(March 29, 2021)

Pastor Noel’s Musings – This Easter I am going to still be looking at the Good Friday cross rather than at the lilies and the amazing colors of the suddenly blooming crocuses.  I am going to think about the pain we go through to get to Easter.

So many have lost so much this past year.  Many of you lost loved ones to Covid-19.  Young people especially lost a year in their lives in which they would normally have learned and grown, experimented, fallen in love.  Collectively as a nation we’ve lost the illusion that we’ve moved beyond racism.  What’s left is mostly pain.

 

There’s a candy store/lunch counter in Larchmont that I go to while my car is being serviced nearby.  Dave makes me breakfast.  He’s a guy about my age.  We talk. He grew up in a neighborhood I used to work in.  The kids come in and buy candy on their way to school.   I look forward to my oil change times.  But Dave’s shop didn’t survive the pandemic.  Now it stands empty.  I’m grieving.

 

So much sadness. So much loss.  And so many deeper griefs than mine.  In the early days of the pandemic funerals were kept to a maximum of ten. Zoom wakes and memorial services didn’t help all that much.  Funeral Director and poet Thomas Lynch describes a moment when a grieving mother who lost a teenager educates a clergy person on how to talk.  He had referred to the body of her daughter as “just a shell… remember this soul is with Jesus.”  She bristled, “I’ll tell you when it’s just a shell!  For now and until I tell you otherwise, she’s my daughter.” 

 

Our Lord didn’t get a funeral, did he?  Or rather his followers weren’t allowed to grieve him publicly.  In that the early disciples were much like us today with our truncated and awkward grieving for the people, places, and life moments


 

that we’ve lost.  Am I wrong to compare the tears of the three Marys’ over Jesus dying to the anguish we feel today, whatever you are grieving?  One of the first rules of grief work is this:  “The least helpful thing for grieving people is other people telling them how they should be doing things.” (Judith Skretney, “Top Seven Things to Know about Grief.”)

 

In his memoir, A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis recalled thinking to himself when his wife died, not “Do I still believe in God?” but rather “What kind of God do I believe in?”  That is the question for us all now.  Where do we see God’s love now?  What kind of God do we believe in?

 

Martin Luther said in reply, just look at the cross because there you see God’s truest self.  There you see God’s heart.  It was broken.  God did not hold back the only, beloved Son from death on the cross. But God is a giver, not a hoarder, of divine love.  Freedom, renewal, forgiveness are given us through the cross and resurrection.  It’s not that we deserve them as compensation for our suffering.  They are ours because the suffering and grieving God gives love away even in and through pain.  That’s God’s grace at work.

 

This Easter I’m still going to be looking at the cross.  I’m going to be wondering where Dave has gone.  But I’m also going to be thanking my God for giving love away even with a broken heart.  

 

Faithfully yours – Pastor Noel





(January 2021)

Pastor Noel’s Musings – Instead of writing about New Year’s resolutions, I want to talk with you about important work that needs to be done.  At the Community Church we’ve started a notable occasional conversation about racism.  We’ve dialoged with two other churches on this topic.  We’ve studied it in a couple of small study groups.  Some of us have attended meetings sponsored by the Resilience Coalition of Westchester County to discuss the trauma that racism inflicts on children.  We supported, in word and deed, the Black Lives Matter movement this past summer when so many took to the streets to protest the police killings of Black men.  We’ve made a good beginning.

      But the hard work continues.  It’s not enough to talk with others about issues “out there.” How are we doing, personally and as a congregation, in regard to becoming more antiracist in our outlook as well as actions?

      What I hope we can do together is engage more in conversation.  How do we bring up the topic of racism when someone we know says something that strikes us as vaguely….or maybe explicitly racist?  How deep are we willing to look within ourselves to try to see from where our gut level attitudes and feelings about race originate?

     Conversations about race need the eyes of two leaders.  I am beginning to work with a trained consultant in the New York Conference’s New and Right Spirit Antiracism project, Rev. Geraldine Howard.  Rev. Howard is a Black woman.  She is a member of the Riverside Church. She’s preached here as a guest preacher.  Rev. Howard brings different experiences to the discussion than I do.  She is also a trained pastoral counselor who works with other therapists in helping people connect more to their feelings.  Working at the feeling level of relationships isn’t my strong point.  I very much look forward to partnering with her as we do the hard work of discussing antiracism.

