News for the Church, 5/7/21

Good Day to you Church!

We had our first worship service together this past Sunday, and it was wonderful– well, at least, that’s what I thought! For those of you who came to the service, how was it for you? Did it feel good to be back? Was it strange? Surreal? Uncomfortable? Frustrating? If you’d like to share any thoughts with me about the service, I’d love to hear them! Just drop me an email. 🙂 

Name Tags

If you were there this last week, you may have noticed that we had a few new faces in the crowd. For anyone coming to church for the first time, or for those in the early stages of getting to know people in a congregation, learning people’s names can feel like a daunting task. So I’d like to ask something of you– a gift that we can offer to new folks. Can we start to wear name tags every week? It makes it feel less intimidating to meet someone for the first time if you can easily see what their name is. 

Sue Waters is going to work on making permanent name tags that will live on a bulletin board out in the bell tower entrance. Each week, you will be invited to find your name tag and wear it while we are all together. (Until the permanent board gets put up, we’ve got the sticker ones that you write your name on. They will be sitting right next to the bulletins on the table just outside of the sanctuary.) Then, you will be able to read the names of folks coming to visit for the first time, and they will be able to see yours as well!

Coffee Hour

During this continued time of Covid, session and I have been trying to figure out how to make coffee hour both functional and sustainable, and we think we’ve got a decent plan to start with. Beginning in June— on Sundays when the weather is nice enough to be outside— Renee Stauffer and her kids will set up a coffee and tea station in the bell tower entrance, next to the sanctuary. After worship, you will be invited to make yourself a cuppa there, and then take your beverage and your own lawn chair out to the lawn for fellowship and visiting. 

For the time being, we are asking you to be responsible for your own chairs because it’s too much work to ask a volunteer to haul 30 chairs outside every week. But we want to make this extra chore as easy on all of us as possible. If you’d like to bring a lawn chair of your own and leave it in the narthex for the summer– so you don’t have to haul it in and out of your car every week– you are more than welcome to do that. And for those of us who are not physically able to carry a chair from the narthex to the lawn, Isaiah and Levi have offered to be porters. 🙂 

Unfortunately, because of the unpredictable nature of the weather, we thought it best to scrap the idea of having people sign up to bring food each week. (Who wants to make cookies for 30 people, only to find that coffee hour has been canceled due to rain?!) 

I realize that this is not the preferable way to have a coffee hour– on the whim of the weather, and with the added task of moving chairs everywhere– but like with everything else in the time of Covid, we’ve got to adapt our ways. Someday, dear friends, we will be able to return to nibbling cookies and drinking coffee together sans masks in the Center, but just not today. Just not today….

Communion

Those of us who come from differing Christian traditions have different feelings about communion. For some of us, it’s not very meaningful. But for others of us, it’s really important. Lately, a couple of different people have inquired about when we will be holding communion next– because they miss it so much– and I’d like to be able to honor this spiritual need of theirs, if possible. 

I know you’ve grown accustomed to having communion via intinction– where everyone walks together to the front of the sanctuary and dips their piece of bread into the shared chalice of grape juice. (This, personally, is my favorite way to celebrate communion.) But again, Covid is going to prompt us to alter our routine. 

June 6th we would like to celebrate communion together, and will do so by passing out the little cups of juice to each person in their pews (along with bread cubes and rice crackers for gluten-free folks). This means we will need volunteers to not only bring the bread and the juice, but to prepare it and then clean it up. Would you be willing to volunteer for this job? Anyone is able to help serve, not just deacons and elders. The job will take about 1 hour of your time– 30 minutes before hand and 30 minutes after the service. 

It’s been explained to me that, in the past, we reduced the number of times we celebrated communion each year (down to quarterly) because there weren’t enough volunteers to be able to sustain the practice well. When you are in a small congregation, having communion becomes a function of how willing people are to step up and do the work of preparing it. At the end of the day, we put our energy where we think it matters, and where we need and want it to matter. 

Right now, to honor those for whom communion is meaningful, session is thinking to try doing it every 2 months– if we can get enough volunteers. If this is important to us as a congregation, we will make it happen. If it’s not, and we can’t get the volunteers to help, then we can always go back to having communion once a quarter. 

If communion is meaningful for you, I’m going to ask that you consider being one of the people who helps volunteer. If it’s not so meaningful for you, that’s ok. Not all of us find our spiritual sustenance in the same ways. That said, if you’re looking for a chance to practice living into agape love, this might be a great way to do just that. There can be more than one motivation for doing something! 

If you’d like to sign up, please talk with Sharon Pickard, who will be organizing the volunteers. 

Update on the Heating Project

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the heating system in the Center is woefully in need of updating and repair, and I am glad to say that Merkley’s will be coming in August to do the work. 

Currently, we’ve raised $2,200 from a number of different families to help pay for the $17,000 cost. These funds, along with the $8,000 we can use from the Shaw Fund for the project, brings the total needed down to about $6,800. If you’ve been thinking and praying about sending in a contribution, now is the time to do it. 

Lawn Care

Bob Pickard has changed the day for grounds clean up to May 15th, starting at 9am. (It’s supposed to rain tomorrow.) 

BLM 101

Our church participates in the Potsdam Interfaith Community, and throughout Covid, each church has taken a month to offer an educational opportunity for the rest of the community. Last month Tarik Maatallah from Potsdam’s majid did an “Ask a Mulsim” night and invited folks to ask their questions about what it’s like to be Muslim in America. Other groups have studied gratitude, taught folks how to make a special Jewish soup, or offered an online game night for the community to participate in. This month it’s our turn, and someone suggested that we do our learning opportunity on Black Lives Matter– to better explain to people what BLM Potsdam is all about. 

This Thursday, 5/13 at 7 pm, I will be hosting a panel of people who participated regularly in the daily BLM rallies (including our own Julie Miller!) to talk about what it was that prompted them to stand on the corner for multiple hours every week, what it was like to be down there, and reflect on how their faith has impacted their commitment to BLM. 

If you’d like to attend the event, here’s the zoom link for 

Thursday, May 13th at 7pm.

https://potsdam-edu.zoom.us/j/89716473476…

Meeting ID: 897 1647 3476

Passcode: 716321

(For more information, please visit the PIC Facebook page at www.facebook.com/diverse.community or send an email to potsdaminterfaith@gmail.com.) 

