“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
The violent massacre of worshipping neighbors at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas November 5th, All Saints Day, was shocking and overwhelming news. But sadly, it was all too familziar to Americans in that it occurred only five weeks after the Las Vegas mass murders, and many other similar events before that. We learned that children and adults were among the 26 dead, with over 20 wounded. Cold Spring Presbyterian Church and The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) extends its deepest condolences, prayers, and its support to the congregation, its families, and the entire community of Sutherland Springs as it begins to deal with this trauma.
This devastating act reminds us of how fragile and frail human life is when exposed to gun violence and the often associated social and mental health issues that may be underlying and remain untreated in the lives of the perpetrators. Our prayers go out to the congregation and community, and everyone impacted by this tragedy. But prayers are not enough.
When I was a pastor in North Philadelphia, I observed first hand how gun violence destroyed families, took the lives of children, and devastated communities. Our congregation on Ontario Street knew it had to act so with other community partners and law enforcement, we collaborated to create a gun violence prevention program that became an effective model for us, and for other cities, too. I wonder what we might be led to do in our communities now?
This week in Louisville, the Presbyterian Church General Assembly Stated Clerk, the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II, wrote in a pastoral letter that it is long past time for a “national conversation” on gun violence as a “moral and ethical imperative that demands the action and engagement of people of faith.”
Remember that faith without action does not amount to much. People of faith must engage. But to do so requires us to connect with our neighbors every day of the week. So let’s pray, yes. Let’s make sure we shine the clear Light of Christ and provide a safe place for even more life-affirming and engaging activities for people of every age especially as the holiday season begins.
For 303 years we have cared for this community. We have a solemn responsibility to re-double our best efforts in caring through our worship and mission. We learn once again from our sisters and brothers in Sutherland Springs, our work in the name of Jesus is needed more today than ever. I welcome your thoughts, and especially your acts of love, as we mourn with those who grieve, and work with all others for justice and peace.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).
Mission Is More Than “All Are Welcome”
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by ac- tion, is dead (James 2:15-17 (NIV)).
What is Our Mission?
Well, you’d likely begin by describing our worship together on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. in our well-known red brick building, our Worship Center. Worship includes welcoming and engaging activities such as singing, praying, re- sponses, Scripture readings, and the preaching of God’s Word. In worship, whether in our personal devotional time or together, we express our gratitude and praise to God and become energized and equipped to make a positive difference in the world. But there is more to Cold Spring Church’s mission than corporate worship on Sundays. Much more.
Faith Is Action
Look around. Though our attendance is increasing (seventy-eight last week), the vast majority of people do not attend our Sunday worship. Actually, most of our community does not attend any Sunday worship. While we want to keep improving our interactive worship experience for every age group, for newcomers as well as longtime participants, we must work hard to make our faith visible, as James exhorts us to do in the passage above, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by ac- tion, is dead.”
Action Starts with Listening
When we respect others and really listen in a spirit of openness, we begin to hear stories that deserve our response. Cape May County families are being ravaged by the opioid abuse and overdose epidemic sweeping the country. While this epidemic may seem a bit distant to you personally, not far from our Worship Center a thirteen-year old middle schooler recently died from an overdose of heroin and fentanyl. The parents were as shocked as they were devastated by this tragedy, unaware of how or even why their child would be taking these drugs. This is just one of many horrific opioid overdose stories being told in our neighborhoods. While this news can easily feel overwhelming, the faith community must respond with practical resources, something in addition to, “Come to church on Sunday.”
As I left the Wawa on Bayshore Road the other day, there was a Prescription Drug Drop-Off zone that urged parents to clear out dangerous and unneeded drugs from their medicine cabinets. I wonder if we could provide prevention training in partner- ship with the New Jersey Opioid Program, or space for classes to help Parents learn how to better monitor and support their kid’s activities?
Listening Leads To Change
As we keep listening, we also recognize that some in our community have had traumatic or painful experiences related to God, religion, de- nominations, or churches in general. Our Explore God series provides a safe place for inquiry and sharing. How many have become disillusioned by religion, disappoint- ment by bad-actions associated with Christ or the practitioners of the Christian faith, or simply lack hope that their faith could once again become more meaningful and alive. While we are welcoming, our neighbors may need something more as they seek spiritual energy, hope, and possibilities.
