moments like these may not be what some think of when they think of worship, but for some reason they make me very glad to be part of this group.

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Along the west shore of the Susquehanna River, tucked between the Juniata and Sherman’s Creek, almost hidden in the shadow of Cove Mountain, lays the borough of Duncannon. This is where you will find me on the first day of the week. There I gather with others of a similar mind about what has taken place on this day.

Genesis starts off from the beginning telling us how eventful the first day was. We go from “darkness was over the surface of the waters” to “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” Needless to say, this move from darkness to light is a significant one.

Perhaps no day has ever been more eventful than one described by the Gospel. John takes us from “they saw that He was already dead” to “the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there” to “on that day, the first day of the week… Jesus came and stood in their midst.” At the risk of understatement, it is quite a move from death to life.

We are reminded again of the unpredictability of the first day when Acts reports that people “from every nation” began to “hear in our own language.” Again, just to highlight the obvious. It is quite a move from isolation and division to community.

So we gather on this day and in this place with expectation. We realize that surprise is always a possibility. We believe the miraculous can occur on any day, we are simply acknowledging a serious precedent for unpredictability on this day, the first day of the week. A day the Trinity has already been extremely active. When I think of what has already taken place on this day all I can say is “wow.”

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Every Wednesday during the months of June and July, the local Lutheran Church serves spaghetti to hikers who may be passing through the borough. It’s not only spaghetti. I am pretty sure they make their own sauce, and meatballs, and salad, and desserts, even homemade ice cream. They replenish supplies and listen to stories and make hikers feel important.

I join them for dinner because I love trail stories. (It was pointed out that I was the only one present who was neither a hiker nor a Lutheran). I listen as hikers talk about gear and fears and weather. I listen to stories about bears and barred owls. I look through pictures that hikers have taken along the way. I ask them what they hope to find during their journey. I ask the story behind their trail name. I meet people from literally around the world. I ask what it is like to have a homemade spaghetti dinner after weeks on the trail. Nearly every time they tell me this is the best meal they have had. One hiker said when he learned of this meal, he pushed extra hard to arrive in Duncannon on Wednesday. The blisters were miserable but he claims it was worth it.

I think of the tendencies and temptations churches can have. How we might choose not to minister to some who will not be able to give back or even join us on a Sunday morning. How we might not want to support the Lutherans because they are competition. How we might think about force feeding a watered-down message down hiker’s throats along with spaghetti.

I am so glad these Lutherans do not seem worried about such things. I am convinced they love to serve. I am convinced they recognize hikers not as transients but as neighbors. The fact is, I support this ministry because the kingdom wins when Lutherans host hikers, when Lutherans offer kindness, when Lutherans serve the hungry and thirsty.

I learn that Bill was at the laundry mat one Wednesday afternoon and overheard a hiker there announce she would be spending the night in Duncannon because the Lutherans were offering free spaghetti and she wanted a home cooked meal on her birthday. Of course, Bill made sure she had a birthday cake that night when she arrived. It was emotional. I’ll bet whenever she remembers the summer she hiked the Appalachian Trail that this will be one of her favorite memories. Thank God for Lutherans.

 

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