Friends, one last thing. Please keep the Batson family in your prayers. Catherine had bypass surgery this last week and has been moved to the Highlands Nursing home in Massena for rehab (the address there if you wanted to send a card is: 182 Highland Rd. Massena, NY 13662), this next week Gordon goes down state to have angioplasty done, and in a few weeks their son Andrew is also having surgery. 

Prayers, cards, and perhaps a ride to church for Gordon later in the month, would all be appreciated. 

Phew! That was a lot of news to pass along. Did you make it all the way to the end? 

Dear hearts, as I now bid you adieu, I will leave you with these words of encouragement:

“For the Spirit God gives us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.”

~2 Timothy 1:7 

In faith,
Pastor Katrina 

News for the Church, 4/30/21

Good Morning Church!

I wish we could be outside enjoying sunshine today, but alas, we live in the North Country where spring happens in slow motion. Today I’m huddled in close to the wood stove as I gaze out at the flowering alder, which are soaking up all this rain. I’m not sure when we will see the sun again, but I’m hoping it will be sooner rather than later! 

Despite the cold temps, the news this week is buzzing with excitement!

Sunday in the Sanctuary!

This is the big week! Are you ready to return to the sanctuary? I’m very excited. The kid’s corner in the back of the sanctuary is coming together, Ron has helped me set up a chair and a music stand on the chancel (for me to be able to preach sitting down), the piano has been tuned, Dale has reorganized the sound system, Levi and Isaiah are ready to serve as our offering collectors, Connor is planning to be our liturgist, and I’ve got name tags ready to hand out– to help those of us who are new– to know who is who behind our masks. 

In addition to all of this preparation, Keilor is organizing “cantors” to sing our hymns on behalf of the entire congregation–since it is not safe for us to sing aloud together. Each week, one or two people will sing in our collective place, so that we can enjoy hearing the lyrics to our hymns along with the music. This week Lora and Dick Lunt will be singing, so please be praying for them. It is no easy task to stand up in front of people and sing!

Fellowship

Also, I want to mention to you that this Sunday we will not be holding an official coffee hour. Since it is not wise for all of us to eat and drink together unmasked in a confined space (and by default, then talk together unmasked, too), coffee hour will only officially be happening when the weather is nice enough for us to gather together outside. This does not mean, however, that you cannot still visit after church. I want to encourage you to stay in the sanctuary to chit chat after the service (with your masks on) or wander outside and talk away on days when we don’t have a structured coffee hour. It’s very important that we have time and the space for fellowship, but it can’t come at the cost of our health, so for the next few months I need to ask that we give ourselves permission to be a little “looser” with both the idea and the implementation of coffee hour. Can we do that? Can we find different ways to visit together when we can’t do so over coffee in the Center? 

Intercultural Development

This week the visioning committee and session met with two women who work for our General Assembly (what I lovingly refer to as our Mothership), to learn about a program that the denomination is supporting. It’s called the Intercultural Development Inventory (or IDI for short). It’s a tool that helps people learn how to communicate with others more effectively, become more aware of the needs of others, and learn more about yourself in the process. 

The visioning committee and session will be participating in the IDI to decide if it’s something that our whole congregation might benefit from trying in the future. I think it could become a valuable tool to help us navigate through our forthcoming Big Shift work, and I’m grateful to this group of folks for giving it a trial run!

Visioning

Dave Wells, who is part of the visioning committee, has written this to share with all of you, about this project they’re working on:

A small group of us have volunteered to consider the challenges facing Potsdam First Presbyterian Church and explore possibilities for how we might move forward in the face of local, national and global shifts. We intend to take turns sharing our deliberations with the congregation. The members of this group include Terry de la Vega & Dale Hobson, Marilyn & Neil Johnson, Sharon and Bob Pickard, Lydia & Renee Stauffer, Suzanne Waters, Jane & Dave Wells, and Pastor Katrina Hebb.

The way forward won’t be determined by our group. We simply hope to clarify the challenges, constraints, and possibilities so that the congregation can proceed with a collective deliberation in selecting and pursuing a path. 

The “Big Shift”

The “path” that Dave is talking about is a reference to the Big Shift work I’ve mentioned previously. As you all know, our financial situation is such that, unless we make some serious changes to how we “be” and “do” church, we will be out of money in 2-3 years. This, however, does not mean that we are coming to an end as a congregation. Far from it! What it does mean, however, is that if we want to continue to live, we have to shift how we be in the world. 

I want to acknowledge today that we have a lot of work to do as a congregation in the next couple of years, as we lean into God’s guidance around the “Who’s, the What’s, the When’s, the Where’s, and the Why’s” of our Shift. After we get settled back into the sanctuary, I hope to start holding informal all-church gatherings on a monthly basis to work on our church’s calling to this Big Shift. These informal gatherings will be time for us to visit together first (over food when it’s safe!), and then engage in focused discussions around who we have been in the past, who we are now, and where God is leading us next. They will be important opportunities for us to find healing in our congregation (from the tumult of the last few years), to grow together as a body of Christ, and to decipher where God is leading us next. 

I don’t know if you realize it or not, but we have a very special congregation– one that I believe God still has life to give to and purpose to engage in. We can find this life and this purpose, but it’s going to take commitment, courage, trust, openness, cooperation, time, energy, and grace from all of us.

The first step in this process, however, is to come back to the sanctuary for worship. This week, as we prepare to do just that, will you begin praying this prayer with me? 

God, put us where you want us, and show us what to do. 

In Faith,
Pastor Katrina

News for the Church, 4/25/21

Good Day to you, Church!

Every spring I try to remind myself that, inevitably, we have one last, late snowfall– just like we did this week. While I can concede to this fact in my mind, my heart and my body still protest every time it happens. Today I’m still feeling a little grumbly that it’s as nippy as it is, but the snow is melting and soon we will be back on track with enjoyable spring weather! 

Here’s the news I have to share this week–

This Sunday is normally the week when Rev. Shaun preaches for us in the month, but this time will be different. Following Easter, our Synod (the governing body in our denomination above the presbytery) put together two online services to share with any church that might like to give their ministers a Sunday off. One of the preachers in these services did a bang-up job, and so this week I will be playing his sermon during our worship service. His name is Dr. Claudio Carvalhaes and he serves as a professor at Union Theological Seminary. I hope you’ll join us for Dr. Carvalhaes’ sermon and Keilor’s wonderful music. I’m looking forward to it! 

