From “The Desk of Dan: A Journey On the Move”
Pastoral Newsletter from Rev. Dan Harrison
The great Shawnee Chief Tecumseh once said, “When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light, for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food and the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies in yourself.” And for me there is much to be thankful for: My wife and kids, our health and well being, and our amazing church. My first month as your pastor has been nothing but absolutely divine. I don’t use the word “divine” lightly. I seem to find a God-encounter nearly daily while navigating through both our own faith community and the larger communities around us, learning from so many people, SO MANY THINGS! A blessing surfaces in almost every conversation with members, every walk on these forest trails, and in nearly each meeting with local clergy and city leaders—smiles and fond reflections on our church’s ripple effects throughout the area seem to quickly follow. I have inherited a monumental legacy of compassionate ministry thanks to all of you, and am honored to continue its wonderful trajectory fueled by a deep sense of justice and care.
Church of the Covenant has such an amazing, intricate story, and a story that continues to unfold before us. Of course knowing where we’ve been and where we are, are essential as we look towards where we are going. Ruth and I are so grateful to be on this journey with you. We feel it was God’s leading that has brought us here, a feeling that is confirmed just about every day. Seeing its genesis with Camp Kum-ba-yah, and its parallel work with LCF, and then its first mission endeavor, the Wood Ministry—which gave impetus to so many other wonderful missions—I am in awe. Walking around Miriam’s House and Elizabeth’s Early Learning Center today further confirmed our relevance as a body of faith, and quickly reminded me that our work is not done yet—there is still much more to do! A prayer Bev gave at EELC’s dedication hangs prophetically in its entryway, and these words called to me, “Grant that our response to the desperate need we see not be out of fear or duty, but out of hope and joy.” Bev’s cry to God more than twenty years ago remains ever so pertinent even today, hope and joy our guide.
In these first thirty days we have had at least eight of you over for “Lunch with the Harrisons” so far (if you haven’t already, please sign up over the next few weeks to join us for lunch after Sunday service; we can’t wait to become better acquainted with all of you as we journey together!). Also, in this short span I have been able to make great connections with other local clergy, including Cyd Cowgil from First Christian and Dennis Roberts from Holy Trinity Lutheran, John Vest from Peakland UMC, Byron Elliot from Rivermont Baptist, Keith Anderson from Highly Favored Ministries, James Camm from Word of Faith, Paul Boothby from First Unitarian, Carlos Payan from La Iglesia de las Americas, Shaykh Rashid from the Sufi Muslim community in Bedford, Maqsud Ahmad from the Lynchburg Islamic Association, and my marching-buddy Rabbi John Nimon from Agudath Sholom (and others); I have learned in my previous years of ministry, working with others will get you further, quicker than working alone. I have met several other great connections, and clergy (as well as retired clergy), who have all helped with my transition. Visiting with Joe Nelson and Curtis Harper, both of whom told me wonderful stories of the past, reinforced my belief in Church of the Covenant’s unique place on God’s spectrum of people-focused ministry. Attending Interfaith Outreach’s Poverty Lecture a couple of nights ago, on the heels of a wonderful visit with Mike Hickox at the Society of St Andrew, both events fittingly book-ending a fired-up speech on Monday by the Rev. Jesse Jackson at Randolph College in which he said “doing something is better than sitting around and doing nothing”, I have been confronted with some of the most pressing needs of our larger community, but none more urgent than combatting ______ (I will help you fill in the blank soon). I promise to dive more into this take-away during Sunday’s sermon, so stay tuned!
Next week we will be visiting DC (along with our delightful Transition Team) to spend time with people from Church of the Saviour—another critical part of understanding Church of the Covenant’s rich history and catalytic dynamicity. The writer Terry Pratchett once said “It is important [to] know where [you] come from, because if you do not know…you don’t know where you’re going”, and as I alluded to earlier, Ruth and I recognize the importance of fully digesting the immensity and intricacies of the Church of the Covenant’s roots in order to journey intelligently together as part of its future. This is no small task, but we take it on enthusiastically—as our initial mission together: “Knowing yourself [in this case knowing “us” collectively] is the beginning of wisdom” (Aristotle)—and so this has become a priority during our transition (one which I am sure will continue for many years to come).
In closing, as I sat out on the Lodge’s patio with Pat Haley and Tasha Gillum earlier this week, sunshine and trees enveloping our conversation, we talked excitedly about the Camp and the Church and these beautiful grounds that surround us, and the words “together”, “spiritual connection”, and “learning to play” kept resurfacing. I was quickly reminded of Jesus’ own words to his disciples, “Unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Sounds harsh, right? You may be asking, “Does this mean I can’t go to heaven unless I’m a child?” Whoa! No need to go to such extremes. Jesus explains in Luke 17:21 that “the kingdom of God is in you”. It’s a spiritual place that can be experienced during your lifetime, while on your own individual journey. It’s best not getting distracted thinking so much about the life after, and missing out on the joy of now. From Jesus’ own teachings, we see that he offers an oasis of emotional healing along our current journey that doesn’t require waiting till we depart from this life; we should find that child-like innocence as a necessary gateway into true spiritual peace. My paternal grandfather would always use the words, “simply rest in Him, Daniel” when I was faced with a difficult decision or stress due to life’s many twists and turns. Though often easier said than done, it makes perfect sense in hindsight. Like a child, whose stress is relatively minimal, I should know that God offers peace like no other—a feeling I’m sure many of us desperately miss. Often, instead, I choose to carry the load myself (alone), wallowing in uncertainty—but oh, how I secretly long to play like a child, running through the fields, earth under my feet, wind in my hair, the forest calling, where delicious mystery awaits!
Swami Abhayandanda in his work The Wisdom of Vedanta (thank you John Caldwell for turning me on to this wonderful book), talks about how Jesus, in regards to being one with Self and God, indicated a need for “releasing [our] minds from concerns for the welfare of [our] separate personalities and worldly holdings in order to lift them up to God through meditation and prayer” (p.129, 1997). Amen! Jesus certainly encouraged us to give our burdens over to him, not to carry them ourselves, alone (Matthew 11:28-29). Becoming like a child, in this innocent act of faith, releasing our stress (giving it over to God), embracing our playing in the field/forest as either symbolic or real (though “real” would be something fun to see!) is an important act of worship (of surrender). We smile and laugh in an almost giddy way, a product of this surrender—the process: Our silent awakening within, perhaps during our meditation, our prayer where an eruption of joy ensues, a “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Be free! Jesus commands it. Your body demands it. Your soul craves it. So, why not act on it?
I pray you find this freedom from stress this week. Be free, and…