It is believed to be the phrase most used by Jesus in the Gospels:
“Do not be afraid”…
Around a dozen times (depending on the Bible translation), Jesus says some variation of this to his closest followers and others:
“Do not be afraid”, Jesus says when he calls the first disciples.
“Do not be afraid”, he says to his disciples as he gets ready to send them out on their own for the first time.
“Do not be afraid”, Jesus says to the women who come to tend to his body on Easter morning.
“Do not be afraid.”
I have seen and heard enough over the last few weeks to know that Jesus’ words are not the easiest to embrace right now. People – many people – are afraid right now.
Perhaps you are afraid right now.
If so, please be assured that you are not somehow being unChristian, unfaithful or spiritually lacking. Be assured that you are not dismissing or rejecting Jesus’ call. Because while the stories in the Gospels, and the Bible in general, are told from the perspective of particular instances at specific times, like all the best stories they are meant to speak to us in a much more general, universal way. They are meant to speak to us from the perspective of our common human condition.
And so while Jesus is encouraging the disciples and the women who came to tend to his body after his death (in truth, those women were also disciples, but that’s a conversation for another day), to not be afraid in those specific instances, those scenes are more about encouraging us to not be afraid in general. They are meant to tell us that from a spiritual perspective, it is one thing to be afraid at a particular time for a specific and valid reason. It is quite another to be afraid as a general way of being – as a consistent way of life. As a habit.
Jesus tells us, “Do not be afraid”, as a way of life because that way of being drains the life right out of us. As research has consistently demonstrated, fear as a habit negatively impacts the decision making ability and creativity we need to find solutions to our troubles, and also saps our emotional, spiritual and physical strength.
As it pertains to our current struggles with the Coronavirus, fear as a habit saps the very mental, emotional, spiritual and physical “immune systems” we need to overcome this pandemic with the least possible harm done. So while we should be “afraid” of the virus in a specific sense – take it as enough of a very real and serious concern to exercise appropriate, medically recommended precautions against – it will not serve us to live in constant fear. That kind of habitual fear leads to things like the spread of misinformation; the unnecessary hoarding of certain goods; states of anxiety and despair which actually lower our resistance to disease; and a sense of hopelessness which makes it more difficult for us to overcome this pandemic together as God’s people.
As we move through this time when the Coronavirus pandemic coincides with Holy Week and Easter, Jesus’ call to us is more important than ever. Let us answer that call by offering support, strength and encouragement to each other.
“Do not be afraid.”
After consulting with lay leaders, as well as appropriate consideration of the ongoing recommendations of the CDC, state and local officials, we will continue with online Worship celebrations, meetings, classes and Prayer and Meditation sessions at least through the end of April.
However, we WILL commemorate Palm Sunday (10am), Maundy Thursday (7:30 pm) and Easter Sunday (10am) with live-streamed Worship times on those days. In addition, we will offer two Zoomed opportunities for Prayer and Meditation on Good Friday, one at Noon and the other at 7pm
But that’s not all. This year, we will join together for Palm Sunday and Easter, not once, but twice! When the time comes that we determine – again, based on guidance from the CDC and state and local officials – that it is safe for us to gather for public Worship again, we will hold a “Second Easter” as a celebration of our “new life” together, as well as a “Second Palm Sunday”. “Second Palm Sunday” will come after “Second Easter”, as it will be centered on the performance of the cantata that the Choir and Dr. Weiss were working so hard on before we had to stop large group, in person gatherings. The Choir will need sufficient time to have the piece ready to present to us in the outstanding fashion we are used to from them.
One last note on Worship. As of this afternoon, there have been over 400 views of Our last two Sunday Worship celebrations including both at the time and afterwards. It is a privilege to be able to offer whatever spiritual benefits we can to so many near and far. Continued and enormous gratitude to Dr. Weiss, Rebecca Shrimpton, Paul Knox, Richard Smith, Cindy Boyea and Nancy Klebart for making this such a clearly needed and meaningful experience with their musical and technical contributions. Be assured that all are maintaining necessary social distancing during these times.
Returning to the online classes and Prayer and Meditation sessions, we are also looking into the possibility of recording and posting them on our website the next day for those who would like to participate but can’t on the day or at the time they originally take place. This could begin in early April if we are able to address the same confidentiality issue involved with our live streamed Worship celebrations.
As always, information on how to connect to these events will be sent on the day before and the day of, as well as available on our website.
I wanted to take a moment to reach out and see how you are doing these days. This time of the Coronavirus pandemic must be some combination of confusing, frustrating, or maybe even scary for you. The disruption of having your school, sports, music, theater, and social pursuits and interests restricted or put on hold completely for an uncertain amount of time has to be difficult to deal with.
My guess is that this is likely the worst large scale crisis you have ever been through in your lives. And I have no intention of being dishonest with you. I have spent the vast majority of my professional career working closely with college, high school and middle school students as a teacher, coach, administrator and counselor, and my experience has been that young people like you generally have pretty good “BS Detection” skills. So I will not test those skills by telling you this will end quickly, that few people will suffer, or that there will not be any long-term effects. I will also not be dishonest with you by saying you won’t experience any of those long-term effects. The truth is that I don’t know. No one does right now.