On that note, can I just put in a word of gratitude for Keilor Kastella’s music ministry? I don’t know about you, but I leave our worship services every week feeling uplifted and encouraged by our music. Having a good sermon to chew on is important in worship, but having hopeful music, which you can then carry in your heart throughout the week, is vital to a worship-filled heart. So thank you Keilor! 

I also wanted to tell you about a young woman who would like to come and join us for worship when we begin meeting in the sanctuary. Her name is Maddie James and she is a student at SUNY Potsdam. She’s been joining us every week for online worship, and I’ve spoken with her some and learned that she’s studying theater and psychology. (She wants to do work in the world of drama therapy “when she grows up,” using theater as a way to engage people in psychological healing.) This weekend she is involved in SUNY Potsdam’s spring mainstage production– an online production of a play called “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.” 

The show centers around the death of Matthew Shepard, a young University of Wyoming student who was killed for being gay in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. The show will run tonight and tomorrow night, Friday and Saturday, 4/23-4/24, at 7:30pm and then on Sunday, 4/25, at 2pm. If you’d like, you can reserve free tickets to watch from home at https://cpspotsdam.org.

For more information about the production, you can visit https://www.potsdam.edu/news/theatreanddancelaramieprojecttenyearslater.

I know that you don’t know Maddie yet, but it’s a wonderful gift to be able to support our local college students, and especially so, if they desire to be part of our church family.

Friends, in one more week we will be coming back together again for worship in the sanctuary and I can’t wait to see your smiling faces! I hope that amidst the joy of seeing old friends, we will also remember to offer a warm welcome to anyone who might be coming to worship with us for the first time. It’s a scary thing to walk into a church you’ve never been to before, but friendly people can make all the difference. Hospitality holds a special place in the kingdom of God, and it’s something I hope we can put into practice in the coming weeks and months. 

In an exciting account in the book of Acts, a shipwreck is written about. The apostle Paul was being taken to Rome via a ship, to stand trial there as a prisoner. But a huge storm hit the ship and the centurion in charge of the prisoners told everyone to jump overboard and swim for their lives. Paul and a few others survive the jump and are able to swim to the shore of a nearby island. None of them know where they are, or what will happen to them next, but they encounter the kindly effects of hospitality. Acts 28:2 writes:

“The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.”

Whether they are shipwrecked prisoners, college students, or young mothers, may we choose to be the sort of church that welcomes strangers in from the rain and the cold, and offers them “unusual kindness.”

The countdown to May 2 continues! 

Blessings,
Pastor Katrina

News for the Church, 4/16/21

Good Morning Church,

It’s a wet, rainy day out there– just what spring needs to grow the green in the grass and the yellow in the daffodils! I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to stop in at the church lately, but the daffies and the blooming forsythia bushes are breathtaking. It’s definitely worth stopping by to walk the grounds. 

This week I have one major topic to discuss with you– the heating system in the Center.

Center heating renovation

The day has come for us to acknowledge what’s before us and to take action. 

The Community Center’s heating system was installed back in 1969 (something a number of you might remember) and it has served the church well for these last 50+ years. Until the recent past, that is. The last handful of years the heat has continued to serve, but it has not done so willingly. This is something that Ron has continually had to deal with on an emergency basis in winter, with each subsequent year finding the problems harder and more frequently needing fixing. The zones that were installed all those decades ago no longer function, the fin tubing and circulator pump for the office area are insufficient at their job, and other problems exist because of the layout of the space. This is why it’s often freezing cold in both the office area and Trillium’s rooms and can be uncomfortably cold in the Center itself. Because no one likes to be cold, short-term, band-aid solutions have been applied for years– mostly with electric heaters, which have contributed to increased electric bills. 

Last year we got estimates to take care of the problems correctly, and decided that Merkley Brothers offered a fair and reasonable estimate. The work is going to cost $17,000 however, and so we applied for a grant last fall, hoping to find financial resources from outside of our congregation. Unfortunately for us, however, we were not selected to receive the funding. Not wanting to be deterred by this, I have continued to look into identifying other possible grant opportunities, but I’ve come up short at every turn. No one offers grants to cover heating systems. They’re just not “sexy” enough for donors to want to contribute to. 

Now, $17,000– that is a serious chunk of change– especially for a congregation that is not living in a sustainable financial situation. Session has felt the weight of the rub of this for the last 12 months, but has finally come to terms with the fact that every year longer that we wait to take care of the problem, the worse things get. So the decision was made this last month to move forward with the project. It’s time to fix the problem that’s been put off for so long. 

Cynthia Coleman has indicated that there is $8,000 available to use on the project from the Shaw Fund– the building maintenance fund set up for projects such as these. That will be a huge help, but it still leaves us with another $9,000 to cover. We can take this money out of our assets– which we will do to the extent that we need to– but drawing down our principle is not a great solution. So… I am here once again to ask you to prayerfully consider making an extra donation to the church this year to offset the expense. 

You and I both know that we can’t continue to dig into our pockets every single year for major, costly repair projects. This is a frustrating underlayer related to the unsustainable nature of our current financial problem. But for now, we can’t “abandon ship” either, can we? Perhaps the day will come that we decide together as a congregation that we are not able to sustain this giant, old (beautiful) building. If and when that day comes, we will have spent a lot of time talking through the options, and we will make that jump together. But in the meantime, we need to honor the life before us– and— the building we both love and call home. I know that not all of us can afford to make an extra gift, and we need to honor that reality. But also, some of us can. Will you consider giving $100? 

Donating extra money to fix a failing heating system is not my favorite way to spend my hard-earned money, but I too will be pulling out my checkbook to make a donation. Will you pray about it, and consider joining me? 

