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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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Quote
The Art of Happiness

The Art of Happiness (Photo credit: QueenNomad)

“If you want others to be happy practice compassion; and if you want yourself to be happy practice compassion.” — spoken by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, co-authored by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M. D.

In the Pursuit of Happiness

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2013 in Inspirational Quotes

 

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View of a Leader

“A leader is someone who unites people to work towards a common goal. A leader is someone who creates collaboration.”

“Choose your battlefields.”

–Spokesmen by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia in an interview found in How Great Women Lead by Bonnie St. John and Darcy Deane

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2013 in Inspirational Quotes

 

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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 – September 2012 – Staying Connected

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

 “Blessed (happy, fortunate, prosperous, and enviable) is the {person} who walks and lives not in the counsel of the ungodly [following their advice, their plans and purposes], nor stands [submissive and inactive] in the path where sinners walk, nor sits down [to relax and rest] where the scornful [and the mockers] gather.”  (Psalm 1:1 Amplified Bible)

Blessed, happy, fortunate, prosperous and enviable are great words to describe how I am feeling today.  The last two weeks exemplifies for me just how blessed we all are!  It is the first time I have experienced the return to church after a summer of trips to parts beyond Long Island.  It was great to see all the church families returning for Sunday school, to listen to them playing the bells and their sharing during the Children’s time.  We experience showers of blessings through the young people who call this church “Home.”

 “But his/her delight and desire are in the law of the Lord, and on His law (the precepts, the instructions, the teachings of God) he/she habitually meditates (ponders and studies) by day and by night.”  (v. 2)

As the children return to continue their studies, I pause to consider our own studies.  The Psalmist understood that happiness is a matter of finding good instruction (while avoiding poor instruction) and living by it.  The Biblical understanding of happiness involves being in relationship with God, who teaches, guides, and directs our paths.  This is why the Psalmist speaks to ponder and study by day and by night.  This is something that continues throughout our lifetime and we are blessed for continuing this practice beyond our confirmation.  It makes for a purposeful life, one that is ever-growing and expanding with each day.  Moreover, it is even better when we do this in community.

 So how can we maintain and build on the happiness we have experienced during the first couple of weeks in September?

The answer lies in the third practice of fruitful congregations.  In July and August, I spoke about the first two, which were Radical Hospitality and Passionate Worship.  The third is Intentional Faith Development.  All three requires the church to consider hospitality, worship and faith development in intentional ways.  When we consider hospitality and worship, we take a good look at everything that is involved in those areas with the goal of doing church in such a way that church is an uplifting experience for all people present.

The practice of Intentional Faith Development realizes, as the Psalmist points out, that abiding in the Word of God causes us to have a happier life in relationship with the Creator, particularly when we intentionally study and ponder the Word of God within community.  The Psalmist continues:

“And he/she shall be like a tree firmly planted [and tended] by the streams of water, ready to bring forth its fruit in its season; its leaf also shall not fade or wither; and everything he does shall prosper [and come to maturity].”  (v. 3)

Our children look to the adults in their life to set the standards for their life.  Intentionally planning to come to worship on Sunday mornings begins to set an important foundation for them.  However, it is not just about them, it is about maintaining our own foundations.  It is about staying connected to the life-giving waters of God so that we can continue to be prosperous and bear good fruit for the Lord.  In addition, I believe that during this time of discovering God’s vision for the church, we need to be firmly planted in the Word of God at all times.

 This is why I am initiating two things this fall.  Beginning the first week in October, I would be available between services (9:15 to 9:45 a.m.) for prayer and study.  Anyone who wishes to join me is invited.  Second, I am providing a daily devotional entitled “Disciplines” for members to take home with them.  We may use this as our guide for Sunday mornings but we can use other materials as the group desires.

May we be nourishing and drawing nourishment; giving, yet maintaining identity; growing and reaching, while remaining firmly grounded in the Lord.

I thank God for you,

Pastor Kathy Nealand

Interim Pastor

Congregational United Church of Christ, Farmingville, NY

www.friendlychurchli.wordpress.com

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2012 in Pastor's Letters

 

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