But none of that means you won’t be OK, or that there is nothing you can do to make things better for yourselves and others. Because the other thing I know about people your age from all those years working with you, especially during other times of crisis, is that you are smart, creative, kind, and much stronger and more resilient than you are given credit for at times.
So use those gifts now. My guess is you are already supporting each other through social media. If you are – keep going. If you aren’t – start. And look for ways to support others you may not have thought of or normally interact with who could really use a lift right now, even if you can’t do it face to face. Those who live alone or who are homeless. Veterans. Students in other countries who are going through the same thing you are. I am sure you can think of many other people and ways I have not, and you certainly have far better social media skills than I do to make some good things happen out there.
Remember – while we do not have a medical vaccine for the virus yet, we DO have some social, emotional, and mental vaccines for things like loneliness, discouragement and the struggle to find hope. One of those is social interaction, even if not in person. Another is service for the benefit of others. And another is spiritual support.
So whether you have had any involvement or contact with our church community or me before, or any spiritual community at all, please know that you can contact me at any time for any reason. I will be here to listen, offer guidance, pray, or whatever you feel you might need.
And even though you are among the groups at lesser risk, the data is now clear that you are not completely immune. So PLEASE be smart like I know you are and follow the guidelines issued by medical experts so that you stay healthy, and also so that you can do right by your families, friends and all of us.
You can reach me at any time by email at , or by phone or text at 908-477-5426.
First Parish Church
Lenten Theme and Message Series 2020
We will be running these programs virtually going forward. More information will be posted this week.
Beginning March 1, join us each Sunday throughout the season of Lent as we explore this year’s theme, “Crossroads”. Each week we will explore a story from the Gospels of individuals or groups whose life was challenged or changed by their encounter with Jesus over the course of his ministry. We will also examine the choice or choices that encounter left them with going forward, and how those choices reflect the ones we are given to make in our time and place.
ALSO – STARTING THIS WEEK FOR LENT – “THE WALK” and “PRAYER and MEDITATION”
During Lent, we will also be offering two weeknight opportunities for spiritual growth and exploration:
“The Walk”, based on the book of the same name by noted minister and author Adam Hamilton, will explore the major “pillars” of traveling the Christian spiritual path, such as Worship, Prayer and Service, each session focusing on a specific pillar. Please note you do not need to buy or have the book. Also, each meeting will largely be its own entity, so you are welcome to come to as many or as few of the four sessions as you wish.
Tuesdays: March 3, 10, 24 and 31
Time: 7:00-8:15 PM
Location: Chapel Conference Room
“Prayer and Meditation” is an opportunity to come together for a time of quiet reflection, sharing of Scripture, and the offering of any prayer intentions that are on participants’ hearts and minds.
Wednesdays: March 4, 11, 25 and April 1
Time: 7:00-7:40 PM
Location: FPCC Sanctuary
To the First Parish Church Community:
Last evening we received word from the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ, of which we are a member, that in response to the continuing spread of the Coronavirus throughout this region and the country, they are requesting that all 600+ of their churches postpone their Worship services this Sunday and next (March 22).
Though I am not prone to overreaction, I believe we should comply with the Conference’s request. It is simply the right thing to do – right both for medical, but also for spiritual reasons.
We must never lose sight of the fact that while the Christian path is about our own individual spiritual growth, it is never just about that. It is, and always has been, about the common good. And so while it would be easy for us to say that there is no need to postpone Worship, or take any other measures recommended by medical experts and scientists, because the virus has not directly affected any of us, it would not be the most faithful thing to do.
According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, widely considered to be the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, what matters most now is what he calls “flattening” the peak of the virus’s spread so that it does not overwhelm our medical system’s capacity to treat and overcome it with the least possible harm and loss of life. That “flattening” is something that all of us can, and should do what we can to contribute to, especially those of us in the Christian community, as it is one of the ways for us to carry out Jesus’ call to “love our neighbor as ourselves” in this season of Lent.
Therefore, after consulting with Nancy Peterson, Moderator; John Round, Chair of Trustees; and John Feuerbach, Chair of Deacons, it has been determined that we will not hold public Worship this Sunday or next (March 22). We will however, conduct an “abridged” version of Worship that will be live-streamed at the usual time of 10am. Specific information on how you can access that, as well as how you can view it after the fact, will be sent either later today or tomorrow.
That “abridged” Worship time will consist of a Prelude from Herman Weiss, Pastoral Prayer, Scripture Reading (Matthew 23:1-4, 13-15, 23-28), Anthem from Herman Weiss and Rebecca Shrimpton, and a Message from me.
