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Pastor’s Letter – August 2015 – A Time to Say Goodbye

Pastor’s Letter – August 2015 – A Time to Say Goodbye

I am approaching a transition in my ministry. I am about to leave the longest pastorate I have been in since my ordination just short of my 10-year anniversary. I have been at the Congregational United Church of Christ, Farmingville, NY  for almost four years, first as pulpit supply and then as Interim Pastor. I have formed a deep relationship with this congregation. Here are my final thoughts to a great congregation: one that has grown in faith, numbers, generosity, hospitality and love.

How we exit a congregation is just as important as how we enter a new faith community. For my recommendation for saying goodbye and saying hello, see the article: Resources for saying Goodbye and Hello.


Dear Friends,

As I write this, I am remembering these words from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (The Voice):

 For everything that happens in life—there is a season, a right time for everything under heaven:

A time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, a time to collect the harvest;

A time to kill, a time to heal; a time to tear down, a time to build up;

A time to cry, a time to laugh; a time to mourn, a time to dance;

A time to scatter stones, a time to pile them up;

 A time for a warm embrace, a time for keeping your distance;

 A time to search, a time to give up as lost; a time to keep, a time to throw out;

A time to tear apart, a time to bind together; a time to be quiet, a time to speak up;

A time to love, a time to hate; a time to go to war, a time to make peace.

During our three plus years together, we have probably experienced almost everything on the list. I remember the baptisms, weddings, funerals, brunches, auctions, street fairs, Lenten studies, Christmas plays, singing, praying, preaching, fellowship, and friendship. I remember it all! There was some tearing down of old ideas and planting of new ideas, some disagreements and some resolutions, some remembering and some forgiving, We have collected car loads full of food and clothing for the Veterans and local Food Pantries, as well as, adding a new donation box for the Brookhaven Pet Shelter. We have laughed and cried, mourned and danced and ate way too many desserts and breakfast casseroles! But never too much carrot cake!  We have said goodbye to beloved members who have moved or went onto the church triumphant and we have welcomed new people as well. We acquired a new electric piano, made the basement accessible, bought new hymn books and replaced the handrails on the ramp. We have survived raging storms, shoveled much snow and spent many more days in the sun.

Throughout it all, we have bonded and grown in wonderful ways while experiencing a great deal of mercy, grace, joy and love! The Lord has blessed us in more ways than we can count. The Lord has certainly been with us and has shown us that what we think is impossible, God makes possible.

I have always believed that a pastor is called to a particular place, for a particular time, with a particular purpose to a particular group of people in a particular community. We may have not accomplished everything that I had hoped for; yet still much was accomplished. It was always my intention and my covenant with this church and the New York Conference (United Church of Christ) that I would serve you in a particular way which included preparing you for your next pastor. The new pastor has been chosen and so it is my time to exit.

When Jesus prepared to leave his disciples, he found three promises to share:

  • First, Jesus promised to make a home in his disciples’ hearts. (John 14:23),
  • Second, Jesus promised to fill the disciples with a spirit of courage and comfort. “The Holy Spirit…will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you”. (John 14:26).
  • Finally, Jesus promised to sustain his disciples with a special kind of peace. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you” (John 14:27).

So as Mary Lindberg says (from The Graceful Exit), “So we’ll open the gifts Jesus gave us—a home in him, the courage to move The Graceful Exiton, the peace that will get us through many unknowns. And we’ll trust that God is staying with those we love for many more seasons.”

The thing you need to remember is that you will always be a part of me and I will always be a part of you. Thank you for all of your patience, kindness, mercy, grace, generosity and love that you have shown me! You are a great group of people and I wish you all the best in this new season that you are about to begin. May you continue to grow in faith, hope and love, worshipping the Lord with your whole heart, mind, body and soul and remember to do everything for the glory of God!

I thank God for you,

Rev. Kathy Nealand

Interim Pastor


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Posted by on August 27, 2015 in Pastor's Letters

 

Pastor’s Letter – April 2015 – Rooted in the Lord

Pastor’s Letter – April 2015 – Rooted in the Lord

Dear Brothers an Sisters in Christ,

Everything on Earth is rooted. Now that spring is breaking into our lives, we may be preparing to plant flower and vegetable plants in our gardens. Normally though I doubt we spend too much time thinking about the roots, only the beautiful foliage that those roots help to create. However, we do know that well established roots are needed for anything to grow. Roots though are not pretty to look at. They are long and stringy with many tentacles that reach deep into the soil to draw nutrients and water up to the plant above ground.