Other facility needs

As a way of preparing your hearts and minds for the future, I should be up front and let you know that there is other substantial work that needs to be done to the building in the future as well. The soffiting on the sanctuary is beginning to rot, the roof as a whole still needs attention, there is water in the basement, and the T1-11 siding on the outside of the Center is beginning to disintegrate– to name a few of the big things. Some of these jobs can be put off (as they have been), but at some point, “the bill is going to come due,” as it were. My hope, as I look at the balance of our assets– holding that in tension with the life of our congregation and the call that God still has for us– is to continue to seek out grants to pay (or, at least help pay) for some of these major projects. We learned a lot from our first attempt at the Rock Charitable grant, and I feel confident that we have a solid shot of being selected for some of this work in the future. 

When we come back to the building in May, my hope is that once a month we can begin to gather together as a congregation to have town hall meetings to talk about where we’re at in life– spiritually, psychologically, financially, and physically. We are “alive and kicking” as a church family, but life is sweeping change up to our doorstep, and we’re going to have to pray, to talk, to debate, and to wonder together about where God is leading. 

I hope that you will choose to be part of this moment of transformation of our church. It’s going to take all of us coming together to make the Big Shift before us possible (whatever it ends up being). I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God can carry us through–that God will carry us through– if we are faithful to the call.

A new life: Lara Godoi

In other exciting (positive) news– Feryal Qudourah and Gui Gudoi– our music leaders throughout most of the pandemic, who are no longer with us because of recently moving to South Carolina– have had their second child. Lara Godoi came into the world this last Wednesday with a full head of hair, and will be joining her older sister Leila in singing and dancing to their parents’ music soon enough. Welcome baby Lara, and congratulations to you both, Feryal and Gui! 

Please also continue to be in prayer for Vernice Church, who is now home from the hospital after a recent experience with blood clots. She is recovering well, thanks to the miracle of modern medicine. (Cards are also appreciated!)

Dear hearts, the thing about life is that it’s constantly moving, shifting, and changing. Children are born and people pass away every day. Towns, trees, businesses, ideas, institutions, empires, stars, even galaxies — they come and they go. Nothing in this life is ever static. That’s how God built this universe that we call home. 

That said, people do not often enjoy the dynamic nature of life. Even though we live in a universe surrounded by it, we don’t like change! And because of this, much of our way of life is built around attempting to keep things “the same” as long as possible. But what would happen, if instead of fighting change, we embraced it? What if, instead of putting our energy towards keeping things the same, we shifted our attention to focus on finding “what works?” What if we chose to work with God’s ways of doing things, instead of our own? 

In his letter to the church in Philippi, the Apostle Paul talks about holding onto joy, even in the changing world that the believers there were living in:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

~Phillipians 4:6-8 

God’s peace and joy are to be had in this ever-changing landscape of life, and I hope that we, as a congregation, can find that sweet spot as we venture into our future. 

In prayer,
Pastor Katrina

New for the Church, 4/9/21

Good morning to you, dear Hearts!

Today I’m writing to you from a sunny windowsill in Rochester, NY. I’ve come here this week to pick up the electric wheelchair that my friend is donating, for me to be able to mobilize myself around the church on days when I can’t walk well enough. I haven’t tested it out yet, but she says that it’s speedy enough to win the tour de France in. (Maybe we can have a tour de Potsdam race!) 🙂

The last couple of weeks I’ve talked to you about what it will be like to come back to the sanctuary on May 2nd. We will be coming back to familiar space, but in a different way. This is both exciting and also a little bit worrisome, so it’s something that we need to be thinking, talking, and praying about. This week I need to discuss with you one more change that will be coming to our worship services– as it relates to children.

I have heard from many of you that not having kids in our congregation (Isaiah and Levi, withstanding), is something that makes many folks in our congregation sad, and one thing many people desire is to be able to have children come be part of our church family again. I, personally, am of the same mind. Children are not only the future of any congregation, but they bring joy and vitality to church life in ways that just grown-ups can’t do (…being the old fuddy duddies that we are. 😉 

The way I understand our church’s recent history, for the last handful of years, you all waded through turbulent waters of conflict and change, and at the time, you simply could not be the sort of congregation that supported having children. This was not the result of a character flaw on the church’s part, but was a chapter in the church’s stages of development. Being in the midst of major challenges, all of your energy needed to be focused on making the shifts that you did. 

Now that those days have passed, however, we have the opportunity to begin moving into whatever new future God has in store for us. We certainly have a lot of work to do–discerning what that future may be– but one area that we already know we want to move into, is having kids be a substantive part of us again. To make this happen, however, we’re going to have to make some changes to the ways that we currently do things. 

Did you ever watch the movie called Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner? A farmer in Iowa is inspired by a voice he can’t ignore to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his corn fields. If you’ve seen the movie you know the famous line – “If you build it, they will come.” 

Right now we have two awesome kids in our church who are independent enough to be able to handle sitting in a worship service that is designed for, and caters to, grown-ups. If, however, we want other kids (and their families) to join us, we’re going to have to transform ourselves into a welcoming environment for kids. 

Currently, we have neither the energy, nor the “people power,” to build an entire Sunday School program from scratch. And that’s ok. We simply can’t be something we’re not, can we? [Again, let me emphasize– not being able to offer a Sunday School program to young families is not a character flaw on our part. It’s simply the reality of who we are right now.] Some day we very well may get to talk about how to build Sunday school classes again, but that conversation can wait for a different day, because thankfully….. we can do this in stages! We can take welcoming kids into our midst one step at a time. 

Luckily for us, we took a first step a year ago. Isaiah and Levi are gracious about sitting through an adult worship service, but I knew that having special space carved out just for them would make Sunday worship more enjoyable for the young people we do have. So, I started including a kid’s sermon every week when I came to be your pastor. This, I hope, has been meaningful for them. 

The next step– our next stage of becoming a church that welcomes children– is what comes next. We know that we will have a 2 year old named Dom coming to worship with us soon, and we know that his mom needs to be able to keep him with her– for both of their sakes. (It’s too overwhelming to be brand new in a church and be separated from your child/mom.) Session has been talking about how we can be welcoming and accommodating to them with the resources and people power we currently have, and we think we’ve hit upon a workable plan. 