In addition, please know that we are at the point where it is not just Worship that needs to be taken into consideration. Therefore, and again with the guidance of lay leaders and for the sake of the common good, it has been determined that we will also be postponing all other “group” gatherings, at least through next Sunday, March 22. This includes meetings, classes, rehearsals, and unfortunately, the “Early Risers” concert being sponsored by our Missions Committee. We will reassess these parts of our community’s life the following week. We have also received word that the Open Door meal which we are schedule to sponsor next Wednesday has also been cancelled.
Regarding additional measures related to looking out for one another at this time, I have asked John Feuerbach to mobilize our Deacons for the task of keeping in regular contact with members of our congregation who live alone, or who have health issues which make them particularly vulnerable to the virus. Also, I strongly encourage you to contact the Church Office 978-526-7661 or me directly through email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or cell (908-477-5426) for any pastoral visits or assistance you wish, so that I can respond directly, or through the assistance of our Deacons or Care Team.
Lastly, please keep in mind that along with the physical and emotional effects of this pandemic, there will likely be serious economic ones for those who are hourly workers or living paycheck to paycheck without paid sick leave, available day care for students who must stay home from school for a period of time, or adequate health care coverage. Along with your prayers, I encourage you to consider donations to food banks (like the Open Door), or other aid organizations for people in these circumstances.
The early Christian leader Paul tells the Christian community in Corinth during a time of great stress not to lose heart because their struggles will not last, and in that time of struggle is an opportunity for them to grow closer to being the kind of spiritual community that God calls them to be. Let us do the same – for each other and for the common good.
Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea
First Parish Church
“I have come one step away from everything. And here I stay, far from everything, one step away.” Antonio Porchia
In the quote above, taken from a book titled Voices, a slim collection of aphorisms that reflect the complexity, struggles, joys and paradoxes of human existence, Antonio Porchia seems to be asking us to consider how often we come close to important achievements or breakthroughs during our lives, but don’t take the one more step we need to get there – how close, yet so far we remain. Appropriately, Porchia doesn’t turn this thought into one of those all too common “you can do it if you want to” platitudes. My sense is that he understands things are frequently not so simple. He recognizes that there are often times when we may be one step away but our circumstances make that step unlikely or perhaps impossible in that time and place.
I wonder though, if rather than knowing we are one more step away, and then choosing not to, or being unable to take it, human existence is much more often characterized by not knowing we are one step away to begin with. I wonder at times how often we miss out on making things better for ourselves or others because we simply don’t realize – or believe – that we are only one more step away. One more step that is, as author Malcolm Gladwell puts it, the “tipping point”.
In this time when we struggle as a nation and world with serious and complex issues, it can be overwhelming to try and discern what we might do to make things better. Or maybe it’s even simpler than that for us. Perhaps our greatest concerns are what to do in terms of a relationship or career crossroads. Either way, what do our faith, the Bible, our tradition, and our leader – Jesus – tell us to do?
Take the step we can.
Not the easiest step. Not the most convenient step. Not the step everyone else is taking. The step we can take. And take that step knowing God will help us keep moving in the direction we need to go. Take that step knowing that as part of a spiritual community, we will walk with, lean on or be leaned on, even carry and be carried by each other along the way as well.
As we enter this season of Lent then, a season meant to move us to reflection and recommitment to the life journey Jesus walked and calls us to walk, let’s consider taking the steps – or even just the one step we can.
Because we might be just one step away.
First Parish Church Congregational, Manchester by the Sea MA
Under the general direction and supervision of the Minister, the Leader will reimagine and revitalize our programs for children and youth with the following primary tasks:
- Develop and lead the Middle and High School Youth Programs of the Church.
- Be responsible for development and choice of curriculum materials for church school for grades K-5, taking particular care to ensure that the materials are fresh, contemporary, and aligned with theological perspective of the Minister and adult Congregation.
- Recruit and supervise volunteer teachers for grades K-5 taking care to ensure that they receive sufficient training and support to enable them to be effective and work with high morale. The Leader will also be expected to teach individual classes when and if necessary for the effectiveness of the program.
- In collaboration with the parents, CE Committee, Vitality Committee and Minister, plan social or holiday group events attractive for this community and which help connect them to the broader Congregation.
- Take primary responsibility for outreach to families with children, paying particular attention to the opportunity to establish contact with those who are new to the community. More broadly, be responsible for maintaining the connection of the parents of children in the program to the program and the Congregation as a whole.
- Maintain and implement applicable health and safety policies in all programs, including Safe Church and CORI qualification as appropriate.
The successful candidate for this position will be expected to bring an entrepreneurial spirit, warmth, and enthusiasm to the program. Formal training in religion or religious education is a plus but not a requirement. This is initially envisioned as a part time position. Hours can be flexible but will include Sunday mornings and participation in the general life of the church. Compensation is negotiable and will be commensurate with qualifications. Exact starting date is negotiable but is intended to be early summer 2020 to provide for the launch of a revitalized program in September. Background information regarding First Parish Church may be found at www.firstparishchurch.org
Applicants are invited to submit resumes to the attention of the Office Manager:
First Parish Church Congregational
PO Box 187
Manchester, MA 01944