Human beings have roots, too. During one of the Lenten Study evenings, we talked about our roots, our family backgrounds. It was interesting to learn more about the people we came from and to see the roots of our ancestors crisscrossing our own. In the midst of these sharing moments, as well as, the sharing that goes on during our fellowship and worship times, we have grown deep roots that connect each of us to one another deep in our souls. A member mentioned to me recently that she could see how the congregation is more deeply rooted to one another. It may be that during my tenure, the congregation has come to understand that there is a need to continue to add to the root system by welcoming in new people to our faith community, as we did on Palm Sunday when three people professed and reaffirmed their faith in Jesus the Christ. The church is also, becoming more connected to the wider community through our food drives and support of organizations like the Brookhaven Pet Shelter.

Maybe, as roots are essential for plants to bear fruit, so we must have a strong root system to form deep and lasting relationships. These relationships continue on even when someone uproots and goes to plant new roots in another community. It is certainly true when we consider our relationship with our Creator, Redeemer and Encourager.

“Let your roots grow down deeply in Him, and let Him build you up on a firm foundation. Be strong in the faith, just as you were taught, and always spill over with thankfulness.’ Colossians 2:7 (The Voice)

It seems as though the church I serve has strengthened their root system by not only growing in a deeper relationship with one another but with their Lord and Savior! This has caused them to  be a stronger and more effective congregation. This reminds me of a book that I shared with this church early on in my ministry (See Pastor’s Letter – September 2012) with them. In the book “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations” whereby the author lists them as:

  1. The Practice of Radical Hospitality
  2. The Practice of Passionate worship
  3. The practice of Intentional Faith
  4. The Practice of Risk-Taking Mission and Service
  5. The Practice of Extravagant Generosity

Robert Schnase writes, “Vibrant, fruitful, growing congregations don’t stop at practicing friendly hospitality, helpful service and mission, or prudent generosity. Their practices are extraordinary, exceptional, thorough, and extreme, they are radical, passionate, intentional, risk-taking, and extravagant. Effective congregations change, improve, learn, and adapt to fulfill their mission.”

It appears that this faith community has grown in their understanding of what it means to “be doers of the word, and not merely hearers” (James 1:22). The key to revitalizing congregations could well be found in the root system of the congregation. A strong foundation needs to be established form which the congregation can grow in their relationships with one another  so that they can bear good fruit beyond their walls.

I thank God for you,

Rev. Kathy Nealand

Minister of Revitalization

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2015 in Pastor's Letters

 

Pastor’s Annual Report – January 2014

It is typical in the church to put together an annual report to the congregation. It is a way of looking back so that we can see more clearly how to move forward in the coming year. Below are my renderings fo the past year and what I look forward to in 2014.

As I begin this report to the congregation I serve, two scriptures come to mind.

shutterstock_44647378The first is from Hebrews 1:1-2a, it was written, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith

This first verse is for the members of the church, because they are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, both visible and invisible. Particularly, I am thinking about the two members who moved onto the church triumphant this year: Donald Millikin and Ibi Hermanovski. Donald was with the church for a very short time and Ibi for several decades, yet they both taught the church something about perseverance, strength of character and faith. Both had crosses to bear, yet they lived lives that are worthy of our aspirations. The church will carry them in their hearts and minds forever and always.

Then there are the visible witnesses that I see when I look out at this congregation. There are the women, men, youth and children that the church nurtures and cares for every day. This was the year the congregation decided on a statement that articulated what the church value most, “Everyday people sharing faith, friendship and fellowship!”

This year the church baptized four young people: James, Thomas, Owen James and Victoria Lynn. Two young people made their first communion, James and Jack. One young man was confirmed, Joshua. The church also had two people become members, David and Tracy. These are all signs of the growth that has taken place in this congregation over the past year.

This past year, I have seen the church throw off those things that were hindering them, making it possible to begin to run the race with perseverance, strength and courage and to live into the race that has been set before them. There has been more outreach into the community. The highlights were that the church participated in a coat drive, set up a booth at the Farmingville street fair and visited a nursing home twice to sing to the residents. In addition, once again, the people of the church helped to make Christmas very special for two families.

Music was a big theme this year. The choir shifted to singing from one Sunday a month to two Sundays. Women’s Fellowship replaced the old piano and organ with a new electric piano that sounds wonderful! The church did say goodbye to Ling, who moved to Maryland but the church continues to be blessed by the ministry of music Maria, Jim and Luiza bring to worship services.