Right now, there is a small corridor of space in the sanctuary behind the last row of pews. It was designed to be walk-way space for people to move back and forth at the rear of the sanctuary. It’s not currently deep enough to put a rocking chair and a small table and chairs in, but Session realized that if we took out the last 1 or 2 rows of pews on one side of the sanctuary, it would create just enough space to offer a “kid’s corner” with a couple of rocking chairs, that child-size table and chairs, and a small shelf for books and (quiet) toys to have for kids to play with. The thought is, “if we build this, they can come and feel welcomed in our space.” Then… we can take those pews, and move them around to the other side of the wall that separates the sanctuary from the narthex. Right now, there isn’t anywhere to sit out there– which is a problem. If we had welcoming space to sit on, on that side of the wall, it would make it easier for parents to pop out from the sanctuary and have quiet, private space to calm their kids down, if they were bieng loud or started to cry– which would then allow the rest of us to continue on with our worship. 

This may not be a long-term solution, but for now it solves the problem in front of us while honoring the amount of energy and volunteer power we actually have in us to contribute. Rather than ask a lot from one or two people, who would take kids to other parts of the building, this plan asks all of us to contribute just a little bit in the space that all of us will share. 

How does this sound to you? Are we ready to welcome kids back? What are your thoughts and your feelings? 

One day, some people brought their children to Jesus. They wanted him to pray for them and lay hands on them. The disciples didn’t think having kids around was appropriate, however, and they spoke sternly to the parents. But Jesus knew that kids matter. He said to everybody:

“Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” 

~Matthew 19:14

Will we be the sort of church that welcomes children? We can be, if we decide it’s important enough to us in this chapter of our life to make room for them in our midst. 

Ready for the challenge,
Pastor Katrina

p.s. We will have cool “fidget bags” for kids to have at their seats with their parents, too. They will be designed for kids, but you can use them too if the sermon gets boring. 😉

News for the Church, 4/2/21

O Happy Day to you Church!

The weather might still be nippy out right now, but today the sun is shining, yesterday’s snowfall is melting, and the crocuses are starting to bloom. Hallelujah!

Today I have loads of wonderful news to share with you, and I’m just about bursting at the seams I’m so excited! 🙂

PPP Loan

The first great news to share is that Sue Waters applied for us for the second round of PPP money, and we were approved for these stimulus funds from the federal Cares Act. To qualify for the forgivable loan, we had to show a 25% loss in revenue from at least one quarter in 2020. Because we met that requirement, we will be receiving $7,172 to help offset the financial burden that the pandemic has created for us in 2020. 

Free Lunch Friday returns

The next great bit of news to share with you is that starting next week, on April 9th, our Free Friday Lunch program will resume! Renee Stauffer, Sue Waters, Pat Roda, Robin Wilkinson, and Lydia, Levi, and Isaiah Stauffer will be making lunches and taking orders from people (who will wait for their pick-up orders outside in the parking lot). I know that our volunteers are delighted to be back together again and folks out in the community who have participated in Free Friday Lunch in the past are looking forward to it resuming. It’s been a long year of separation and financial hardship for many residents in Potsdam, but as more people choose to get vaccinated, we will again be able to gather together and help each other out more easily.

In-Person Worship resumes May2

Along these same lines, I have even more joyful news to share with you. Because the vast majority of us have been vaccinated–making it safe to gather together again– last night our Session met and approved returning to the sanctuary for Sunday worship. So…. barring any crazy spikes in Covid cases in our county in the next few weeks, the plan will be to return to in-person worship on MAY 2. 

Worship will not look like it did before the pandemic hit, however, which means that we will have to adjust our expectations. I think we’ve grown enough in this last year to be able to handle this though, haven’t we? Here are the details of how Sunday worship will work: We will set up the sanctuary for effective social distancing (cordoning off every other row of pews), we will continue to wear masks in the building at all times, and of course, ask that you stay home and watch online if you are not feeling well. For the time being we will also still refrain from congregational and choral singing, but when the weather is nice enough, we will gather together for coffee hour outside on the lawn. 

Can you imagine what it will be like to get together again? I can’t wait to see all of your smiling faces! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 

Making Accommodations

In addition to these changes to worship, there are a couple other things that will be different when we come back– things I need to ask you to find grace in your hearts for. You know that when I came on as pastor a year ago, I was still recovering from major back surgery and was not fully functional as an able-bodied person. I had hoped to be able to bounce back from this surgery like most people do, but in the last year, the underlying connective tissue disorder I have (called hypermobility Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, or hEDS for short) has made it clear that I cannot expect to be able to live as a fully-functioning, able-bodied individual all the time. I have good days, where I can walk around well enough, but I also have bad days, where the pain makes it unbearable to walk even a few steps. Some of you, who live with chronic pain, know what this is like, but for those of you whose bodies don’t give you any trouble, it may be hard to imagine living life on this yo-yo. 

As a consequence, however, I’ve needed to figure out a plan for how I will be able to physically serve as your pastor in the church building once we resume in-person worship. Thankfully, God has been paving a way! A friend of mine in Rochester is giving me an electric wheelchair, which I will leave at the church. This chair will give me the ability to freely move around the building on the days when my legs just won’t carry me. While this will be wonderful for me, it will likely be an adjustment for you. It’s not easy to see a young(er) person– especially your pastor– walking around “normally” one week, and then in a wheelchair the next week. It’s not easy to see this, I know, but I need to ask you to adjust your expectation of me in this way. My body is different from most people’s, but I’m still “me”– I’m still the same Pastor Katrina– whether I’m walking on two legs, or moving around in a wheelchair. 

The second part of my disability plan asks for your grace in another way, too. Even on my good days, it’s hard for me to stand for extended periods of time– like a person does to stand in the pulpit to preach. Most of the time I won’t be able to do this, so I will be preaching in a different way in the sanctuary. I will have a chair up on the chancel, and will preach like Jesus used to do– sitting down. I know that in our church, preachers in the past have always stood to deliver their sermons, so this will take some getting used to. And it may take a few weeks to figure out how to work all the bugs out of the system, so I need to ask for your patience in this process. But I know that you are compassionate people, and I know that you’ve gotten a lot of practice at adapting to new situations in the past year, so I’m hoping that you will be able to meet me where I’m at. 

