September 2018

I wish I had a dollar for every time over the last 36 years someone has chortled and elbowed me as they have made what to them was the original observation that I probably have lots of time because I only work one day a week.  In these latter years, I have taken to the practice of responding to this old joke with the quip: “Yes, it’s true, and I want to thank you for the healthy retainer you pay me to be on call the other six days.”

There was a day when I would defensively attest to the number of hours I was in the office or try to make a show of how busy I was in order to head off any suspicion of the inordinate amount of leisure in my week.  Yet with time I have become better at shrugging off the accusation, smiling at the joke and quietly resting in the importance of that one day. 

Sabbath sets the course for the other six days.  To orchestrate the gathering that redirects our attention to the One in whom all things cohere (Col. 1:17), is a privilege and responsibility that never ceases to challenge, gratify and edify me.  I get to lead people in worship. I get to invite people to draw near to God and hold fast to the confession of our hope.  I get to be a part of a community where people accept the call to encourage one another and stir up one another to reflect God’s love by doing good works  in our world (Heb. 10:19-25). It’s a great gig, and one of the greatest things about it is the gift of seeing how you experience the presence of God and participate in the work of God during your other six days.

When Jesus called his first disciples, he did not present them with a proposal to build a church.  Nor did he present them with a document containing a list of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors that they needed to affirm before they could be a part of his posse.  He simply asked them to follow him, to come and see. As they followed they observed and became a part of his redemptive work.  And when he departed from them he asked them to continue this journey and to invite others to join them.

The church comes about because we need one another in order to continue the journey.   Emmanuel Presbyterian Church is a container for something much bigger than itself.  It holds a particular group of disciples of Jesus who have covenanted with God and one another to keep following Jesus.  The church helps us to set our course.  What we do on the one day is meant to energize and equip us for our other six days.  In short, the church doesn’t need us, we need the church.  So as the writer of Hebrews admonishes us, don’t neglect to meet together.  Come take what you need and give what is necessary to sustain the church’s ability to continue to energize its people.  We’ve all got six days of living to do and by coming together on the seventh day we rest in God and ready ourselves for the challenge and the joy of the journey.

April 2018

Practice Resurrection.  This is the last piece of advice that Wendell Berry gives in his poem “Manifesto:The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.”  The poem is basically an invitation to enlarge the stunted imagination of our world’s conventional wisdom and set life in a bigger context.  In short, Berry’s call is to set our lives in a story that we do not control but in which we participate. Namely: the life God intended for us to live. 

Jesus said, “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10)”, and this abundant life is something that is available to us now.  It is, however, a life that we grow into.  It is a life that is guided by a continual process of waking up to what it looks like to participate in eternal life.  It is a life where we give ourselves to the task of practicing resurrection.

Basically, what this means is that we pursue what lasts.  On the one hand this means facing into the inevitability of our death and investing in what outlives us.  Yet it also means acknowledging the reality of eternal life and enthusiastically, steadfastly “abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord our labor is not in vain. (1 Cor .15:58)” 

In Jesus’ teaching about this eternal life we can live right now, he essentially invites us to live into a world where people are more important than things. He calls us to see how our present relationships are more lasting than the legacies we try to build.  He admonishes us to step back and acknowledge the ways in which we “spend our money for that which is not bread and our labor for that which does not satisfy (Isaiah 55:2)”; but he also points the way to living water and the bread of life. 

The idea of practicing resurrection reminds us that the journey of faith is just that: a journey.  And this journey is not about striving to arrive at a place of perfection, or striving to acquire a set of resources, so much as it is about a quiet, consistent determination to move toward the One who has invited us to exchange our restlessness for the rest we find when we occupy the place God has prepared for us.

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

2017 Annual Report from Heidi Greider, Director of Christian Education

This is now my 5th annual meeting and once again it has been an eventful year in our life together.  We said goodbye to several families and friends who’ve been with us for a few years which is always difficult, even though they all left to be in places they feel called to go.  We had the opportunity to send them off with love and prayer, knowing that they will continue to be surrounded by the love of God and the gentle guidance of the Holy Spirit. Included in those who left were several volunteers who helped with our nursery and preschool so that gave others the chance to serve.

