Sunday, April 19

Good morning church,

Yes, it is Sunday, and I invite you to see our worship recording, which will be posted on our website and on Facebook at 10:00 a.m. this morning.

As I do every Sunday, I am sharing with you now (in time for our early service) the written version of our worship service, with prayers and messages that relate God’s Word to our time. For those of you who watch the service on Facebook, please leave us some comments. We always enjoy those!

About this Sunday’s readings: It’s not difficult to see ourselves in the subdued, quarantined disciples after Easter. Jesus found them in locked rooms and brought them peace and presence. The same can be true for you! Doubting Thomas is experiencing a resurgence of followers, as we are going through tough times. It’s easier to doubt than to have faith. Still, Jesus tells us not to be afraid of the wounds and losses we may be witnessing or suffering. “Peace be with you!”   

I know, this may sound old by now, but it is not old to me: a special thanks to Brian and his family… You’d think recording the service ahead of time would make his job easier, but he spent considerable time yesterday trying to fit in pieces, editing others and making it look nice and presentable. Brian, we thank you sincerely! I feel blessed that we have so many people in our congregation who are talented in different ways.

In today’s service, you will enjoy a prelude and a postlude brought to us by our Jazz Vespers ensemble. Amazingly, they recorded this in three different locations, don’t ask me how. Jim Holton on cello, Cindy Le Blanc playing the flute, Christine Djaletta singing and Adam Pfannenstiel playing drums – they are all part of our regular Jazz Vespers Ensemble. Adam provided the technical know-how to put all this together, even though it was recorded in three different living rooms. Thank you, Adam! And Roy, Mia, and Kirsten have again recorded hymns that you can sing along to if you wish.

Thank you, church, for continuing to support St. Peter’s during these difficult times. Every week we get many envelopes and also online donations. The Simply Giving Program can be used as an automatic church donation, and if you are interested, please let me know, or better yet, reach out to Dave S. He’d be happy to help you. For this morning I am including an online giving button, hoping that it will work and do what it is designed for, which is to lead you directly to the online giving function on our website. I hope it works, please let me know!  I will include an offering report in my message at the end of this month. I can tell you that we are doing better than in March, thanks to you!

I wish us all peace and better days ahead.

You are simply the best,


Pastor Andreas Wagner

Saturday, April 18

Dear church, dear friends!

It’s Saturday morning and it’s time to share some good news. Yesterday I asked some of the women who are busy making home-made masks ( I am sure there are more of you!) to give us a little report, and they came up with some impressive stories and results. It looks to me that Sharon B. retired just in time (early March) to begin her new mask-making ministry. She has always been into sewing and she has always been into helping others, and so this is the perfect time for her to shine. Remember Jesus’ word: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven…”  Well, these ladies are shining some light into our community right now. This is what Sharon wrote:
“Pastor, I have made about 120 masks. I have fabric to make about 100 more.  I have given them to family, friends, and people who have asked online.  The organizations I have given them to are, Project Home in Philadelphia, to nurse’s aides, to a Nursing Home in Quakertown, and one in Minnesota.  I have orders for more from friends and I’m planning on giving them to Artman Home and to Einstein Hospital. The biggest challenge is getting elastic for them.  All the stores are out and it takes about 2 weeks to receive when you order it online.  Right now I am waiting for an order and I also ordered more so I wouldn’t run out again. What’s funny is I’ve been asked how much I charge for them.  I tell them I’m not charging but if they would like to make a donation to Manna on Main Street, Philabundance or any charity they would like.  I didn’t sew much before and when this started, I felt I had to do something to help because I feel so useless to do anything else.  If you know of anyone that needs a mask, please let me know.”  (Sharon)

That is some pretty impressive work. MaryAnn L. applied some local touches and creativity to her work. Her husband, son, and grandchildren are big hockey players and hockey fans and also PSU alumni. So, she put the Philadelphia area sports teams on display.  She sent me a few pictures and frankly, I think her work could be sold as merchandise. It looks great!  This is what MaryAnn wrote:

“Pastor et al, I also have been making masks.  I have not made as many as Sharon, though!  I made 2 each for my family (son, daughter-in-law, 4 grandkids, husband, sister, son’s mother-in-law) so they could be washed after wearing and have a spare.  I also made some for friends. The fabrics were prints of Flyers, Eagles and Penn State.  Now I have a “big order” for masks for my son’s employees.  He is a landscaper so I went to JoAnn’s today and found fabric containing landscaping suitable prints.  I will make as many as  I can because I know they will have a tendency to get lost.  He wants 30 to start. I interface each of the masks (so there is a filter) and it takes me a ½ hour on average from the time of cutting to completed product.  Elastic is a scarce commodity, but I had a large stash of elastic inherited from my mother, which is amazingly in great shape and has come in handy.  I also do not charge for masks.  I am just happy to keep people safe.” (Mary Ann)

Finally, Karen S. wrote this about her ongoing project making masks for people and institutions in the community:

“Hi Pastor Wagner, so far I have made 71 masks. Some were donated to Artman Lutheran Home in Ambler and a church in Lower Gwynedd. I have also made masks for members of our community in North Wales. Some of the masks have gone to family and friends in AZ, MD, IL, and FL. One of my challenges has been to design masks for young children and a toddler. Hopefully, I got the sizes right. For a family, I try to make the masks color coordinated. It may be less frightening for young children to see Mommy and Daddy wearing the same masks. Finding elastic has been another challenge but I am now using cotton knit to make my own elastic. It is nice and soft on the ears. Many more people are wearing masks now and it certainly gives one a comfort level, a sense of community spirit and unity. It is wonderful to feel useful.” (Karen)

This means that face masks made by St. Peter’s volunteers have reached not only family members, neighbors, and local nursing homes, but also places in Minnesota, Arizona, Maryland, Illinois, and Florida. Between these three church members alone, around 220 masks have been produced.  Pretty impressive, and we thank you!!! As mentioned before, I am sure there are more “mask makers,”  please don’t hesitate to share your experience!