     What are our goals for continuing conversation?  First, I very much hope that when the national attention to racial justice issues begins to wane, that we don’t just put this topic away.  It’s a part of our national life that isn’t going away anytime soon. 

     Second, as a congregation whose roots are European American, we’ve been shaped by the Dominant culture of these United States.  Our Congregational forbears were the Pilgrims and Puritans who gave our country a taste for democracy and individual rights.  But they also bought into the slave owning system.  They had a mixed record in respecting indigenous peoples.           Whether we like it or not this history has shaped who we are now as a congregation.  Collectively we’ve benefited from being a part of the dominant culture.  What then as a congregation are we willing to let go of?  Is there something in our governance, our worship or even our theology that we would risk changing in order to be more truly multicultural?  Can we learn from Christians who come from other perspectives?

      There are no easy answers to these questions.  But we need to ask them if we are to be serious about pursuing an antiracist future. I don’t expect us all to become ardent activists.  My goal is more modest.  I want us just to be able to talk at a deeper and more honest level and make some small changes among ourselves. 

      Will you join me?

                       --Faithfully yours, Pastor Noel



(July 2020)

Pastor Noel’s Musings – We are a small congregation but we have a big heart.  We have been cautious during the pandemic but some of us have gone outdoors to protest, to push for voting rights, to help our neighbor, to visit our elders (from a distance).  We have been employed and unemployed, retired and home-schooled, bored but also engaged with new discoveries online.  In a time of economic uncertainty we have guarded our pennies but remembered to be generous to those in need. We have worshipped the living God even when many hearts are asking “Where are you, O Lord?”  We have kept the faith in spite of not possessing all the answers to all the difficult questions.

    A few weeks ago the President complained that too many churches remained closed.  He doesn’t understand.  Our church, and most churches, have never been closed!  We have Zoomed our worship into living rooms, dens, kitchens and patios from Pelham to Arizona to the West Indies.  People are calling one another and checking to see that they are ok. More people are participating in prayer and Bible study than ever before.  Attendance at worship has increased.  Along with other Pelham clergy Pastor Noel is organizing a meeting with our two local police departments to comment on their developing plans for “re-invention” per Governor Cuomo’s mandate.  We’ve helped Rev. Dr. Lillian Reynolds provide laptops to homeless children in Mt. Vernon. 

    Church has never closed. It just moved into new and dispersed realms. Church is finally

meeting people where they are at, quite literally – because we love each other and want to preserve life.  And you know what? In many ways, this incarnation of Christ’s Church is better than ever.

    God keep us moving and preserving life, and helping our neighbors, and speaking out for justice.  God keep us following Jesus!

     Yours in faith, Pastor Noel



(December 2019) 

Pastor Noel’s Musings – We enter the season of Advent on Sunday.  You know Advent as the four week time of preparation for the birth of Jesus.  It’s associated in our minds with Advent wreaths, decorating the Christmas tree, and battles over how soon we can sing Christmas carols at worship versus Advent hymns.  Each year we marvel as stores start the Christmas shopping blitz earlier and earlier.

      This Advent I’m thinking about beginnings and endings.  The very cute baby pictured above (sorry - photo missing) is not baby Jesus.  It’s Rhett, born to Channelle and Devin from our congregation this October. I am waiting eagerly to meet him in person! 

  Linda and I are fostering a puppy, a mixed breed bundle of energy named Tigger.  He came to us because the adoption Linda helped with didn’t work out. We are holding him till the  rescue group finds him a new family.  Our dogs are “tolerating” him but he makes me smile.

  You too can point to new and hopeful signs.  A child or a grandchild takes a new step in life.  You identify a new personal dream.

     Then, There are endings, too, that Advent brings to mind. Downstairs from us our neighbor Charles is on life support and his wife Tally has difficult decisions to make.  Between Linda and me we have four family/friends who are seriously ill.  A friend just passed away.  You too know loss and know people experiencing losses.  My heart goes out to Ana Pacheco whose father just passed away.