This year and going forward we have welcomed new families and volunteers to our community.  I would like to highlight a few in particular.  Hannah and Maya Schlosser-Hall joined us in VBS this summer and have continued to help with the preschool class once a month.  This has led to an internship for Maya from February until she leaves for college in August.  Maya plans on being a teacher and I am excited to work with and encourage her in developing her gifts.  One of our priorities will be to have regular youth gatherings 1-2x a month.  My daughter, Hannah Greider, and Alex Musar have stepped in to help with the nursery and elementary children which has been a joy for me.  They will also be heading off to school next fall and I will continue to enjoy having their talents and joy for children around as long as possible.

It seems that God brings people who love children into our midst at just the right time.  If that is you and you would like to be involved in some way this summer or next fall, please let me know.  The nursery is an especially crucial ministry because it involves the youngest and most vulnerable members of our community and a couple more “once a month” volunteers are needed now to shower these infants and toddlers with love as their parents worship.  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the loving care that Mary Ann Rohrer has given for the past 5 ½ years and as she is needing to step back from her role as primary caregiver I want to say a huge thank you for all the mornings she made our littlest ones feel welcome and loved!

Finally, I want to say thank you for supporting me in the path to ordination that culminated on October 8th.  I am extremely grateful that God called me to this congregation 4 years ago and that you continue to support my calling and encourage me in my role as pastor.  I can’t think of a better place to be ordained than in the midst of this amazingly spirit-filled community.  I look forward to how God will lead us in the coming year. 

With much joy and gratitude, 

Reverend Heidi Greider (I couldn’t resist!)

January 2018 

One of my responsibilities in the first congregation I served after graduating from seminary was the oversight of a fellowship group of single young adults.  Since I was a single young adult at the time it was a reasonable assumption that I would be a good fit for this job.  The work of managing church programs in general was sort of a new beast to me and so I began to talk to members of the group about what they wanted from the group and why they would choose to be a part of it.  Perhaps the most memorable conversation was with a man in the group who responded to my inquiry with: “The best kind of church singles group is the one you don’t have show up to.”  

I wasn’t really sure what he meant by this remark.  His frankness stunned me.  It seemed flippant and off putting.  But before I could ask a follow-up question, he began to explain what he meant.  He said, “The best kind of church fellowship group is the one I can decide to go to or not go to at the last minute. That way I can keep my options open.  It needs to be there and have a critical mass that keeps it going whether I am there or not.  It needs to be there when I can or want to go, but I really don’t want the obligation of having to be a part of keeping it going.”

It was honest.  Selfish and narrow perhaps, but nevertheless honest.  And I appreciated the honesty.  I appreciate it even more now as I think back on this conversation 35 years after it took place.  Once I get past the off-putting selfishness of this remark, I hear in it something that I think is true for most of us when it comes to how we want to think about and participate in the life of the church.  Bottom line is that we don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about how to keep the church going, we simply want it to be there for us.  We know we need it and we want to be sure that someone will be there when we show up.  When we feel that need to remind ourselves about what is important in life, when we want to re-root ourselves in the fertile soil of God’s love, when we know we need to pray about something and would appreciate the opportunity to ask others to pray with us, we appreciate the fact that the church is there and ready to meet these needs. 

I guess another way to say all of this is that none of us really need “the church.”  We need what happens there.  We need to sit shoulder to shoulder with someone who is joining with us in the praise of God and who is willing to accept the job of helping to us to bear burdens that seem too big to bear alone.   

The church is important to us as followers of Jesus in the same way a house is important to a family.  A house is not what defines a family, nor is it the focus of a family’s concern.  A house holds a family, gives it a place to be.  It is the context of a family’s life together and is necessary only in so far as it provides a space for the work of being a family to take place.  What makes a house a home is the family that dwells inside of it.  The point is the family, not the house, and the house needs to be attended to only in so far as it is an instrument in the work of insuring the family’s health.  

At the end of Hebrews 10:19-25, which is one of my favorite descriptions of the church, the writer admonishes us to “not neglect to meet together as is the habit of some.”  In essence, he invites us to show up and be the church, the family of God, to one another.   The work of a disciple of Jesus is not so much to support the church as it is to be the church.  The goal is not to commit ourselves to keeping the church going or attending to its needs, but to give to and draw from one another what we need to sustain the journey of faith.  

Like the young man I mentioned at the beginning, all of us want the church to be there whether we are there or not. We don’t want to have to think about it much, and that’s probably a good thing because it is not an end in itself.  The church is not the point.  The church points to the Point.  The best thing about the church is that it is there and ready to contain the generative and nurturing work of forming and launching a family.  But we do need to show up if we are to take advantage of and contribute to this work.  That is, after all, the only way we can be certain that the church will be there when we feel the need of it. 