I received some sweet notes yesterday. This one came from Phyllis B. who is a wonderful local historian. She lives in North Wales and last year published this book, “Whispers of the Past,” which presents a collection of stories and anecdotes from the 150-year history of North Wales. (A wonderful book!) Phyllis is not a church member but one of the many people who receive our emails because she has a connection to our church.  We love all of our friends near and far!!!  Phyllis wrote:

“Dear Pastor, your daily messages are a special part of my day.  I know you have received oodles of emails saying that same thing… I found today’s message interesting since my father came to America from the German-populated Sudetenland in the old empire of Austria-Hungary in 1913. I have relatives who endured WWII  and its aftermath in Europe.  Your writing, however, no matter the subject, is always thought-provoking and good reading…

Your recent daily messages pertaining to gardening and nature struck a chord with me since my father passed on those same views to me. Just by chance I recently came across a quotation from Anne Frank’s secret diary in 1944, as she hid so very long from the Nazi threat to her life. it has relevance to today’s situation:  ‘The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature, and God.  Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be… amidst the simple beauty of nature.’ Today we are all enduring a threat of another type.  We are all in the same boat, trying to navigate unknown waters.

Your cogent words of wisdom offer glimmers of hope each day, and I, surely along with many others, thank you sincerely.” (Best regards, Phyllis)

I would like to ask all of you for prayers on behalf of Belle M. Belle is our cheerful Nursery attendant. The daughter of James M., she is a wonderful young woman who will be graduating from Chestnut Hill College in May in Psychology. Following that, she is planning to go for a Masters in Psychology at Arcadia with a focus on International Peace and Conflict Resolution. She has worked with autistic children in her most recent job but hasn’t been able to see them since the beginning of the lockdown. Belle recently had another surgery on her right wrist, which is the reason I want you to pray for her. She has had several surgeries to repair a persistent problem in that wrist, which limits her ability to work and carry weight with that hand. Just four months ago a fusion procedure was performed. But healing is going painfully slow (and Belle is not the most patient patient…), but it is, of course, concerning for a young person and we all hope that it heals and that she will have major relief. We ask her buddies Catherine and Jenny Wunder, as well as Malcolm and Neal Berger (Tang) to join us in prayers. Out of the mouths of babes… (Psalm 8)   

Later today we are going to record our service for tomorrow. As I have mentioned before, we will from now on record the entire service ahead of time (Saturdays at 4) and then post it on Sunday morning.  I will continue my practice of sending you worship material via email at 8:30 a.m. The virtual service will be posted a few minutes before 10:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings. I find the Easter stories particularly meaningful and relevant this year. You will see.

I am also starting to make plans for a virtual new member orientation. For all of our friends who would like to join the church, we will do an orientation on a Saturday afternoon sometime in the next few weeks. I have not set the date yet because I am trying to get some input from participants, but the early favorite is May 9 from 1:00 p.m. until 3:00 p.m.

This quarantine time brings out the best not only among our helpers and doers in the congregation (see above), but is also a wonderful opportunity to go deeper in our faith. I hope the daily emails help in that regard. But it is also a perfect time to launch our St. Peter’s Devotional project.  I have already put together a collection of 200 scripture verses, organized in various themes. Early next week, Lisa will put the finishing touches on it and create an index. By mid-week, I will send out all the instructions to our volunteer writers. When it is all done (and this is projected to be a three- year project), we will have a St. Peter’s Devotional Book for every day of the year.   

There are many more ideas swirling around, regarding our children’s ministry for the summer, a Prayer Ministry and many other things.  We are, as everybody is, affected and in some ways limited by the current restrictions. We are, however, in no way shutting down. Quite the opposite. This is in many ways a wonderful experience to explore new ways of ministry. That’s how I look at it. The Church Father Tertullian (3rd century) once commented that the blood of the early martyrs was the seed that grew the church.  This would not be the first time that a crisis forces us to re-discover the resurrection hope that we are celebrating during this time.      

All of you, be blessed and be safe!

Pastor Andreas Wagner

Friday, April 17

Good morning church,

It is a mighty difficult time for people in various sectors of the economy. Especially people in the hospitality, travel and airline industries are being hit hard. Hotels are empty, airports deserted, and hardly anyone dares to make travel plans. I sure hope the stimulus package will reach those folks who are bearing the brunt of unemployment right now… Lord, have mercy!!!

