Lent is underway, which got me thinking about past Lenten observances, particularly in McVeytown, Pennsylvania, where my first congregation was located. McVeytown is a small village nestled in a valley along the Juniata River in central Pennsylvania, about 40 miles south of State College, the home of Penn State University. While it is not the center of Pennsylvania Dutch culture, which is further east and south in places like Kutztown, Reading and Lancaster, it still has a sizeable Amish community and influence on local customs. A prime example was the day before Ash Wednesday, Shrove Tuesday, or “Fasnacht Day.”
A fasnacht is a donut, made from supplies in the pantry that were being cleaned out in anticipation of the Lenten fast to follow. Fasnacht actually means the day (or night/nacht) before the fast. Donuts were made to rid the household of items like sugar and lard.
As was the case in this small village, any type of day meant an opportunity for a fundraiser at the local volunteer fire department and ambulance service. All day long people could get freshly-made donuts at the station. They were simple donuts cut out and given a twist and then fried and tossed in sugar. When they were freshly made they were wonderful. The next day, not so much!
I spent seven years in that community, and like many people in the church and community, I volunteered with the ambulance service. I started as a driver, but soon took the training and became an emergency medical technician (EMT). I also served a couple of years as the president of the ambulance side of the effort at a time when we purchased a new mini-modular unit, the first larger ambulance the community had committed to purchase. We paid for this vehicle, which cost over $60,000 in the early 1980’s, in seven months.
That was a lot of donuts, pancakes, and chicken and waffle dinners! And goose dinners on Goose Day, September 29, which is another story for some other time. But we never could have paid for this ambulance on fundraisers alone. We were able to do it because of the generous donations of the people in the community, who recognized the value of the service we provided as the only ambulance service between Lewistown, 12 miles to the north, and Mount Union, over 15 miles to the south. When people had a need, they knew the ambulance service would be there for them, and they supported the effort generously.
I am reminded of something I have heard Clark Simmons, our regional representative from the Board of Pensions, say several times: “Presbyterians give good green dollars for good causes” that help people. Stewardship people tell us that this should be a focus for how we encourage our members to give -- not just the Biblical foundation for giving (“God loves a cheerful giver”), as important as this is, but how the money is used to touch the lives of people, in our congregations, in our communities, in our presbytery, and throughout the world. People give good green dollars to causes that have a positive impact on the lives of people. We need to tell those stories as we receive offerings and plan stewardship campaigns.
We might also see what we do through that lens as well. The presbytery meeting we had this past Saturday can be seen through the lens of why a presbytery exists, such as these things that took place at the meeting:
We heard an inspiring sermon and presentation from Karoline Lewis on the authority of Scripture for today’s world and rejoiced that she was also in our midst the previous two days to provide inspiration during a retreat for women in ministry.
We learned about the Community Hope Center, a ministry of Community Presbyterian Church in Celebration to homeless people in Kissimmee and Osceola County, and supported their work through the offering during the morning’s worship service.
We approved recommendations and heard of actions taken by the Committee on Ministry in supporting our ministers and congregations, including standing with one congregation during a particularly trying circumstance.
We celebrated the enrollment of two Inquirers for the ministry of the Word and Sacrament, Janira Colon, a member of El Redentor Presbyterian Church, and Sharon Tatum, a member of Washington Shores Presbyterian Church.
We approved distribution percentages for our Presbyterian Answer To Hunger (PATH) partners for 2019.
We heard about the January visit of 36 members from 10 congregations with our partners in El Centro Presbytery in Cuba.
We remembered ministers and ruling elders who served faithfully and who joined the Church Triumphant in 2018.
We approved a Child and Youth Protection policy to help ensure that presbytery events are safe spaces.
The presbytery exists to serve its members and congregations, “assisting and supporting the witness of congregations to the sovereign activity of God in the world, so that all congregations become communities of faith, hope, love, and witness (G-3.0301),” with “a particular responsibility to coordinate, guide, encourage, support, and resource the work of its congregations for the most effective witness to the broader community (G-3.0303).” We cannot fulfil this responsibility without the participation and support of the congregations, ruling elders, and ministers out of which we are made.
A summary of the stated meeting of March 9 will be available in a few days. Watch for word about it in the weekly eNews update. May this Lenten season be meaningful as we again turn our eyes towards the cross and the empty tomb and those things which are at the very center of our faith, and may it be a time for “reviewing and evaluating regularly the integrity of one’s membership, and considering ways in which one’s participation in the worship and service of the church may be increased and made more meaningful (G-1.0304).”
Okay, I think I just slipped into “broken record mode,” as I quoted that last section of the Book of Order last month!