Mission Possible

Dear Congregation,

At one point it looked like Mission Impossible: back in December, we had already 35 people signed up for our second Mission Trip to Puerto Rico and quickly decided to cap the number at no more than 40. We pondered logistical problems, such as limited space in the camp, the rising cost of 15 passenger vans and having enough flexibility to transport people to the various work sites, young people to supervise, etc. As usual, when you pray and prepare to serve God, the problems dissolved, the challenges got resolved and the Mission was very much possible. We ended up sending 28 people, with the help of our friend Christopher Concepcion, we rented a Puerto Rico School Bus with driver, and the eleven youth and seventeen adults got along just fine and finished six restoration projects in five days. Impressive work!

Over the last few years St. Peter’s has been active in Global Mission. We sponsored a farm in Haiti in 2017. We went to Belize and twice to Puerto Rico to connect with brothers and sisters in Christ and help where our help was needed, especially after Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico. Sometimes people ask whether we need to go that far away when there is work to do in our own front yard. And to be sure, there is always work to do in our community, plenty of it in fact. So, are we indulgent or careless with our resources? Of course not!

St. Peter’s does a lot of work locally. Take a look at our Social Ministry Calendar, follow the announcements in our weekly bulletin that relate to helping our schools, our local food bank, the elderly, etc. Remember that our Thrift Store raises in the vicinity of $20,000 a year to support non-profit organizations that serve people in our area. This year, the Social Ministry Team explored getting involved with the local Interfaith Housing Project. Talk to chairperson Robin Alderfer or council liaison Sharon Baker about our Social Ministry that serves local people. We are and always have been very active. And we should be. It’s our community. By the way: North Wales Day of Service is coming up on October 5. Can you help?

What is harder to see and imagine is the plight of people elsewhere. Sure, we are more informed and perhaps more aware than any other generation before us, due to the media and the Internet. But that inundation with information can actually sometimes backfire and be more discouraging than encouraging. Our souls whisper to us that all the problems of the world are way too big for us. So let’s just focus on our own…

In biblical times, when Paul asked the relatively more affluent congregations in the Hellenistic world to help their less fortunate brothers and sisters in and around Jerusalem, he did so for several reasons. Perhaps the most important motivation behind it was his vision for the church to be a global messenger of Christ’s love. So Paul went to Christian communities in economically powerful cities such as Rome, Corinth, and Philippi and collected money for the saints in Judea. Talk about logistical problems and nightmares! With no banking system and roads that were not always secure, how could he assure that the money would get safely into the hands of those it was intended for? And, as usual, when you pray and prepare to serve God, the problems dissolved, the challenges got resolved and the Mission was very much possible. See above! The saints in Jerusalem received their gifts and the deep distrust between “Jewish Christians” And “Gentile Christians,” – you could call it the first century equivalent of racism – received some healing touch.

Personally, and as chairperson of the St. Peter’s Global Outreach Team (Spot), I would love to do more in the world. In fact, I would love to sponsor another farm in a developing country with major food supply challenges. I love the idea of a farm because it helps people to help themselves and be self-sustainable. They can eat the food, sell the food and benefit from their own labor. Can we do it? As always it’s a little bit daunting in the beginning to come up with the funds. But is it Mission Impossible? Hardly! What kind of God do you believe in? And what kind of church do you belong to? We have this tag line on our website, “The little church that does big things.” In the last couple of years, we have certainly lived up to that slogan. Let’s continue to do so, for the glory of God, for whom NOTHING is impossible!

Pastor Andreas Wagner

Busy Times, Sacred Times, Sad and Joyful Times

If you know me, you know that I hate to dwell in the aura of a “busy person.” I think it is so important that we take time for one another and not give off the impression that we are “too busy” for someone, anyone, – and that is five times more critical in the sacred calling of a pastor (aka shepherd). Although these past few months tested my stamina pretty good… It was a time filled with sacred services, with Holy Week and Easter, but also with weddings, funerals, confirmation and a number of other events. At times I did not have enough time for some people. But we all have our limits and we need to accept them. With the distance of a few days and the benefit of some vacation time, let me reflect on some of the big things that have happened in our parish recently.

I think it was the week before Palm Sunday when Pastor Amy Smith emailed me rather casually that she was in Abington Hospital, being checked out for a brain tumor. Amy, who is a Methodist minister and joined us after she retired a couple of years ago; Amy, who has been traveling all over the place with her husband Tim; Amy, who has led Bible studies here and the occasional service; Amy who lives next door in the old “Park house” (as in Ellie Park). One day she experienced blurry vision while reading and the next day she was already on the operating table. Her cancer is bad, and it has radically changed her outlook on life, though not her sense of faith and hopefulness. I don’t want to speak for her here. But needless to say, it was a shocker. How precious life is… how present are the words of the psalmist: “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90: 12) One week later, Pastor Ed Neiderhiser died within a matter of minutes after suffering a massive heart attack at the age of “only” 71. I am not going to lie to you: it was shocking and scary.  It’s always different when it strikes in your own community, as opposed to the theoretical knowledge that illness or accident can come at any time.

The funeral services for Ed Neiderhiser brought a lot of people together because he was a people person. There were all the folks he had ministered to, there were musician friends, family members, neighbors, etc.  Many of them came for the viewing on Sunday night; many more came on Monday morning for the viewing at church; and then we squeezed about 400 people into the church and the Narthex for services. There was brass, there were singers, there was jazz at the viewing; there was a New Orleans style processi0n to the St. Peter’s Cemetery and back. Someone asked: did Ed plan his own funeral? No, he didn’t. He had no plans to die on Wednesday April 17 or anytime soon for that matter. But we did our best “Ed impression,” and I like to think that he enjoyed it from a very special seat in the theater. May he be blessed forever in that blessed place!