For this morning I invite you again to come with me on a journey down memory lane. You can skip if you like, but it has relevance for our time, you will see. It’s what happens when you give an introvert and introspect too much time…  Many years ago as a young pastor in Philadelphia we organized a wonderful special event with music and readings about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who resisted the Nazis. I was serving at Tabor Lutheran, an old German immigrant parish in the greater Olney area of Philadelphia. For that special evening’s event, we invited, among other people, a lady from Doylestown. She is still alive as far as I know, in her nineties now. Her name is Sybille Niemoeller-von Sell. She came from Prussian nobility and was related to the German Emperor Wilhelm. On our way back from the event, after I had driven her home, she showed me the old pictures to prove it. Sybille von Sell experienced the last years of the war as a young woman. She grew up in a posh Berlin neighborhood that would be totally destroyed by the end of the hostilities. Raised in a Lutheran Church in Berlin-Dahlem, the pastor who taught her confirmation class was a certain Martin Niemoeller. Those of you who know only a tiny bit about German resistance will recognize the name. Niemoeller was a fierce critic of the regime, and when even the biased justice system would not put him in prison for his inconvenient critique, Hitler simply declared him his personal prisoner and threw him in prison where he spent the rest of the war years. It’s what dictators do. But he survived and in fact became the first president of my home synod in Germany (we don’t have bishops), the Church of Hessen and Nassau. Many years later, his wife having died in a car accident, Niemoeller met his old confirmation student who now lived in the United States, was once married and divorced and had converted to Judaism. They fell in love and married. Hence the connection. It’s a small world, you know? Niemoeller’s most famous quote is a warning not to become a bystander in difficult times and it is a statement that is eternal in its relevance. He said, “First they came for the Jews, but I did nothing because I’m not a Jew. Then they came for the socialists, but I did nothing because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the Catholics, but I did nothing because I’m not a Catholic. Finally, they came for me, but by then there was no one left to help me.”  I have pondered this sentence in recent days, not for any political analogies, mind you, but because it occurred to me that it in a certain sense it really relates to the crisis beyond the pandemic that we are facing as a human species in this century. I could easily paraphrase his statement, and it would sound like this: “First we heard about the melting of the polar caps, but since we don’t live near the arctic we did nothing. Then we heard about wildfires in Australia and California, but since we don’t live in those parts of the world, we did nothing. Then we heard about the death of various species but since we are not part of the plant and animal world, we did nothing.  When the crisis reached us, it was too late…” Bang!!!

I don’t want you to think that I am a pessimist. I am actually not. I sincerely hope that we can learn from this pandemic that we are going through right now, but the lessons God wants us to learn will not simply be accomplished by revving up the engines of the economy again once this is all over. I know and I am absolutely certain that we need to learn deeper lessons, transformative lessons which involve change on a national, global and personal level, and I pray to God that we will. Because while we watched our sports games and went to our restaurants and bars and churches, the world was increasingly facing a crisis even before this corona pandemic, and there was a sad sense of inevitability. We were heading down a perilous path. Let us please not forget this! And I pray again: God have mercy!!!

Today our prayers are with Sally N. Exactly one year ago she lost her husband, our beloved friend and long-time church member, Pastor Ed N. It was a shocking moment on a Wednesday during Holy Week, a death that came without any warning. If Ed hears me typing these words, I can assure you Ed: you are still being sorely missed by so many people! The first anniversary of a loved one’s death is always particularly difficult. May God provide Sally with comfort and help her through this day!

Please do not forget that we have our Manna on Main Street Food Collection today between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Please place your bags on Lisa’s pickup truck. Surely the donations are needed at this time!

We say Happy Birthday today to Kirsten O. and Jackson S. May the Lord bless you! 

 I have fifteen volunteers for the St. Peter’s Devotional Project. I am looking for a few more. If you have thought about it but are hesitating, say yes! We will get this started next week.

Be blessed and be safe! Pastor Andreas Wagner

Thursday, April 16

Good morning, dear church!

It is quiet in the neighborhood, and it has been quiet for the last several weeks. On a “normal” morning, there are commuters cutting through our residential neighborhood to avoid the jam lock on Welsh Road (63) on their way to work. On a normal morning, some of them are stopped by police cars hiding in driveways to enforce the traffic rules designed to prevent those shortcuts. On a normal morning, I feel bad for those being stopped by a flashing, howling police car capturing the guilty sinner who now is surely too late for work. I can understand their frustration with the overload on the main traffic arteries. Believe it or not, once, many years ago, I was caught myself in my own neighborhood because I had to run an errand; coming back, I forgot about one of those subtle traffic signs and took an unlawful left turn (imagine that!). The cop wouldn’t take my explanation for an answer and I had to go to the township police headquarters to plead with the officer in charge. It was the only time my protest of a traffic infraction was successful… But none of that is happening right now. It’s very quiet in our neighborhood. No children are walking or running to the school bus. No parents are rushing out of the house to get them there. The quietness of our current time (I know it’s not quiet for all of you, but for many) connects with the theme we have been using as a mantra in our virtual services every single Sunday since we have been under “house arrest”  – that’s how it feels sometimes, doesn’t it? The mantra comes from Psalm 46, one of Martin Luther’s favorite psalms: “Be still and know that I am God.”

I have talked about growing adult faith in recent days, meaning a faith that is not naïve or ignorant of reality, including the less pleasant or downright ugly forms of reality. I believe that one of the most important avenues toward growing deep faith as an adult is stillness and contemplation. Even as I write these words, I can hear some people in our congregation say, “That’s not for me.” And I get it. There are people who need to do something all the time, whose faith is largely expressed in doing wonderful things for people. There are people who have an attention deficit disorder and can’t sit still. I get it. I am, however, just as aware that the practice of listening deeply with our heart and soul, or contemplating a scripture verse, cannot be replaced by any “action”. It comes easier to some of us, yes, but it is absolutely worth the personal investment for all of us. In our world we have gotten used to doing something all the time, being busy, being “in-charge,” and for the longest time the pace of life seemed to increase almost every year. We were running on a treadmill that increased speed every five minutes. Now the treadmill has stopped, and it is eerily quiet, even in the church office. Is God trying to teach us to be quiet and listen with our hearts and souls? “Be still and know that I am God!” It’s no coincidence that the mindfulness movement came along in the last decade because it addressed our very human need to be still and mind-full at a time when “normal life” didn’t give us much of a chance for that. So, I encourage you to practice one of the oldest Christian disciplines: quiet prayer and contemplation time each day. Let me know how it goes. (The St. Peter’s Devotional Book has now a total of 15 volunteers who will contribute to the project. I received a few more willing writers yesterday. Thank you all!) 

