The Peace Candle

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Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

Sitting back behind the pulpit, I almost didn’t see it- a simple, glass candle on the communion table. As I flipped through the bulletin to make sure I knew what I needed to do for worship, I found this brief explanation-

THE PEACE CANDLE: The smaller, glass candle on the Communion table is a peace candle, and here is the candle’s story and meaning.

In 1986, a group of Americans attended a Russian Orthodox worship service. At the close of the service, an elderly woman pressed a three-ruble note into the hand of a Presbyterian pastor (only about $5 in American dollars, but a significant gift for this elderly woman). The woman asked him to buy a candle with it, and light that candle in his church as a symbol for peace. That Presbyterian pastor purchased a candle with the money, placed it on the Communion table in his sanctuary, and lit it during each worship service. Then the church bought other candles, in glass containers, and sent them to other churches with the request that they be lit during their worship services, as a symbol of our common hope for peace.

These peace candles have since spread across our world and across denominations. Our congregation received our peace candle on Sunday, November 16th, 2014. And, we have shared a candle with our sister church of El Redentor in Guatemala. Together with sisters and brothers in Guatemala and around the world, we light our candles every time we worship to remind us to pray for peace in our lives, in our communities, and in our world.

Before worship on Sunday morning, Rev. Steven Barnes told me about the work that First Presbyterian in Newton, NC does in the local community- everything from making sleep mats from grocery bags for the homeless (these dry faster and do not mildew) to hosting a free meal for the hungry every Sunday evening. This candle, sitting with the bread and the wine, brings the congregation together with one another and with congregations all around the world as they pray for peace every Sunday.

It is a seemingly simple ministry–praying for peace–but, in a world where walls continue to be built between communities—it is a ministry built on hope. I wonder how worship services around the world have been, and can be, influenced by placing this simple reminder at the front of the sanctuary urging the congregation to pray for peace?

The hymn, Pass It On, comes to mind as I think of the many congregations who have shared these candles and pray for peace every Sunday-“It only takes a spark to get a fire going, and soon all those around can warm up in its glowing. That’s how it is with God’s love once you experience it. You spread God’s love to everyone, you want to pass it on.”  Today, as we continue to celebrate International Day of Peace (September 21), let us be that spark as we pray together and go into the world working for peace.

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Does your congregation have a peace candle? Please share your story!

Every Day Christians

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Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

Recently, our lectionary has focused on how we put our faith into action and in my own sermons I have personally focused quite a bit on how we, as Christians, engage with one another in our daily lives. Sometimes I see in myself something that I also see in others:  our loving and caring “Sunday selves” don’t always carry through the week. I am sure each one of us has experienced this in some way, whether it was our own actions or those of a neighbor.

On Sunday morning, we often find ourselves and/or our friends and family focusing on God’s call more than any other time during the week.  Sunday morning includes welcoming everyone who comes through the door of the building with a smile and a hug before heading into the sanctuary to play an active role in worship and slipping out to set up the fellowship snacks in the hall during the final hymn. The atmosphere of worship helps us, and others gathered for worship, focus or own actions on praising God.

But…. Monday comes.

Monday brings a new plethora of deadlines, meetings, responsibilities, and social activities. Even if Sunday’s sermon is still hanging on, by lunch on Monday, it may be drifting out of our awareness. Tuesday adds more stress– another full day into the work week and three more days until the weekend. Too many things to prepare and think about, no time to sit with Sunday’s scripture and reflection it even for a second. By the time Saturday rolls around, we may have forgotten what last Sunday’s message was about and our actions and words have migrated far from reflecting the love and grace of God.

My question is:  How do we continue to encourage our parishioners, our colleagues in ministry, and even ourselves so that we do not live a life that contradicts our faith- speaking and acting one way on Sunday morning while slowly leaving that behind as we move through the course of the week?

Today’s world offers plenty of distractions and opportunities to turn our focus away from God and toward the expectation of others. All too often, we can find ourselves moving away from Sunday morning when our focus is set on God and we discern how to live out God’s Word– into the everyday where God’s word doesn’t fit as easily as we might expect. Our actions may not reflect our faith; our words might cause others to stumble. Sometimes we have tough days, or weeks. Sometimes making sure that we carry God’s Word into the world through our own lives can seem like a struggle. However, the joy of being a Christian is that we are not alone; we have the support of our brothers and sisters in our Christian community. Just as we worship God in community on Sunday morning, we are here to encourage one another and continue worshipping God in community throughout the week, through both our words and our actions. This can come by way of a phone call, a personal email, or a quick visit. It could happen by making a little extra dinner and sharing it with someone we know may be going through a hard time.  Simply reminding someone, personally, that they have been in your thoughts and prayers can offer the encouragement and reminder of how we are each called to live every day. I would challenge all of us to also encourage the congregation to do this for one another, as the body of Christ.