On Saturday of Holy Week we celebrated our first ever Easter Vigil. I kept the liturgy on the shorter side because some Vigils go on forever, and I didn’t want to scare people off.  It was a nice service and also nicely attended. It began with the traditional Easter Fire (in a fire pit in the Baptismal Garden) and the lighting and blessing of the Paschal Candle. The highlight was the baptism of Jaiden Myers who had first come to our church about a year ago with her grandmother and has since become involved in youth activities, services and confirmation. She has come a long way. She looked very happy that night in her white dress.

On the second Sunday of Easter our nine second year conformation students received their Affirmation of Baptism, as confirmation is called formally in our church. (It still call it confirmation.) These nine students had been attending our Wednesday night sessions for two years. I hope that they have acquired an appetite for God during their confirmation journey, something that is much more important to me than fleeting knowledge.  I hope when they go out into the world and begin a life on their own that they will remember: there is more to this life than what the eye can see; there is truth deeper than the easy and goodie answers, the clichés we encounter at every corner. I hope that the seeds of faith will grow as they mature and make them very special, grounded and faith-filled people.

On May 5, we welcomed new members into our church. We led worship services at the Telford Lutheran Home, and on Sunday night, we had our second Jazz Vespers at St. Peter’s. The Jazz Vespers follow a totally different script. Some say there is no script at all, just a very lose structure that allows musicians to improvise and encourages the worship leader to be less dominant and more spontaneous.  It is a new experience for me and one that I have embraced, and that I am still learning. The Jazz Vespers have been attended by 50-70 people.  The Vespers on May 5 was a beautiful tribute to Ed who had been playing with these musicians on many occasions.  Two Philadelphia area jazz singers rocked the house. Thy really gave glory to God with their voices.

I officiated at three weddings in those weeks, one at Washington Memorial Chapel in Valley Forge, one at a place in Radnor and one at our church. Those were of course very happy occasions with smiling faces all around. And we said good bye to Ellie Park (another North Wales icon) in mid- April, she died at age 89; and before that in early April to Elfie Heine, who made it all the way to 95. I am sad I can’t hear her Berliner dialect anymore. She would bring it out for me upon request; otherwise she spoke English perfectly. 

Things are now slowing down a little bit for the summer, although there is still lots of work to do in preparation for and execution of our second Puerto Rico Mission trip with about 30 volunteers. And my daughter is graduating and going to college this summer. And…

It has been a busy, sacred, sad and joyful time.

May God bless you!

Pastor Andreas Wagner

Epipany Meditation

“You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
  and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
4You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
  and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
 but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
  and your land Married;
 for the Lord delights in you.”

Isaiah 62: 3-4 (In a reading from the second Sunday after Epiphany)

Among the biblical prophets, Isaiah may be the most poetic and eloquent writer, a gifted artist and spiritual pathfinder for Israel’s future. In this passage he addresses a community that is depressed, suffering low self-esteem, and reeling from the sins of its past. He speaks to people who live in a foreign land with their communal identity seriously on the line. The powerful Babylonian army had destroyed Jerusalem and led the most educated and influential Jews into exile. For most cultures, suffering such a blow and brain drain, and enduring it for many decades, would spell the end of their existence. Eventually they’d be absorbed into the language, culture and religion of the new world. That fate was a real possibility for God’s people at the time when these sacred words were written. But the prophet speaks hope into the hearts of people; he paints a picture of new possibilities; he allows people to hear the forgiving, loving, comforting, and visionary voice of God. I wonder sometimes how Isaiah’s words were originally received. Did people believe him or did they ridicule him? His words must have sounded fantastic to the folks in Exile. “A crown of beauty in the hand of God?” That’s most definitely not how they felt. The Lord delighting in them? Really? They had experienced the darker side of life and must have questioned the certitudes of their own faith. If these people were anything like us, they were even slightly cynical. “What God are you talking about, Isaiah?” “We don’t want to set our hopes too high, lest we are disappointed all over again!” 

Faith is a delicate act, isn’t it?

But without faith and without a vision for the future, we perish long before we die. Many years ago, the American theologian Walter Bruggeman wrote a book about the prophets of Isaiah’s era. The title of this short book tells us everything: “Hopeful Imagination.” Faith conceives hopeful imagination, something that the church sometimes lacks in its desperate attempts to survive the growing secularization in our country. But to a people whose ears are attuned to the Holy One, hopeful imagination is never far away. The re-imagination of our churches begins among the people of faith who are not afraid to dream and to dream big.

Pastor Andreas Wagner

God at work

“It is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13

Have you ever looked at your calendar and wondered anxiously, “How can I do all of this?” Needless to say, many people in our community experience this. They feel at times overwhelmed with the demands of the day, not only at work but also in other parts of their lives. I coach soccer every fall to help out at the Whitpain Recreation Association intra-mural program (and to keep an eye on my son Peter). They hold their games on Saturdays, and I appreciate that. But even that little bit of volunteering outside of church can be difficult. There are weddings on Saturdays in the fall. There is the North Wales Day of Service and the Oktoberfest. There may be a funeral, etc. How can I do all this? When I come to the field for game time on Saturday I notice that some of the kids were just brought in from another game in another sport on another field in another community. Others can’t even make it for the same reason. They were double booked. Such is life in the suburbs.

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