For today I wanted to bring to everyone’s attention that we may have folks in our congregation who are being hit hard by the economic downturn of this national and regional shutdown. That is especially true for people who had a small job without benefits or securities to begin with. In my many conversations with people from our congregation I got the impression that, thankfully, this is not the reality many of us are dealing with right now. In fact, I know of a bunch of people who are busier than ever at work. (I am married to one of those people.) These are sensitive issues, but I wanted to make sure that you please feel comfortable enough to reach out to me if you are experiencing hardship so that we can help you in some way. We are not of course in the business of printing money (haha) but our congregation is generous enough to give me a small discretionary fund, and sometimes it helps raise more of those funds if we become aware of someone’s situation. 

Also for today, I am asking your prayers for the following request, brought to us by Lisa Miller, our Administrative Assistant. “My sister-in-law, Donna S., lost her 88 year-old mother, Regina R., to a non-covid related illness.  Donna is the wife of my brother Steve.  They live in Philadelphia. Regina was staying with relatives in Maryland when she was taken alone by ambulance to the hospital on Easter morning.”  This describes the sad part of our reality right now. The elderly who become ill are often alone in the hospital – tended to by overwhelmed medical staff – and are dying without the comfort and presence of their family members and loved ones. This is very distressing. In fact, I know that Steve M. lost his older brother Dave on Monday after Easter, and it was the same difficult situation for him. He could not see Dave again under the current restrictions. May God be with Donna, Steve, and all who are feeling helpless in the face of family loss and gravely ill family members! 

A reminder that we will hold our Bible Study today at 11:00 a.m. instead of noon because I have a conflict. Here is the Zoom invitation for the Bible Study – contact Pastor Wagner.

Finally, remember the Manna Food Drive tomorrow between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. 

Our Sunday service from now on will be fully pre-recorded to avoid technical difficulties. The Sunday virtual service will be posted a few minutes before 10:00 a.m. on Sunday morning.

Please enjoy and leave us your comments.  

Today is the birthday of Kyrstyn S. Happy birthday, Kyrstyn!  

Be safe and be well,

Pastor Andreas Wagner       

Wednesday, April 15

Good morning, dear church!

It is chilly in the neighborhood! The night time temperatures are getting perilously close to freezing, and the young plants in my little greenhouse appreciate every bit of flimsy cover they are getting from their plastic surroundings. I have grown plants from seed for years, especially my beloved tomatoes. That usually meant that the window sills around Easter were filled with my growing projects, which did not always sit well with my wife. So, she gave me a present for Christmas one year, a tiny little greenhouse, and the hint came in the gift wrapping: from now on, Santa Julia said, no more plants on the window sills! You know those kinds of Christmas gifts? So, I have a bunch of plants out there in the greenhouse at a sunny spot in the yard and they are doing well, not growing too fast, but steady. They wouldn’t mind warmer temperatures though.

I have talked about adult faith in the last two days, and I frankly think we can learn a lot about growing faith by growing plants. Sometimes I have seen that plants won’t do so well if they grow too fast initially, but are not strong enough at the bottom and in their root system. Sometimes, if they are not gradually exposed to the elements but are kept too long in the shelter of the home, artificially pampered, they have a rough time transitioning to the changing temperatures and nasty winds out there. If you suddenly take young tomato plants out on a warm day in May and they are blasted by the sun, they may not make it through the day. Faith is about building root systems. It’s not a race to become tall quickly and easily. Adult faith is a lot about adapting to adversity and developing the roots to sustain life and joy during difficult times. In fact, scripture uses that same metaphor twice, in Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17 – comparing those who believe to a tree that is standing near a stream, drawing life from the source of water deep down, thriving, blooming and surviving even long draughts. “That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.” (Psalm 1:3)

This is a time for Christians everywhere to develop stronger roots – as we face adversity, as many of us are sheltered in place. I hope and pray that we take advantage of it. The St. Peter’s Devotional Book project is one that is meant to encourage deeper contemplation of scripture, giving us access to the “water of life,” a spiritual metaphor that Jesus repeatedly uses in the Gospel of John, especially in John 4. I have eleven volunteers so far and a few of them told me, “I’m not sure I can do this, but I will give it a try,” which I deeply appreciate. I envision a Devotional Book with different voices and different takes on scripture verses. It will only be lightly edited because I think we can all benefit from the different perspectives that our people bring to God’s table. About a week from now I will send out the instructions to my volunteers and this three-year project will be off and running. By 2023 we will have a St. Peter’s Devotional Book with 365 devotions, one for every day of the year. I am still looking for a few more volunteers, especially (but not exclusively!) from younger adults. As always, those who participate will benefit most.  