How, as congregational leaders, can we empower one another and our congregations to care for one another and live lives of “Every Day Christians?” How are you doing this in your own congregation?

Mustard Seed Faith

Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

Preparing for worship at Kirk of Holly Springs
Preparing for worship at Kirk of Holly Springs

Kirk of Holly Springs Presbyterian is a satellite congregation of Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church (you might remember them from this blog about community engagement.) Three years ago several people began worshiping in their homes each Sunday. Fast forward almost two years to January 2015 when they began worshipping in the Masonic Lodge in Holly Springs, NC. Today they continue to worship at the Masonic Lodge while they are in the process of looking for a larger space.

As I spoke with several individuals in this new congregation this past Sunday, I began to learn the story of this community- not just how they got here, but also what they are both excited and apprehensive about as they move forward.  Even more than the excitement and apprehension, I see their faith.

“Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”  Matthew 17: 20

mustard-seedI remember marveling at a necklace my mother had when I was child- a small glass orb with a tiny mustard seed inside. She shared with me this verse and what it meant for each one of us. I have seen it played out in different areas of my life, but never in such an important place as the Masonic Lodge in Holly Springs.

The growing community of Holly Springs did not have a Presbyterian church among the maze of new roads and signs for roads that don’t even exist. There are needs in the area – everything from  feeding the hungry to providing a place of welcome for those who seek wholeness.   A new worshipping community can address those needs. Now, the goal for Kirk of Holly Springs is to put their worries aside and trust that God will walk with them as they find new, creative, and appropriate ways to respond to people’s needs while worshiping God.

Kirk of Holly Springs Presbyterian at Holly Springs Masonic Lodge
Kirk of Holly Springs Presbyterian
at Holly Springs Masonic Lodge

In a world that says that insists that the church is dying, all it took for this congregation to get started was a small bit of faith. Together, they have formed a vibrant congregation, connected to and guided by the congregation of Kirk of Kildaire, and led each Sunday by local ministers who also have faith in the ministry of this growing congregation.

I am honored to be able to visit a wide variety of congregations almost every week. In a time where some say the Church is dying, I am excited to share with you an example of how this mustard-seed-believing group of people celebrate the resurrection of Christ and embody hope for the future. Kirk of Holly Springs believes in big things that can come from tiny beginnings.

If you are interested in ways to support new worshiping communities or want to learn more about the many ways to start a new worshiping community, check out the PC(USA) 1,001 movement.

What is the point?

 

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Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

We have all been a part of them- the meetings when it seems that no one agrees and everyone is asking “what is the point?” Well, this past Sunday I saw what the point was.

Like most other churches, Western Boulevard Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC hosted their annual Vacation Bible School this summer. Like most other churches, they put signs up on the lawn to welcome the neighborhood. Like most other churches, they received reports that the kids had a blast. This summer’s VBS was something special for Western Boulevard, though, and what happened in worship this past Sunday shows why.

During the Joys and Concerns portion of worship, Rev. Betty Connette (PSCE, 1985) welcomed a Pakistani family to worship and share their story. One of the ladies spoke of the persecution in Pakistan and their journey to America. She spoke of both struggles and triumphs, losing loved ones, and adjusting to a new culture. She spoke of the struggles that the children had in school and her concern about what they would do during the summer while the adults worked all day. Western Boulevard Presbyterian ended up being the answer to that question.

After seeing the sign for VBS and taking a picture so she had all of the information, she called the church to register her kids. So now, one week for the kids was covered. At the close of VBS, she began wondering what else the kids could do- were there other churches nearby that would be hosting VBS? One member reached out and took the family under her wing, driving the children to the local YMCA every day for the rest of the summer. Now, because of the time with other kids their age, the children were ready for the new school year with new friends.

Following a sermon about acting out God’s Word rather than just listening, this testimony hit home. The testimony was the answer to the question of the morning’s worship service, “What if?” When Western Boulevard put up the VBS sign on the lawn, little did they know their sign would be an answer to the question.

In every aspect of our ministry, we are called to be doers for this very reason. We never know who will see or hear us, and what our actions might do for them. In all that we do, we are called to portray God’s love and grace.

In a leadership class at Union, Dr. Ken McFayden told us that every mission and vision statement should start with who the church believes God is. I would add that every action of the church should demonstrate who they believe God to be.

When we welcome others into worship, whether by a sign on the lawn or a hand shake at the door, we are portraying how we understand God.. We can sometimes be changing the life of someone. It may not happen every time our door is open or a sign is up, but that one time is sometimes all it takes. That one time is the reason that we strive to answer God’s call in all that we do.

What is the point? God is the point. If we can help someone find a home, find peace, or find love through our small actions in ministry, imagine how God can use our big actions.

As you take time to discern how to engage in new ministries this year, take time to think about how each action can help show who you believe God to be. You never know who will take a picture of that sign on the lawn in hopes of finding a much-needed answer!