I may not be able-bodied and look like a “normal” person all the time, it’s true, but my struggles with my body are part of what have helped me become a better pastor. I am better at dealing with crisis situations and learning to adapt to new situations because of living in this particular body; I am more aware of how painful your struggles are, after dealing with my own; I am more patient, compassionate, and open-hearted because of living with chronic pain; and most importantly, I have learned how to trust God in tough situations and step out in blind faith as a result of this body of mine. All of these skills and characteristics that I’ve gleaned over the years from dealing with disability, well, I believe that they will help us to maneuver more easily through whatever Big Shift it is that God is calling us to next in our life as a congregation. At first, you may not see these other important aspects of my disabilities when you see me riding around in a wheelchair, but over time I hope that you will come to appreciate them too. 

Dear Hearts, we serve a God of possibility– a God who takes our inabilities, our broken bits, our dead ends, our greatest mistakes, and even our hardened hearts, and out of this “terribleness,” makes beautiful, abundant life. 

As we walk our way through Holy Week this week, and as we begin to prepare our return to the sanctuary, I pray that you will look to find God’s goodness living within those broken bits, as well as in the adjustments that we have to make in order to accommodate living in this, sometimes, terrible world. 

In grace,
Pastor Katrina

p.s. Next week I have one more adjustment to talk to you about, for when we come back to the sanctuary. It will be a continuation of last week’s discussion about being a place that is welcoming of children in our midst. Stay tuned! 🙂

News for the Church, 3/19/21

Good Morning Church!

Today might still be a bit nippy out, but the snow has (mostly) melted, the sun is shining, and each day our daylight hours grow a little longer. It’s a good day to live in the North Country!

Next week Rev. Shaun will be preaching and leading worship, bringing us a word from the Word for Palm Sunday. And the following Sunday, April 4th, is Easter Sunday. And while it is sad that we are not able to gather together again this year to celebrate Easter, we know that resurrection for us is on its way! With every passing week, more and more people are being vaccinated, hastening the day when we will be safe to come together once again for in-person worship. (Session will be meeting on April 1st, and I hope to have a tentative date to announce after that for a return to the sanctuary. Stay tuned!) 

Speaking of vaccinations, I am delighted to announce that I received my second dose of the Moderna vaccine this last week. The day after for me was bumpy– I had chills and exhaustion, but the following day I was fine. I know that some folks are feeling nervous about getting the vaccine, so I wanted to share something my friend Robin McClellan said the other day. He commented, “I don’t think that science is always right and I fear that many of us have turned science into a religion of sorts. That said, I think science is a very good framework to analyze some aspects of health, particularly public health and communicable diseases. If it was just to keep myself safe, I might have waited. But I still have a scar from my smallpox vaccination, a reminder that vaccines do work! If we find down the road that there are ill effects, so be it. I knew that was a possibility and I won’t blame anyone for it unless there was malfeasance.” 

Is it fun to feel crummy for a day? No. Is it possible there may be side effects from the vaccine that we don’t yet know about? Yes. But in the big picture, are these potential side effects more important than all of us being able to come together safely and return to a more normal life? As you make this decision for yourself in the coming weeks, I urge you to keep in mind a sense of the big picture, while also considering the possible personal side effects.  

In other good news– Sue Waters took on the task of submitting an application for our church for the second round of PPP money being distributed by the federal government, which helps small businesses and nonprofits to stay afloat during the pandemic. (PPP stands for Payroll Protection Program). If we receive the money again, it will go to help pay our payroll and utility expenses for a 10-week period. Last time we were awarded around $12,000, so keep your fingers crossed! 

Friends, in some ways it feels like the pandemic is starting to wind down, and if you’re anything like me, you can’t wait for this to be over with! This is why we’re rejoicing as restrictions are beginning to lift and more people become vaccinated. These bright spots, however, combined with how sick and tired we are of social distancing, make it easy for us to want to throw caution to the wind and toss out our good sense altogether. I want to remind us though that St. Lawrence County is not out of the woods yet. While caseloads are falling in places like Jefferson and Essex counties, we’re still in the “orange zone,” and at critical levels of active outbreak. So while some of us are feeling freer to go out into public places–especially if you’ve been vaccinated–please still wear your masks! 

Every wise or foolish personal choice we make has bearing on our friends, neighbors, and family. So keep at it a little while longer, Saints! Persist with your persistence! We can do this! 

1 Peter was a short letter written to the early church at a time when believers were facing real and present danger from the world around them for their faith. This letter was written to encourage believers to hold fast to God in their struggles. While we do not face the same dangers of persecution those early Christians faced, the author’s words still make good sense for what we’re dealing with in this time of pandemic. 

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.

1 Peter 5:6-9

May we remember to cast all our cares upon God, who cares for us! And may we continue to stay disciplined and alert!

Keep on Keepin’ On!
Pastor Katrina

News for the Church, 3/12/21

Good Morning Church!

Had you forgotten what sunshine and 60 degree weather feels like? I had. The last couple of days have been glorious, haven’t they? A confidence booster that spring is indeed on its way. Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! 

For today, our newsletter is filled with both extremes of joyful and sorrowful news. 

One the bright side– this week marks one full year since I came on as pastor here at Potsdam Presbyterian Church! It’s certainly been a rollercoaster of a year, but I am absolutely delighted to be part of this congregation. Your love for each other and commitment to living out the gospel have made this a positive first year experience– in spite of the pandemic. 

Humorously, this week also marks a full year of pandemic living. It’s funny now–remembering back to my first Sunday in the pulpit. Before worship had even started that day, Session and I held an emergency meeting (our very first meeting together) to put an end to in-person worship. What a way to start a brand new pastorate, huh?! 

Can you believe that we’ve made it a full 12 months through this pandemic? It’s a bit startling, when you take in the larger picture. This week I want to encourage you to spend a little time reflecting on this last year. What have you learned from the experience? How have you grown? And how, moving forward, will you live differently, as a result of the wisdom you’ve gained?    

Even as we celebrate how far we’ve come this last year, I have some sad news to share– Mary Ellen Frackenpol died under hospice care in Rochester this past week. I did not have the pleasure of meeting Mary Ellen, but the stories I’ve heard convey that this will be a real loss for some of you. With both her’s and George Davis’ passing, Terry de la Vega commented the other day that, “this is the end of an era for our church.”  If you’d like to send a card to the family, email me and I’ll pass along an address.  