We have a bunch of video conference meetings this week, including a council meeting tonight at 6:00 p.m. For tomorrow (Thursday), I will have to move up our Bible Study to 11:00 a.m. I hope that is not a problem. It’s because I have another meeting at noon with our friends from the Interfaith group, the Wissahickon Faith Community. The material for the Bible study is attached and the meeting will take place either via zoom or teleconference. I will give out both options tomorrow morning. If the zoom gives us problems again, we will use the teleconference option. Please also remember today’s Wednesday noon practice of joining Christians everywhere in praying the Lord’s prayer, an initiative by Pope Francis.

Also, don’t forget, this Friday we will resume our food drive for Manna on Main Street, as always between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Just place your food donations on Lisa’s truck!

For today, I would like to ask your prayers for our church member and dear friend Nancy Simons. When I think about people growing from adversity (see above), she comes to mind immediately. Last year in October we buried her husband, Bruce Simons Sr. It was the final point of an arduous journey for him and her because Bruce Sr. developed mental illness in early middle age and had been institutionalized for many years. Nancy dealt with all of that while raising two boys and working a full-time job as an Elementary School Teacher in the Wissahickon School District. She joined our church shortly before retiring and found a spiritual home here. The adversity has not stopped there, but she has learned to cope and grow from it. In fact, she is one of our Stephen Ministers, helping others to cope and grow during life’s most difficult times. I know that Nancy still has her proverbial plate “full,” and today we will pray for her. She usually comes across as sunny, cheery and without a care, but make no mistake, she has seen life’s dark shadows!

Today is the birthday of Dave R. Many blessings on your tax day birthday, Dave!

Be blessed and be safe and stay warm!

Pastor Andreas Wagner

Tuesday, April 14

Good morning church,

It looks like we’ve braved the worst of the crisis. I say that carefully, knowing that there are still difficult weeks and months ahead of us. But at least better news is coming our way, finally!!! The rates of infections and fatalities are dropping almost everywhere, and our governors and leaders talk about possible “re-opening” scenarios. Yesterday, I compared our situation to Noah’s family in the ark (Genesis 9) when the floodwaters started to recede. The turning point is when the most patience is required because you can see life coming back, but you are not quite there yet. I would like to expand on this Old Testament theme a little bit because I find that the stories that we often relegate to the “kiddie” section of the Bible speak to me on a deeper adult level during this time.  And that’s an important realization. Why? Because many Christians never manage a decent transition from their childhood faith to an adult faith. They were told those “kiddie” stories of Noah in the ark and Jonah and the great fish and the parting of the Red Sea in Sunday School, and later in life, they realize that God is no Santa Claus who waves his magic wand to bail his children out. “Where was God when my child suffered?” – And they lose their faith, or at least it suffers a blow, and they never quite know what to do with these stories (or their faith) anymore. They have never been encouraged to read these stories on a metaphorical level, which is what the Church Fathers of the Early Church routinely did, and they were very “spiritual” people, to use a buzz word of our time.        

Richard Rohr, in his meditation for today, brought up another one of those stories in the context of the theme of suffering. He writes that, “sooner or later, the heart of everybody’s spiritual problem is ‘What we do with our pain? Why is there evil? Why is there suffering?’” It is the ageless Job question, as old as humanity, as unanswerable as the mystery of life itself and as persistent as any chronic pain you may experience. “Why, God? Are you listening to me?” Then Rohr turns to another one of those “kiddie” stories from the Bible, and it is amazing what they can teach us when we really listen. In Rohr’s words:

“Jesus says, “There’s only one sign I’m going to give you: the sign of the prophet Jonah” (see Luke 11:29, Matthew 12:39, 16:4). Sooner or later, life is going to lead us (as it did Jesus) into the belly of the beast, into a situation that we can’t fix, can’t control, and can’t explain or understand. That’s where transformation most easily happens. That’s when we’re uniquely in the hands of God. Right now, it seems the whole world is in the belly of the beast together. But we are also safely held in the loving hands of God, even if we do not yet fully realize it.”

I know that this is true because I have seen people coming back to church after a long Exodus, precisely because they had been swallowed by a beast of one form or another. Maybe it was addiction. Maybe it was a midlife crisis. Whatever it was, it made them realize that they were not as much in control of their life as they liked to pretend. It softened their hearts toward a new way of listening to the wisdom of God. Sometimes, as in the iconic Jonah story, God can only get us to listen when we are in the belly of the beast. Guess what? Right now, the world is in that belly together. Are we listening? Are we going to change our ways, as we surely must in order to make this globe a sustainable place for life in all its forms – and not just short-term human interest? There are many “adult” ways to appreciate the story of Jonah and to apply it both to our individual lives and our collective experience at this time. I encourage you to try it.

Tonight our Oktoberfest committee is convening in a meeting via Zoom. I am very grateful for Doug and Jenn Mahan who have taken on the rein of leadership for this annual event. Of course, it turns out, this is going to be a more difficult year than what anyone expected. At this point, we will plan for a few possible scenarios and be prepared as best we can. September 26 is still a long way out but seen through the lens of the Coronavirus crisis, it’s a short time. In any case, I am pretty confident that something good will happen on that day. Keep it in your calendars! I have a feeling it will be nice after all.

Today, I would like to ask prayers for another one of those people who appear on our prayer list. Maeve S. was added to our prayer list many years ago when she was eleven or twelve years of age. She lived in Long Island and was (is) connected to Steve and Stacy B. A young girl at the time, she suffered through bone cancer and an aggressive one at that. Her life was seriously in danger at several points. While cancer is always bad, it’s especially heartbreaking when it affects a child. And so, she has been in our prayers for several years, and in the prayers of other churches and individuals as well. In the course of this journey, she has lost a leg, but as far as I know, the cancer has been in remission for a few years now and she is attending Boston College. Thank God! She still is in pain from the amputation and other side effects of that long and arduous journey.  Please say a prayer, both of Thanksgiving and of continued healing. Thank you!