Dave Rohrer, January 1, 2018 

Advent 2017

“Pilaf, do you want to go for a walk?”  I posed the question to our dog recently right after I had pushed the button on my iphone to check the time.  To my surprise I got two responses to my question.  Pilaf got up and came toward me wagging her tail and at the same time Siri’s voice issued forth from the iphone with the answer:  “I try to be satisfied with what I have.”

It was a rare, reflective moment for Siri.  I’m not used to her commenting on such weighty matters as her philosophy of life.  She is not a big one for working with existential questions.  But here she was letting me know about a key part of her way of being.  “I try to be satisfied with what I have.”  In other words, “It’s up to you, Dave.   You can take me on that walk or leave me here on the nightstand.  If you take me, I can measure the number of steps you take on the walk, count the calories that you have burned, tell you how much travel time is involved in the various routes you might take to get back to your house and let you know that someone is trying to reach you by phone or text or email.  But whatever you decide is fine, because I try to be satisfied with what I have.”

One could hear Siri’s response in a couple of ways. There is a bit of pathos and resignation in her answer and yet also a hint of contentment. In fact, when I heard her say it, my inner Bible concordance kicked in and several verses came to mind:

“I have learned to be content with whatever I have.” – St. Paul

“So do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.  Today’s trouble is enough for today.” – Jesus

I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmedand quieted my soul like a weaned child with its mother.” – David, (Ps 131)

“I try to be satisfied with what I have.” Is it slavery or light-heartedness? Of course in Siri’s case it is neither.  It’s merely the result of some programmer’s decision.  I imagine that she is programmed to respond to the question “Do you want…?” with an answer about being content.  She doesn’t really have the capacity to want anything.

But we do; and trying to be satisfied with what we have, trying to live in the moment, trying to let the day’s own trouble be enough for the day, is no easy feat for us.  Each day presents us with a huge list of wants.  Some of them are simply about survival and the dailyness of our existence.  Yet many of those wants spring from things that are too heavy for us to carry or too far away from us to grasp.  Wanting to alleviate the suffering of a loved one being treated for cancer, or end the rancor in Washington DC, or solve the national crisis of opioid addiction, or mend the broken relationship that you helped to destroy, usually just delivers us into a state of heavy-heartedness and despair.  The last thing we are in this state is satisfied, and trying to work harder at being satisfied just heightens our angst.  The burdens of past regrets and future anxieties are just too heavy to bear.

In the midst of this kind of heavy-hearted dissatisfaction and emptiness, I know of only one source of comfort.  When things are too heavy for me to hold, I need to know that I am being held.  I need to know that I belong to a story that is bigger than the one I am currently writing.  I need to know that I belong to God.  It’s then that I can move into the present and learn about satisfaction and letting the day’s own trouble be enough for the day.  Another word for this is hope, and the season of Advent is primarily about training us to live into hope.
This Advent we will be exploring the words of an Old Testament prophet who was about the work of inviting his people to live into hope. 

The words of Isaiah 40 are addressed to folks who were bouncing back and forth between past regrets and future anxieties and they, like us, needed to know that they were being held.  Isaiah’s message of comfort in this chapter is one that never grows old because we never stop needing to hear it.  We never stop needing to be reminded that we are being held by the One who made us for no other purpose than relationship with himself.

Dave Rohrer, 12/3/2017

Stewardship Letter, November 2017

Dear Emmanuel Family,

I’ve heard it said that 90% of success in life is based on showing up.  Simple presence is worth a lot.  As I ponder the history of Emmanuel, I think a good bit of our current health can be attributed to the decision this congregation made in 2008 to continue to be present in this neighborhood.  When 35 families chose to tear down two structures and build a new building around our existing sanctuary, they made the choice to show up, and continue to be Christ’s church in this place.

Granted, this particular act of showing up was not that simple.  In fact, it was an outlandish endeavor.  You who were a part of this building project had to decide that your desire to rebuild and remain present was stronger than your reticence about the capacity to raise the money to make it happen.  But you made this decision and since the dedication of the new building in 2009, the average number of people who worship at Emmanuel on Sunday has doubled.

So as you take a moment here at the end of 2017 to ponder your commitment to the life of this congregation in 2018, I want to primarily encourage you to keep on showing up.  Continue your dedication to coming together in this place and being sent from this place to be a community of Hope, Refuge and Service.