The second verse is for me. In the Book of Acts 20:24, Paul said, “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

This will most likely be my last report to to this church as the Interim Pastor. The congregation formed a Pastor Search Committee and they will be getting ready to circulate the church profile. The committee has done some good work in just a few short months. Therefore, it seems that the task that I came to do is almost completed.

Yes, there are things that I would like to see the church do in the coming year. I pray that the church could find the desire to do spiritual work in small groups outside of worship. I believe there is a hunger for this but also, it is necessary to feed the fire that burns within the church. There are more work to do to build the church community, but it will come in God’s time not our own. Remember to pray that God’s will be done. All any of us can do is to stay focused on the task that lies before us—“the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

I thank the church for a year that is well worth celebrating! It continues to be my joy to be with this church during this time in its history!

I thank God for you,

Pastor Kathy Nealand
Interim Pastor

A note to my followers: I agree with the Apostle Paul, when he says, “My only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” For me, answering the call of God has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done. It is most satisfying to me to see a church blossom and catch on fire as this one has over the past two years. Change can happen, people can be transformed, churches can be revitalized,not through our own human attempts but through the grace of God.and the power of the Holy Spirit, who works through us, around us and in spite of us for the glory of God!

I am looking forward to the new things that God will do in 2014!

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2014 in Pastor's Letters

 

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Pastor’s Letter – September 2013

shutterstock_37490122Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

This September is a big month for me. It is the month that I enter the third act of life. I have been thinking about this important milestone for the past year. I have moved through times when I just wanted it to pass unnoticed to throwing a big party with friends and family. I have chosen the latter option. Yet I still move forward with trepidation. Therefore, I sought out some people who could give me some insight.  I turned to my Kindle and found a piece written by Henri Nouwen on the “Challenge of Aging” in his book Bread for the Journey. He wrote:

“Waiting patiently in expectation does not necessarily get easier as we become older. On the contrary, as we grow in age we are tempted to settle down in a routine way of living and say, “Well, I have seen it all…There is nothing new under the sun…I am just going to take it easy and live the days as they come.” But in this way, our lives lose their creative tension. We no longer expect something really new to happen. We become cynical or self-satisfied or simply bored. The challenge of aging is waiting with an ever-greater patience and an ever-stronger expectation. It is living with an eager hope. It is trusting that through Christ “we have been admitted into God’s favor…and look forward exultantly to God’s glory” (Romans 5:2).

I certainly do not see myself “settling down” and I hope I never lose that “creative tension” that continually urges me to learn new things and to experiment with new things. Yet older people are considered unable to “think out of the box” and that we are “stuck in our ways.” Yet I know people who are in their eighties and nineties who are still having an impact on the people that they meet. I want that for myself as well. Inevitably, it is all in God’s hands, but that has been the case since the day we were born.

My hopes extend to the church. I hope that the church does not slip into a place where it believes that it has done everything and seen everything. I hope it does not lose that creative tension between what has been and what is about to happen. I hope that as the church passes into its third act, it continues to believe that what we have seen up to this point is only the tip of the iceberg for humanity.

At the Farmingville Congregational United Church of Christ, we may be witnessing their next act taking shape. In August, a dozen of us went to a local nursing home to sing for the residents. We did all right but the people really enjoyed it! We reached out, for an hour or so, where we had the opportunity to enter their world and they entered ours. Maybe the new motto for the church fits regardless of age, “Everyday people sharing faith, friendship and fellowship.” If I can do just that for as long as God allows, I would have a very satisfying life.

To God be the glory forever and ever!

I thank God for you,
Pastor Kathy Nealand
Interim Pastor

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2013 in Pastor's Letters

 

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Pastor’s Letter – July 2013 – Peripheral Vision

Dear Friends in Christ,

I have been playing a game on my tablet called Marble Saga. The game consists of a series of colored marbles that go around a variety of mazes. The goal is to clear the marbles before the front marble falls into a hole. When the stream of marbles does reach the hole, it moves very quickly, where the colors seem to combine. I reach this point often and when I do, I think it looks like those candy necklaces you can buy in the store. There is a marble shooter within the maze that spins around from which a marble may be released toward the stream. All you have to do is touch the screen where you want the marble to hit the stream of
marbles with the hope that it hits the optimum spot to clear the matching color. Sounds easy, but there is alsoshutterstock_77040343
a great deal of strategy required.

This is not an easy game for me to play because you have to be aware of the peripheral movement of the beads as it moves around the screen. The player gets higher scores if they are able to remove several colors at once and to shoot successfully through the lines of marbles.