Today is the birthday of Devin M.  Happy birthday, Devin!

Be blessed and be safe, all of you! Pastor Andreas Wagner

Monday, April 13

Good morning, dear Easter people!

I missed you all yesterday, despite our chat over coffee via Zoom and despite the beautiful service we put together for you. It required a lot of patience, not only on your part but also on the part of the worship team, and I will probably recommend that we pre-record our services in advance for the next few weeks. I think all of the churches probably crashed Facebook Live yesterday!!! If you haven’t checked out the picture show, please take a look at our Facebook page (simply click on the Facebook button on our website), it is only six minutes long and very nice; you’ll see lots of familiar faces. Or check out the entire service, which is posted on the website and on Facebook (I also sent a Vimeo link yesterday).

For these upcoming weeks, we are asked to be patient, which you know and I know it can be the most difficult virtue to acquire. I don’t think people have ever been confused enough to call me a patient person! And yet, this is the virtue we are asked to embrace throughout the next month. I am reminded of several Old Testament stories. Did you know that patience is a major, recurring theme in the stories of Genesis and Exodus, the first two books of the Bible? How long did Abraham have to wait for offspring?  For a long, long time, until he had almost stopped believing in the possibility of having children. How long did the Israelites wander through the wilderness? Forty years, we are told, for a journey that could have been completed in months under ideal circumstances. And finally, the famous story of Noah and the ark, which I think is something for us to revisit at this time. As the number of new infections start to drop, as the spread of the Coronavirus slows and the graphs of the death tolls begin to “flatten,” it will be more and more tempting for us to just return to “normal”. And yet, there will be a period when that is not the safe thing to do. Which brings me to Noah in the ark, his family’s personal lifeboat. The most difficult time for them must have been when the waters started to recede and the kids were asking and nagging him, “Can we go out yet? Are we there yet? How much longer???” And the full truth probably is that Noah himself heard those voices in his brain, “When can I finally leave this place?” Those last weeks and days after the rain had already stopped were the most difficult part of that journey!  Noah sent out a dove to check whether the bird could find try land. He did that, I believe, three times according to the story, until the dove finally came back with a branch, indicating dry ground somewhere. It will be like that for us in the next few weeks, and as a naturally impatient person, I am perfectly qualified to preach PATIENCE to you, with a mirror right in front of me as I write these words! “Be patient, Andreas!”

Some of us have had to learn over a long period of time to be patient and not all of us have necessarily acquired the virtue… This morning, my thoughts and prayers turn to a person in our congregation that few of you know, but she is certainly a most interesting and resilient individual. Terry R. (her deacon) and I know Gail P. pretty well. She was born with cerebral palsy some seventy years ago and grew up adjusting to her disability and making the most of it. Her condition is caused by damage that occurs to the immature brain as it develops, most often before birth. In general, cerebral palsy causes impaired movement associated with abnormal reflexes, abnormal posture, involuntary movements, unsteady walking, or some combination of these. Nevertheless, Gail managed to finish high school and college and taught English for twenty years at Wissahickon Middle School, using crutches in the classroom. My friend Scott who grew up in Ambler remembers having her as a teacher. In recent years, Gail has had several surgeries on her battered shoulders, which have been taxed by the use of the crutches over so many years. She is right now recovering at home. Her only family member is her brother who lives in Nevada with his family.  But Gail has a local support system of friends. I visited her one year before Christmas and she had a whole stack of Christmas presents for all her friends and loved ones, which she had carefully and lovingly put together, slowly and methodically. She is a cheerful person who has learned to accept her condition and deal with it. I would like to encourage you to send her a card and pray on her behalf. Despite her amazing coping skills, it has to be tough sometimes to live by yourself with that kind of condition. Speak of being quarantined! Her address is:  contact the church. She is the kind of person who would appreciate a card!      

I have eleven willing souls to help me with the St. Peter’s Devotional Book Project. I am still looking for a few more…

For this week, we will be busy with various video conference meetings. Tonight the Finance Team is zooming. Tomorrow, we will have our noon staff meeting via zoom, and the Stephen Ministry class will chat at night. On Wednesday, council convenes via Zoom. On Thursday we will have our noon Bible study.

And while I would much rather have in-person church worship services and meetings, I have to be PATIENT. We all have to be patient over the next number of weeks.

Be blessed and be safe!

Pastor Andreas Wagner

Sunday, April 12

Good Easter morning, dear church!

I send you special blessings on this Feast of Easter! May you all be able to enjoy and celebrate in your own ways, in your own homes. I know from my conversations that many of you, longing for human contact, have become creative, meeting in vehicles in parking lots, talking to each other and waving at each other, practicing joint walks at safe distances and things like that. If you crave to see folks from your church on this Christian holy day, please join us for the Facebook Live service at 10:00 a.m. or join our Easter Café via Zoom video conference after the service, beginning at 11:00 a.m. Entry to the Easter Zoom Café.