As a community of Hope we gather each Sunday to be refreshed and reminded of our inheritance in Christ.  As a place of Refuge we provide a space to gather to worship God and encourage one another.  We also open our doors to a variety of groups who make use of this space on the other six days of the week.  Our grounds are a refuge for the community as well.  Our front yard is often a place where kids roll down the hill and dogs catch Frisbees. Our outdoor chapel is a place of worship for many who never come inside our sanctuary.   As a people dedicated to Service we are individually sent from this place to serve others in our neighborhoods and places of work.  And as a congregation we reflect Christ’s light in Neah Bay, in Wapato at Campbell Farm and in area prisons through our work with Underground Ministries.

All of this only happens because you show up and choose to share some of your time and money with this community.   In 2018 we anticipate that we will need about $270,000 to continue our mission in this place.  Increases in staff, the growing cost of maintaining our building, paying down our mortgage and extending ourselves in mission through our partnerships with Campbell Farm and Underground Ministries are some of the things that contribute to a greater bottom line in our budget.

Thank you for all that you have done and will continue to do to make these things happen.  I am grateful for you.  I love the work of being your pastor and I look forward in this coming year to listening for and responding to God’s invitations to join with him in what he is up to in our neighborhood.

In Christ,

Dave

September 2017

In the 35 years I have been a pastor one of the things I have gotten used to is the line that is often spoken after I tell someone what I do for a living.  The script hasn’t varied much over the years.  I meet someone for the first time in the neighborhood, on an airplane, or in some social setting and I get the question:

Stranger:  So what do you do?

Me:  I’m a Presbyterian minister.

Stranger: Must be interesting work.

Me: Yes, it can be.

Stranger: How’s it feel to work just one day a week? What do you do the other six days?

Me: (forced laugh) Yeah well…, great weather we’ve been having, huh?

Over the years I have become more adept at avoiding the temptation to respond with a snide comment, or a nervous defense of my work ethic.  In fact, I have become quite comfortable with admitting that the work I do on Sundays is central to what I do as a pastor. While I do have things to do and people to see on those other days, Sunday is the day on which I get the most traction. Because on Sunday I have the privilege and responsibility of giving witness to the truth that fuels the other six days of our week.

Hebrews 10:19-25 has been one of my guides in coming to this conclusion.  There the writer explains to the members of the church why it is essential to gather regularly for worship and fellowship:

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

In short, we gather in order to remind ourselves about who we are as disciples of Christ, to thank God for this new identity and to encourage one another as we all work with the question about what it looks like to live out this identity in our world.  We gather to draw near to the God who has chosen to draw near to us, and we gather to draw near to one another.  And once we have gathered, we scatter into our respective worlds where we reflect the light of God’s love that he has poured out upon us.

What we do at church is not an end in itself.  Our discipleship is not primarily about building the church; it is about learning to be the Church in our world.  What we do on Sundays is done in service to the other six days of the week.

Between September 10th and November 27th our sermons will be drawn from the Gospel of John and focus on the theme of discipleship.  Over these weeks as we explore what Christian discipleship looks like, I also want to encourage us to work with a related question.  Namely: How does what we do together on Sundays help us to frame our other six days?  I’d welcome the chance to hear your answer to this question and will be periodically asking folks to share these reflections with us in worship.  The other six days gain meaning and energy as we set them in the context of the Sabbath day. Let’s spend some time celebrating that truth and so “provoke one another to love and good deeds.”

Dave Rohrer

Spring 2017

Spring, as its name implies, is that season where life is popping out all over.  Daily we are treated to an overwhelming contradiction of winter, an almost reckless assertion of life and renewal, an unbridled exertion of energy. Everything is waking up and making up for lost time.  Streams swell and run faster.  The starved brown twigs of deciduous trees and shrubs get plump and ultimately burst with color.  Birds sing, flit about and appear to be working off the pent up energy stored during winter.  Everywhere there are invitations to ponder nature’s ritual of renewal.

This spring, a couple of robins nesting in the trees near our house have become one of those invitations to me.  As I sit at my desk I am daily entertained, and at times infuriated, by these robins which seem to be looking for a way to fly through our front windows.  The ritual has been painfully repeated every day for the last four or five weeks.  A robin perches for a moment on the balcony rail opposite the window, takes off toward the window,  hits the glass, bounces off, hovers, readdresses the glass tapping it several times, and failing to get through ultimately flies away, only to return a few minutes later to try again.