Recently my eye professional pointed out to me that my peripheral vision was very limited. Understanding this, I realize that while playing the game, I seem more focused on the center of the game and not so much on what is happening on the outer edges. I have to push myself to look beyond the immediate.

Relationships can be like this, as well. We see what is directly in front of us but we miss the things that are taking place beyond our peripheral vision. At these times, it is as if we are wearing blinders. The result is that frustration builds, tensions mount and feelings are hurt. Our intentions are good yet often we miss the mark.

On the other hand, Jesus did not miss anything. He could be walking down a crowded street with people pushing in on him from all sides, yet he saw the man who climbed a tree or felt a woman touch him on his robe. He saw people wherever he was, regardless of what he was doing. He saw the marginalized, he saw the hopeless, and he saw a person’s need without anyone uttering a word. Jesus also did not rush in with a quick response or try to fix the situation. Instead, he would ask questions that would reveal the intent of the person and what they were seeking from him. He listened first, contemplated the best response and acted. The best example of this is the story of the woman who was about to be stoned for her sins. Jesus comes upon the
angry crowd, stoops down to draw in the sand and then responds with the famous quote, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:2-11).

We are not as astute as Jesus is. God gave us a neck so that we could look around; God gave us ears to hear the other; God gave us a heart so that we could empathize; yet, we are more comfortable staying focused on our own agenda. We jump to conclusions and react in an unhealthy way to the other person or the situation.

For this reason, Jesus instructed his disciples to forgive each day seventy times seven because he knew that we would need that much forgiveness every day if we were to experience peace within a community. In order to do this, we must be able to participate in self-reflection in order to consider what role we played in the situation and then not only forgive but, also, voice our regrets.

Further, if we could only stop and think about what is happening, consider the feelings and intent of the other, plan for possible positive responses and choose our words and actions so that the needs of the community are met, a stronger community would emerge.

May we consider working on our peripheral vision when it comes to one another.  May you have a blessed summer!

I thank God for you,
Pastor Kathy Nealand

Related Artlice The .Emotional Intelligence of Jesus by Roy Oswald

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2013 in Pastor's Letters

 

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Pastor’s Letter – April 2013 – It Only Takes A Spark

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Lobby card for The Jackie Robinson Story

Lobby card for The Jackie Robinson Story (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A new movie came out April 12 (“42”) about Jackie Robinson.  If you are not old, enough to remember the Brooklyn Dodgers or what it was like to live in the midst of segregation in the 1950s, you might want to go see it.  It might just inspire you.

For a large part of the population, it might be hard to imagine a time when blacks and whites were segregated.  They did not go to the same schools, they did not live in the same neighborhoods, they did not eat in the same restaurants and they did not use the same public toilets.  This is only a few ways that society separated out the people who inhabited the United States in those days.  Baseball was no different because they had their own leagues.  Jackie played baseball for the black teams but one day a white manager for the Brooklyn Dodgers dared to recruit Jackie for his all white team.  The movie depicts the challenges and difficulties of taking such a bold step and the courage it took to face the “Giants” of prejudice in the world.  This action set off a domino effect that would begin to break down the barriers that existed at that time.  There is a line in a song, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going.”  A spark was struck that day!

In a sermon recently, I spoke about how Jesus fought against the wrongs of society and was willing to take his fight all the way to the cross.  I asked the congregation if everything was good and right today, if there were no injustices in the world.  All were silent at first and then someone said of course, there are things that are wrong about our current world.  We do still have our own giants to conquer.

I could then point to the barriers that exist today.  We could talk about the treatment of immigrants in this country.  We could talk about tax laws that favor the rich and discriminate against the middle class and the poor.  What I did talk about is the discrepancy of providing services to the poor.  Our rules and regulations seem to make it difficult for people in need to get assistance.  Even food pantries limit the amount of food they can give to a family.  Could part of the problem be that our food pantries have limited resources and so need to give out small amounts in order to make it last longer?

Hebrews 13:16: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have,for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

A miracle happened…on Saturday, April 6, members of this church went down to the local Stop n’ Shop for six hours to collect food and other items from shoppers.  People were so generous.  As I said on Easter morning, “God showed up!”  Many people helped to fill up ten (10) shopping carts of food.  We packed up three cars and delivered all of it to Smithhaven Ministries in Coram.  The people there were overwhelmed.  We give thanks to all the people who helped to make this a very successful food drive and we ask for blessings on their lives always and forever.