This Easter celebration would not be possible without the hard work and generous help of Brian and the Brenfleck family. Not only did Brian walk us through the technology aspect of this “brave new world,” but he also put together the picture show that will start us off at the 10:00 a.m. service with Easter and Spring images that you sent to us, mixed with some pictures from last year’s Easter.  Brian enlisted the help of his wife Sharon and his daughter Jessica (home from college). We are grateful!  This Easter celebration would also not be possible without the various recordings that Kirsten did in days past with Roy and Mia, Bob and Carol, and the recordings sent to us from the homes of the Berger, Clark, Flanagan, Shaffer and Graham/Rittenhouse homes. I hope I didn’t miss anyone (apologies, just in case!). Finally, I am also grateful for the diligent work and creativity of our Director of Family Faith Formation who has given her utmost to provide our families with activities that may inspire especially the younger members of our congregation. And the brave Administrative Assistant, Lisa Miller, who holds it all together. We are grateful.    

There is one aspect of particular and joy and satisfaction for me on this Easter morning.  Four years ago, I was able to go on a Sabbatical for a few months to study alternative creeds and review/organize liturgical material that I have written over the years. During that time I wrote this Easter Creed, which we will say today. I know from my website that it is being used today in South Africa, the UK and various places in the US. It was always my hope that it would enable people to proclaim the Easter miracle in new ways. I am grateful that it is being used.

Easter is a time when people tend to be more generous in support of their church. I want to remind you, as I do every Sunday, that your faithful support of your church means a lot to us and enables us to do the work we do. You can use those old-fashioned envelopes and send your offering to the church in the form of a check, or you can use the new-fangled online-giving button on our website and utilize your credit card. More people have also taken advantage of the Simply Giving program, a way of automatic church giving. While we were down a few thousand dollars for the month of March, we think that your response and support during this crisis has been overall strong. We are very grateful for that.       

Today is the birthday Mary Beth P. Happy birthday!

Also: I was able to speak to the daughter of Lois G.

who contracted Covid 19 in her Nursing Home. She continues to be well! (I’m grateful for that too.)

And: I have ten volunteers so far for our St. Peter’s Devotional Book project. I’m looking for a few more. (Please!)

Have a blessed Easter! I hope to see you today.

Pastor Andreas Wagner

Easter Creed

I believe in the God of Easter morning
Who awakes us from our darkest dreams
And leads us into the light of a new day,
Who meets our pessimism
With stunning hope
Of angelic proclamation.
I believe in the God of Easter Day
Who beats us to the obstacles in our lives
And empties the dark tomb for us;
Who appears in surprising ways
When we least expect it;
Walking with us
On our detours. 
I believe in the God of Easter evening
Who breaks into our closets and prisons,
Bringing peace and crushing our fear.
I believe in the risen Lord who meets us
with wounds on his hands and feet;
Who grants us his spirit,
Sending us out
To bring Shalom into the world.  Amen.

Saturday, April 11

I will keep it brief this morning. Thank you for following us on Facebook Live for our Good Friday Service last night. I look forward to hearing from you tomorrow morning at our festive Easter Services with plenty of music and many participants from across our congregation. Join us at 10 a.m. on Facebook Live.

Despite the social distancing rules, as a church, we are very much connected during this time, via phone, video, text, live chat. Nothing can quite replace personal human contact, but we manage. Over the last three weeks, I have probably made around 300 phone calls and reached 150 households or so. If you are one of the few people I haven’t been able to reach and would like to talk to me, please feel free to call me. Please contact the church for my cell number.

Yes, the Coronavirus has changed the way I do ministry, and I take it as an opportunity to get to know people better. I have learned about trivial things in your lives (some people desperately looking for puzzles!!!) and about serious illnesses wasn’t aware of. I reconnected with people I hadn’t talked to or seen in quite some time. I have a better sense of some of our newer church members, and I have heard about changing plans in almost every house. Some of us may have to re-invent the art of stay-cation this summer or live from the great memories of past trips. I talked to one of our former au-pairs yesterday, Saskia. She was with us ten years ago when the kids were still very young. We had plans to see Saskia and her wonderful family this summer by way of also spending time with my extended family in Germany. This is unlikely to happen now under the circumstances. Ten years later our kids are pretty big and grown-up and now Saskia is expecting herself. She sent us this wonderful picture from 2010 in Sedona (attached). A precious memory!  – I am sure you have some very precious memories of your own. Maybe during this time, you can appreciate them some more. In some respects, it’s not so bad that life is slowing down.

For tomorrow, enjoy our Easter service, the picture show and the music, and come to our Easter Zoom Café right afterward at 11! Music includes: Bob and Carol Mc Gilloway; Cindy Le Blanc and Jimmy Holton…

Family Musicians, Group 1:

  1. Alan Berger, trumpet:  “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” “Thine is the Glory” 
  2. Lily Shaffer, solo:  “I’ve Got Peace Like a River”
  3. Noah Shaffer, trumpet:  “Ode to Joy”
  4. Clark Family Band:  “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” featuring Abby on flute, Emily on trumpet, Karin on trombone, and Ben on baritone horn.

Family Musicians, Group 2:

  1. Megan Flanagan, solo:  “Alleluia, Give Thanks to the Risen Lord”
  2. Kenny Graham and Emily Rittenhouse:  “The Canopy” by Dear Hunter
  3. Karin Clark, bell tree:  “Hallelujah” from Messiah by Handel

Many blessings to you all!