After these many weeks of trying, I can report that the robins have still not gotten inside our house.  From my perspective the only thing they have accomplished is the soiling of our front windows.  To me their behavior is senseless, and their capacity to learn nonexistent.  And my most common response to their tapping on our windows is: “Stupid birds!”  I would imagine that an ornithologist could enlighten me about bird behavior and specifically why it is only the robins which have a fascination with our front windows, but for the time being the robins are for me a metaphor of what it means to be “thoughtless.”

The robins may not be learning anything, but they are teaching me.  The robin’s repeated, futile attempts have become for me an image of what happens when we human beings live an unconsidered life.  To succumb to thoughtlessness is to live without memory or anticipation.  It is to repeatedly choose to allow impulse to be the primary arbiter of our behavior.  It is the failure to take the time to sit before and consider a question before we choose to respond to it.  To be thoughtless is to be reactive without first being reflective.  And when this is our choice, we usually succumb to the tragedy of repeating our past mistakes and sometimes doing damage to others that thoughtfulness could have helped us to avoid.

Nature is full of invitations to step back and think about our lives, to sit before a question before we respond to it.  Jesus’ invitation to “consider the lilies” (Matthew 6:28) comes to mind.  With this phrase he invites us to reflect on why we toil so hard to attain things that will not last, or fix our imaginations on things that are ultimately too small energize us.  He invites us to think about our past and dream about our future and so set our lives in a context that is bigger than the one we create for ourselves.

Consider the lilies.  Choose thoughtfulness.  It may slow us down a bit; but it also might also plant a small seed that grows into a big tree.  God is in the business of accomplishing things that are greater than we can imagine.  What might happen if we took a moment to consider something bigger than our initial reaction or ponder what would normally never enter our minds?  Instead of perpetuating what has always been, we might actually find ourselves participating in a miracle of new life. 

Dave Rohrer, April 23, 2017

Lent 2017

Since my sophomore year of high school one of the things I have known about myself is that I prefer aquatic over terrestrial sports.  Quitting football that year and replacing it with water polo was the first indication that this was the case.  I took well to the water.  It graciously received me.  No more swollen knees.  No worries about land based battles with a body that had limited agility. The water was not as harsh of an environment for my large but uncoordinated adolescent frame.  My nickname on the water polo team was Shamu, and I still embrace that identity with pride.

Yet this preference for aquatic sports also means that when I see those lithe, lululemon and Under Armour togged people running effortlessly along the side of the road, I look at them with no small amount of curiosity.  I see those runners and I usually ask myself “I wonder what that feels like?”  They are clearly having an experience with which I cannot identify. When I try to run it feels like I am having an anxiety nightmare where I am struggling to get away from something threatening me, but hopelessly bogged down in some viscous goop that keeps my limbs from functioning normally.

We all know what we know and struggle to understand what we don’t know.   Furthermore, the questions of who we are and what we know are not things we give much thought until we come into contact with folks who are different from us.  For example, I never gave much thought to being white until I was the only white person in an African American history class in my junior year at UCLA.  The experience of being spoken to by the professor in ways that were different from how he spoke to other members of the class, the regular experience of feeling like I was not being let in on a secret, and the fact that the lowest grade I received in four years of college was in this class, all conspired to help me understand for the first time that I was white.

As a part of the majority, and frankly, privileged, culture I have not given the question of my race much thought.  In fact, I don’t think I even thought of myself as a part of a race at all. So I am still grateful for the ways that class at UCLA did far more than teach me about African American history.  It exposed the profound limits of my imagination and understanding.  It began to make me aware of the truth that black folks in this country have not had the luxury of not being aware of their blackness.  I grew up never really thinking about the color of my skin.  But African Americans have had a torturous history of being defined primarily, and sometimes solely, in terms of the color of their skin.

In light of this, I read St Paul’s words in Colossians 3 with great interest.  In describing the renewal that takes place in us by the transforming power of Jesus Christ he invites us to embrace the irrelevance of race as a key aspect of our human identity:

In that renewal there is no longer Jew and Greek, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.

There is great freedom in what Paul asserts here.  But there is equally an enormous question that raises its head and demands to be addressed.  If in Christ race has been relegated to a place of irrelevance in determining who we are as human beings, then why is Sunday morning at 10:00 still the most segregated hour in America?  I think it is important to work with this question, and that is part of what we will be doing during the season of Lent.  As we explore Biblical texts that give witness to the struggle of the early church to live into their one new ethnicity in Christ, we have the opportunity to join them in that exploration and ask ourselves what it means to be “one in Christ.”

Dave Rohrer, 3/1/2017