The other sad –and disturbing– news to share with you is that our church has been vandalized …again (for the 10th time). This last week, both of the LGBTQ flags we’ve had wrapped around the trees on the south side of the church lawn were intentionally ripped, torn, and cut up by someone who desired to both intimidate us and send a message of harm to Potsdam’s LGBTQ community. 

For those of us who aren’t gay or transgendered, it’s hard to fathom being spit on, screamed at, or threatened with violence by people in our community on a regular basis, but this is what queer people in the North Country deal with in their everyday lives. It is not an exaggeration to say that being LGBTQ in northern New York means constantly having to look behind your back. You simply do not have the luxury of assuming that you are always safe.  

Today I invite you to spend a moment looking at these flags–items that belonged to the church. What feelings do you experience looking at the damage someone did to our property? 

Since most of us do not belong to the LGBTQ community, think of a flag that might represent who you are in your life– perhaps a Christian flag, or your alma mater’s flag, or an American flag. What happens if you imagine your flag being the one that was vandalized in these pictures. Those of us who aren’t LGBTQ will never be able to know what the pit feels like at the bottom of someone’s stomach who is LGBTQ, but in this small way we can learn to empathize.  

Jesus went out of his way to stand with people that his society harmed, intimidated, shamed, and hated. He talked with Samaritan women, he offered care for Roman soldiers, he befriended tax collectors, he visited with adulterers, and he healed disabled people. These actions were deliberate on his part. He, himself, did not identify as a Samaritan or a Roman. He was not an adulterer, a tax collector, or a disabled man. He himself was none of these things, but he knew that the wholeness and wellness of these people mattered to God, especially because they were spat upon by the society that they lived in. 

If you’ve ever been knocked down by a bully or made fun of, and someone came to stand next to you, you know how important it is to have that support. Jesus’ call to us is to care for those that our own society hates and despises– to be the hands and the feet of Jesus to them. One way that our church does that is by letting our gay and transgendered brothers and sisters know that we see them, and what’s more, we stand with them when they are being denigrated and harmed. 

So, for the 11th time, Renee Stauffer will make new flags to wrap around trees or poles. If you’d like to help her in this effort– either with your crocheting skills or with money to buy materials– I’m sure she’d appreciate the support. 

Now, for one last note of good news to end on–the votes are in, and the vast majority of us would like to plant a (blight resistant) American elm tree as the new sapling to grace the front yard of the church! As soon as the Tisdales receive the sapling and it’s warm enough to be transplanting, we will have a get together outside in the front yard to plant and to celebrate! 

I look forward to that day with you! 

In the letter written to the Galatians, Paul encouraged that church to carry each other’s burdens and to hold fast to their persistence in mimicking Christ. He writes:

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have the opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially those who belong to the family of believers.”

–Galatians 6:9-10

Looking for sunshine this week,
Pastor Katrina

News for the Church, 3/5/21

Hello Church!

March came roaring in like a lion– will it go out like a lamb? It’s definitely still winter out there today, but from here on out, each day that passes gets us one day closer to green grass, daffodils, and the planting of our new sapling in the front yard. As my Gramma Huyler (who spent her life in Vermont) used to always say– “I have confidence spring will come!” 

While we’re still waiting, however, the big question of the day is– have you received your Covid vaccine yet? We’ve got one of the best vaccination sites set up in our area– did you know that? Maxcy Hall is well-organized, they have enough staff to keep things running smoothly, and you don’t have to sit around and wait for hours and hours– as is the case in other parts of the country. And more and more appointment times are opening up. If you’re eligible, it’s even possible to make an appointment for the very next day! 

Now, I realize that not all of us want to get vaccinated. Some of us are leery of the vaccine or we’re terrified of needles– and I understand this. But given the safety shown in medical trials, please consider that getting vaccinated is a gift that we can offer to everyone in our congregation, to our families, and to our community. Getting vaccinated is a real and tangible way of showing love to each other. 

For those of us who do want to get vaccinated, but who don’t know how to go about getting signed up, or who feel overwhelmed by the whole process, Renee Stauffer is offering to help. If you give her a call or send her an email, she will explain how the process works. She’s also willing to navigate the website with you, and will tell you what to expect when you get to Maxcy Hall. Her number is (315) 742-2478 and her email address is: reneestauffer@hotmail.com

I received my first shot a few weeks ago and I’m looking forward to getting my second shot next week. I’m one of those people who really doesn’t like needles (please, no!!!), so I was preparing myself for the worst. But I was taken by surprise at how easy and painless this vaccine was. It was actually over before I even realized that it had happened. 

As more and more people get vaccinated and the possibility of spreading the virus diminishes, the day is drawing closer to when we will be able to return to in-person Sunday worship. For those of you who are wondering– Session plans to take up the topic in detail at our April meeting. Details to follow henceforth! 

Speaking of reopening– enough volunteers from the Free Friday Lunch program have been vaccinated that both they, and Session, are comfortable with resuming the program. Beginning April 9th, take-out lunches will be available to anyone looking for a free meal on Fridays! Guests will be invited to pull into the parking lot, where they will be given a menu slip to fill out. The slips will then be taken to the kitchen, where the meals will be prepared in to-go containers, and then brought back out to folks in the parking lot. 

S-L-O-W-L-Y ….and thoughtfully…. we will soon be able to begin emerging from this pandemic. And in this, too, we will have patience confidence that “spring” will come. 

This month is also colorectal cancer awareness month, and Vernice Church has asked me to pass along to you the importance of screening yourself for this type of cancer (if you’re 45 or older). Last year Vernice was faced by it, and she knows what she’s talking about. “It’s a very quiet form of cancer,” she explained to me, “so you won’t know it’s there until you go looking for it.” Now, to go looking for it involves having a colonoscopy– which all of us can agree is not exactly an enjoyable way of getting to know your doctor better. But it’s important! “Getting one literally saved my life,” Vernice said, “and it might yours as well!” So….while you’re out there signing yourself up for a Covid vaccination, please also consider signing yourself up for a colonoscopy. 

Truly– your health and your well-being matter. They matter to God and to your church family, too. Having wellness and wholeness in our lives is part of what God means by bringing shalom/peace to earth. And so, as Christians, working towards our well-being is part of our spiritual calling– in our earthly bodies as much as it is in our spirits. 

To those stuck in the land of exile, God promised this very thing–

“For I will restore health to you, and heal you of your wounds, says the Lord.”