Pastor Andreas Wagner

Friday, April 10

Dear church,

Let me begin this Good Friday morning on a brighter note: Today is the 10th wedding anniversary of Joe and Michelle B. and we rejoice with them. They were married on this day, April 10, 2010 at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. May the Lord bless them and continue to bless their marriage! (Joe’s mom told me the other week, “Michelle is the best thing that ever happened to Joe!” – Such a mom thing to say!) Let us also congratulate a few people who have birthdays today: Ginny B., our friend Dick S. in North Carolina, Mari D. in Macungie, and Lisa K-C. It’s another popular day, we wish them all a most blessed birthday. May they celebrate as best they can during these conditions! Today is also the Baptism day of two young fellows: Lucas Ryan Morrow and Jeremy Heilman Jr. who were both baptized four years ago today. May their parents read this and light their Baptism candles. Be blessed, boys!

Before I go any further, let me share with you that Manna on Main Street is closed today for Good Friday. That means that our collection will not happen today. Please bring your food items next Friday, same time, same procedure. Tonight at 7:00 p.m., we will live stream our Good Friday service with special pre-recorded music. I would like to thank Kirsten, Gretchen, Liz and everyone involved.  Join us on Facebook Live at 7!

This Easter Sunday will be different than any other Easter Sunday we have had. But don’t worry, we intend to make this feast special for our community. First, let me tell you, the musicians have been busy recording in different corners of our community (the technology works in our favor) and you will get a full delight of Easter music. We have even two groups of musicians. Here they are…

Easter Musicians, Group 1:

  1. Alan Berger, trumpet:  “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” “Thine is the Glory” 
  2. Lily Shaffer, solo:  “I’ve Got Peace Like a River”
  3. Noah Shaffer, trumpet:  “Ode to Joy”
  4. Clark Family Band:  “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” featuring Abby on flute, Emily on trumpet, Karin on trombone, and Ben on baritone horn.

Easter Musicians, Group 2:

  1. Megan Flanagan, solo:  “Alleluia, Give Thanks to the Risen Lord”
  2. Kenny Graham and Emily Rittenhouse:  “The Canopy” by Dear Hunter
  3. Karin Clark, bell tree:  “Hallelujah” from Messiah by Handel

But that’s not all: At the beginning of the service, we will present a picture show with Easter and spring images sent to us by our people, with Bob and Carol McGilloway singing and playing in the background. And after the service, around 11:00 a.m., we invite you to our Easter Zoom Café. After some debate, we decided to have one Zoom Café instead of three. It will be nice to see some familiar faces. Contact Pastor for login information.

Now, here is my Good Friday message for this year (scroll down)…

Be blessed and be safe,

Pastor Andreas Wagner

Good Friday Message

What time is it? What day of the week? It’s crazy how we lose our sense of time during these quarantine weeks. Monday is like Wednesday, Wednesday is like Saturday, and Saturday could be any other day, right? Some people are working in PJ’s all day long.

Well, today is Good Friday and in the story of Jesus’ crucifixion the timing is important. Matthew says: from noon until 3 in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. At the brightest time of day, when people in our day use their coolest pair of sunglasses, everything went dark as God’s son hung on that cross. It’s a powerful metaphor. And then, at the end of that dark spell, Christ utters those famous words that express the emotional despair of all people who have ever felt forsaken in this world: “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?” You never heard someone say that? Yeah, some people may not use religious language to express that kind of despair. They use words I can’t repeat here. Choice words. Insults. Curses. You’ve heard it, haven’t you?

But no matter, God understands what they mean. Jesus understands how lost souls feel. He’s been there. To me it has always been hugely important that Matthew and Mark have the courage to show Christ on the cross as weak, on the brink of collapse, his faith faltering, his soul overburdened – naked. Because I know that sometimes some of us feel like that. Just yesterday I had someone asking me to talk to a friend who feels overwhelmed about the obstacles in his life. Could you talk to him? Could you suggest a Scripture verse? And then we go and search our Bible for comforting words of God’s presence, like: “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” Psalm 23. But the reality of Good Friday is different. Jesus, at the brink of death, selects the previous psalm (22), and recites it. “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?” Well, we say, how can he say that? The Son of God? He can say those words, knowing that God will meet him on the other side of despair. No quick fix, but hope! No immediate relief, but hope!   

Here is the good news and the bad news about this day. The bad news is that nobody offers Jesus any comfort in the hour of death. He doesn’t even feel that God is on his side anymore. It’s sobering. The good news is… three days later – or two days by our count – it’s Easter morning. And this is what I make of it… Sometimes in life you can’t get out of a bad moment right away. You can’t pray it away. You can’t force it away. You can’t therapy it away. You somehow have to get through it, hopefully with the help of friends and family. During those times God may be hidden to you, hidden in darkness. Many mystics, people of God, have taught us that. St. John of the cross called it “The dark night of the soul.” But remember, on the other side of that experience, there is a morning. Easter. Light breaking through. Resurrection. And Jesus knew that. Deep inside he did.

What time is it now? It’s two days before Easter. The world is still wrapped in the dark clouds of a pandemic and we don’t know how much longer. Timing is not in our hands. We have to accept this moment for what it is and learn from it. But even in this darker time we hold up hope for that morning when we come out on the other side. When our Easter arrives. When light breaks through. When people hug again. It will come. We can’t rush it. We can’t force it. But it will come. And like the early Christians who later called this horrible day “Good Friday,” and saw God’s hand of redemption and forgiveness all over the cross, we may look back at this pandemic and say: this time was a Good Friday moment for us. Some of the sins of the world were crucified during this pandemic! And it prepared us for a whole new life. Easter morning. New beginnings. That’s my hope anyway. Because, while we may feel like Jesus felt on the cross – absolutely forsaken! – the deeper truth is: God never forsakes us. Amen.