Al congregations, in order to do the work of Jesus, to stand up to the injustices and giants of the world, needs to be fortified, encouraged and empowered for the work.  We need to strengthen our leaders and members physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  We accomplish this through community and worship.  This leads me to the injustice small congregation’s face.  This injustice comes from external forces but also internal forces.

With limited resources of time, talents and treasures small congregations feel the need to pull back, to do less than they would if they were in larger congregations.  However, I realized during my first year as a pastor that regardless of the size of the congregation, the people deserved the best of what I could give.  Therefore, I have to put in the same amount of effort whether I have 2 people in front of me or 1,000.  The people of God deserve nothing less; you deserve nothing less.  I believe this because we all struggle against the giants of the world.  We all need courage to fight the good fight.  Therefore, I believe that we need to provide the best uplifting worship we can so that we are empowered to do as Jackie Robinson did during his lifetime.  I would hope that you would want that, as well.  Jesus expects nothing less.  Trust that God will make a way.  May God bless every congregation’s worship and ministry today and forever!

I thank God for you,

Rev. Kathy Nealand

Interim Pastor

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2013 in Pastor's Letters

 

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Pastor’s Letter – February 2013 – Beloved Community

Jumpng for JoyDear brothers and sisters in Christ,

The church was closed Sunday, February 10 due to a record-breaking snowstorm that hit Suffolk County and the area around Farmingville hard. As Newsday reported, according to the National Weather Service in
Upton, “The blizzard unleashed up to 33 inches of snow as recorded in Medford, and wind gusts to 75 mph.  The storm total of 30.9 was the highest in Upton since records have been kept beginning in 1949, breaking the December 2009 record of 26.3 inches, officials said.” The storm left many of our roads and highways closed for several days.

The decision to close became much clearer when I read that the Long Island Expressway was going to be closed on Sunday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., from Exit 57 to Exit 73 for snow removal. Later, I would hear stories from members who were not able to leave their homes for some four days after the storm ended.

It bothered me to close the church on Sunday, even though it is best to ask people to stay home while the streets are cleared of snow. Governor Cuomo urged Long Islanders to “stay home unless you have urgent business to be on the roads.” For me, I consider it “urgent business” to feed our souls on a regular basis.

That morning, I sat in my house realizing how much I missed the community, the gathered children of God for the praise and worship of our Lord and Savior. I thirst for it like a deer thirsts for water. I need it, you need it, we all need it!

I know a person who understood the need to be in community. Donald Millikin came to Farmingville in May 2011 after the passing of his wife that February. He had been church shopping; we were one of a few that he checked out and it was this church that he chose as his House of Worship.

In Peter Block’s book, Community: The Structure of Belonging, he writes, “Community as used here is about the experience of belonging. We are in community each time we find a place where we belong. The word belong has two meanings. First, to belong is to be related to and a part of something. It is membership, the experience of being at home in the broadest sense of the phrase. It is the opposite of thinking that wherever I am, I would be better off somewhere else, or that I am still forever wandering, looking for that place where I belong… to feel isolated and always (all ways) on the margin, an outsider, to belong is to know, even in the middle of the night, that I am among friends.”

This describes the type of community that Donald found in your midst.

Block continues, “The second meaning of the word belong has to do with being an owner. To belong to a community is to act as a creator and co-owner of the community. The work, then, is to seek in our communities a wider and deeper sense of emotional ownership; it means fostering among all of a community’s citizens a sense of ownership and accountability.”  .

The first thing that drew Donald to this church was because he noticed the well-maintained grounds andDonald Millikin buildings. This is a sign of ownership for those who care for the buildings and grounds.

The second thing that drew Donald and others who have come into the church during my tenure, was the strong sense of community not just for those who have been here for a long time; it is available to all who enter your doors. Is there room for improvement?

Regardless of the community that you are a part of, I ask these questions. Do you not only notice the stranger but also attempt to get to know them? Do you invite new people through the middle door of the church? I might have to explain that one. It is one thing to welcome a new person on Sunday mornings. It is another thing to invite them to join the Choir, Prayer Group, Women’s Fellowship, clean-up crew, fellowship events or to invite them out for a cup of coffee.

After you have pondered these questions, you might want to covenant with God to find a way to help the other “Donald’s” that you encounter to find a place of belonging and community. This is the work of everyone.  To God be the glory forever and ever. Amen!

I thank God for you,
Pastor Kathy Nealand

Interim Pastor

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2013 in Pastor's Letters

 

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