As we move into the holiday months of Advent and Christmas, let’s renew our commitment to be more than just welcoming and more than just worship. How can we practically address urgent community needs and partner with others by learning and listening, loving and serving, inviting and building discipleship, and becoming a pro- active champion for our greater community? Of course, we still will gather for worship, but if all we do is worship on Sundays, we will miss even greater weekday opportunities God has set before us to do (John 14:12).
Action Changes Things
What connections can you make in your neighborhood? How can we help? Think about those who may need an encouraging phone call? Think about the teenage skateboarder you see on the corner, the family next door, the person walking down your street every day, or your favorite store clerk? Many have not been in a worship service recently, or ever. They may not want to, either! Realize that our world of favorite songs, sermons, and prayers will be unfamiliar to them, not make any sense, and they may feel more like outsiders.
What activities does our community enjoy? Pet lovers? Hobbyists? Community- minded volunteers? How about connecting to others around art and food? Studying the Bible? Homework help? Youth activities? Senior respite? Any car or motorcycle en- thusiasts? Outdoor fans? These activities can create natural connections that can be nurtured at Cold Spring Church.
Our community of faith has held fast to core Christian theological beliefs since its founding by followers of Christ in 1714. Let’s recommit to putting that faith in action! However you put your faith in action, know that it is deeply appreciated. I believe Cold Spring Church’s mission can achieve an even greater impact in our community as we work together! What will you do today to make your faith real?
Sincerely, Pastor Kevin
We care about the world, and we are all troubled by what we have witnessed in Charlottesville, Virginia during the week of August 14, 2017. How can love, hopefulness, mutual respect, inclusion, and equality overcome the hatred and fear we observed by White supremists and Nazis who railed and raged against human beings who were different than them? Jesus also confronted racism and hatred (i.e., Jews vs Romans, region vs region, rich vs poor, religious vs secular, etc.) that while timeless, is especially relevant to Charlottesville today. The hate-filled challenges to freedom by white supremacists and Nazis were opposed by those who stood at the crossroads, and life was sacrificed. (You can listen to a message entitled, From Chaos To Hope from Mark 5:1-20 about these crossroads of conflict, by clicking here. Discover what one person could not do alone could be accomplished by meeting Hope. He became the talk of the town.)
Since before the first Revolutionary War hero was buried in our cemetery, Cold Spring Church recognized that hatred had no place in this country. No place. As followers of Jesus, we are citizens of faith who continue to do whatever it takes to ensure freedom, justice, and liberty for all. Our own declaration as a Presbyterian congregation and our affirmation of freedom predates the Declaration of Independence by 60 years!
More than 300 years ago, citizens in greater Cape May got together to put their faith on the line at the crossroads of life when they established Cold Spring Presbyterian Church. We are connected to that stream of faith, and our own stream has even branched out to start other vital faith communities, too. The Living Water flows at Cold Spring Church.
As followers of Jesus Christ we not only share core Christian beliefs with others in our worship, but core Christian practice in mission as agents of God’s blessing in and with the communities at large. Among our core values are love, hopefulness, mutual respect, inclusion, and equality for all. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn it, but that the world through him might be saved (John 3:16-17). We are on a mission. A mission from God.
The Apostle Paul said we must never exclude based on religion, social status, or gender (Galatians 3:28-29), and it is not about conservative or liberal, young or old, or personal preferences. We engage, respect, and even seek and welcome a diversity of thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and even distinctives about theology because all of us grow when all of us are involved in listening and learning together, and holding each other accountable for positive change and behaviors. We are against what hates.
Cold Spring Church stands for something at the crossroads. We are a sign of God’s presence, peace, and power to bring hope and abundance to all. We continue to listen, pray, and work together as we seek to offer everyone access to spiritual energy. We keep finding new, creative, ways to tell the old, but greatest story ever told in ways that makes sense and can be truly heard by others, not just rehearing it by ourselves.
Please join with me in prayer for all of us as a nation, particularly those most affected by the hatred-fueled violence in Charlottesville. Let’s continue to be people of inclusion and peace in our families, neighborhoods, and places of recreation, work, and education. What we do in our life matters.
When we stand at the crossroads, we stand with Jesus, with others, and we need not despair because we know that the hope, peace, and courage Jesus offers us “has conquered the world” (John 14:28-29, 16:33).
Dr. Kevin Yoho