– Jeremiah 30:17

Calling You (and Me) to Health,
Pastor Katrina

p.s. While we’re still waiting to get together in person, Karen Davis had a great idea for how we can enjoy eating together. Every Sunday a small group of her friends looks to receive a dinner recipe from someone. Then, that next weekend, everyone makes this same meal at their own homes, and zooms together while enjoying. And presto! A pandemic-style dinner party! 

News for the Church 2/27/21

Hello Church! 

What a wonderful warm, sunshine Friday we’re having today. Winter has lost its tight grip, and its downhill from here to spring! Yahooo! 

Do any of you do maple sugaring? Folks at Birdsfoot have been gearing up for tapping, and there’s much discussion these days about the joys of all things “maple.” 

This reminds me to ask– a couple weeks ago I mentioned that the Tisdales would like to purchase a sapling to plant out in the church yard this spring, to replace the sugar maple that came down last fall. They need to know what type of tree to order. A couple people have chimed in with their “vote” on which type we should plant, but I’d like to have a little more feedback from you. Would you like a white oak, a blight resistant American elm, or a sugar maple? Please email me back and let me know.

As I mentioned in an email earlier this week, George Davis passed away Tuesday night, and many of us are thinking about the many ways that he’s impacted this community. I am attaching an obituary that includes lots of fun pictures to look at and reminisce about. I hope you’ll take the time to read it and remember him

George’s children have decided to hold off on having a memorial service for him until a safer time for all of us to meet together in-person. When I know more about a tentative date I will pass that information along. What I can share, however, is that Rev. Scott Barton, who some of you may recognize as one of the former pastors here at the church, has agreed to come and participate in the service! 

Since it will be some time before we can gather together to remember George, I wonder if some of you have a special story that you’d like to share now with everyone. Feel free to ‘reply all,’ if you’d like to pass along a short memory. 

Now to other news–

Back at our congregational meeting a month ago– if you remember–

we came to the realization that our church’s financial difficulties have been put on the fast track as a result of the pandemic. At that time, a visioning committee was formed, and we’ve already begun meeting, to do the hard work of deciphering what different ways of being in the world God might be calling us to next. 

Good things are happening on the visioning committee. We have a road map now to help us begin doing this work– something I will tell you about another week. But I think it’s safe to say that the team is feeling encouraged and positive about what this process entails, and we’re all excited to see where God leads. 

What I wanted to mention to the whole church now, as we start digging into this work, however, has to do with our finances and our projected timeline. I asked Cynthia Coleman to do a little research in our finances, to come up with a more definitive idea of exactly how much money we have to lean on, as we prayerfully work towards deciphering what God might be calling us to. Knowing where we stand with our assets will help us determine how quickly this process needs to be done. 

As your pastor, I believe it’s vital for church leadership to be transparent when it comes to finances, especially in these situations. You need to know what’s going on with your church. So, I have some information to share with you. 

Cynthia explained that of our $360,000 in assets, not all of that money is available to be tapped when we find ourselves running a deficit budget. There are a couple accounts that are “designated funds,” meaning that the money in those accounts can only be used for the purpose they were originally designated for. These two designated accounts are set aside for upkeep of the organ and for building maintenance projects. Aside from these designated funds, we also have money in the Presbyterian Foundation, which only allows us to draw down from the interest of the principal, and not the principal itself. The total of these designated funds and the money permanently set aside in the Presbyterian Foundation comes to $119,000. These are the monies we do not have access to spending when we need to draw from our assets to keep the church financially viable. 

This means that we have approximately $194,000 to work with. Based on that number, I’ll make an educated guess and say that we have somewhere between 2-4 years to figure out what direction God is leading us to next. 

That’s not a lot of time to do this work, but I feel confident that we can get it done. Before I came to be your pastor, y’all had already engaged in quite a bit of identity work. And there is a strong sense of commitment around discovering what God’s way forward might look like for us. As Bob Pickard put it at this last week’s visioning committee, we are “undeterred” in our mission! 

Please continue to be praying for our church, for session, for me, and also for the visioning committee. “God, put us where you want us, and show us what to do!” 

On that note, I want to highlight one small act of what I believe God is asking us to do in this work– and that is to take care of one another. Here’s an example of what I mean: Since we’ve switched over to on-line worship services, Renee Stauffer has been deeply involved in making those services happen. She hosts and records the zoom meeting that the worship service is recorded on every Saturday, and then uploads those recordings to Facebook for us on Sunday morning. (After that, Dale Hobson then takes it and also uploads the service to our church’s webpage.) Renee works quietly behind the scenes in many other capacities at the church, too. I’ve noticed lately that she– like all of us in the middle of this pandemic– is getting tired and weary. She needs a break sometimes. So this last week I asked Dale Hobson, who has the tech skills needed to do the needed computer work, if he would be willing to spell Renee once a month, and he said “Yes!” So beginning in March, Renee will be taking the second Sunday of every month off for rest. 

Churches are notorious for being places that work their people to death— both their volunteers and paid staff. This not only stands in antithesis to Jesus’ gospel, but when we fall into those patterns of behavior, we lose out on living into the good news that God offers to us, too. 

If we truly want to live the life of faith we profess, it’s important that we cultivate a culture of caring for one another in our church– especially as we engage in this hard work of moving our church into its next chapter. Now, not all of us can step into doing the tech job that Renee has sustained faithfully throughout this whole pandemic, but each of us have something that we can contribute to the whole of our community. Each of us can find a way to care for another person! It takes intentionality to build a structure of caring in an institution like a church, and even more awareness to foster a culture of caring and appreciation, but these are skills that we are going to need to get good at, if we are going to make the jump to what’s next for us. 

So– Church! This week I am asking you to think about the people in our congregation, and choose one person that you can do something kind for. Maybe it’s emailing them to let them know how much you appreciate them, or calling them to check in and say hi. You can send a card in the mail or drop a text. However you want to do it is up to you, but I’m asking that you engage in the practice of care for someone from church this week.

For as I John reminds us again– “Beloved, let us love one another!” 

God’s loving kindness is what holds us together, so this week while you are praying for our church and listening for God’s call, let someone in our church family know that you are thinking about them, and articulate your care of them. 

Appreciating you today!
Pastor Katrina