     In addition, even though we may not wish to think about it, we know that children still sleep in cages at our southern border.  Black men still are shot by the police all too readily.  In the United States alone 22 transgendered persons were murdered this year. Refugees flee violence and go hungry all over the world.

   Advent invites us, no… it demands that we learn to incorporate both joy and sadness, eager expectation and aching emptiness into our appreciation of what the Savior brings.  He comes with hope and tidings of good cheer and a promise of salvation.  But he comes too as the One who will someday come to judge the world.  He reminds us that this world is passing away and it is not all right as it is with God its Creator.   Justice and love demand more.  Are you ready?

      Get ready!  This is what Advent is for.

      Expectantly --- Pastor Noel


                         ******************************



gUEST oPINION - Robert tAYLOR - aPRIL 29, 2019

kNEEL TO PRAY

When you kneel there are multiple messages you may deliver. Such as:

 

*Genuflection: Bending, typically in worship to pray, or as a sign of respect.

*Supplication: Asking for something humbly.

*As we traditionally know it, kneeling is a positive act.

 

We are now faced with a situation where a person who kneels is interpreted as disrespectful. A negative act. There is no justification for this interpretation, but there is precedent founded in racism.

 

Do you know:

*Michael Brown

*Walter Scott

*Sam DuBose

*Philando Castile

*Jamar Clark?

 

These are African-American males who have been shot dead by white police officers, without provocation and lacking any sort of resistance. Many were retreating or running away. Under no circumstances was the use of deadly physical force justified. What do these men have in common with the act of kneeling?

 

The common bond arises out of the actions of a professional athlete who decided to honor the fallen and protest the epidemic by kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem, before a football game.

 

The football player sent out a message for others to understand that there were too many tragic events of black males being murdered in the name of the law and to bring attention to a need for evaluation.  Someone decided to bring attention to this centuries old problem. His actions were lauded by some, but predictably reviled by that segment of American society who distort patriotism to

 


justify racism. Such an act, say they, dishonors the flag and those who serve in the military.

 

To construe an act that is honorific in nature as one of disrespect is rife with hypocrisy, but understandable of those who take that position. The hypocrisy lies in the history of this country which has denied basic rights and freedoms to African-Americans.

 

Have you ever been told that you can't use that restroom, you can't buy from that food stand or you can't drink from that water fountain because of the color of your skin?

 

Let's go back to Oxford, Mississippi circa 1965. We are at a University of Mississippi football game. Before the game starts the Ole' Miss Marching Band plays the National Anthem. Everybody stands and faces the flag, hand over heart perhaps, those in uniform saluting. If you are an African-American attending this game, you're doing the same thing.

 

But if you are African-American you can't use the white restrooms, you can't buy snacks or refreshments from the white food stands and you can't drink from the white water fountain. And surely among those rising and facing the flag, and putting their hands over their heart and saluting if in uniform are African-Americans sitting segregated in the "Colored" section. Those in uniform served their country in war and combat.  Many shed their blood for their country.  Yet in 1965 at the Ole’ Miss game while the National Anthem played in the background, they are shunned.

 

Do you know:

*Terence Crutcher

*Alton Sterling

*Jeremy McDole

*William Chapman

*Eric Harris?

These are African-American males who were shot dead by white police officers without provocation and lacking any sort of resistance. Many were retreating or running away. Under no circumstances was the use of deadly force justified.

 

Times have changed from our Oxford, Mississippi circa 1965 example. But the discrimination has now taken a more evil and violent turn. Separate but equal has long been exposed as the ignorant and fallacious proposition it espouses. Discrimination now comes in other forms including acts of cruelty and cowardice by those armed bigots shooting black men without cause. And don't think for a minute there is any justification. How do you justify taking the life of an unarmed man by shooting him in the back while he's running away from a traffic stop for a broken tail light, other than by attributing it to overt racism?

 

So after dozens of similar tragedies an athlete kneels during the National Anthem, instead of standing. facing the flag, putting hand over heart or saluting. The athlete is ostracized for being disrespectful to the military and unpatriotic to the Country. Where were these accusers in 1965?

 

Do you know:  George Dorsey?

Mr. Dorsey was an African-American World War II  Army veteran who on July 25, 1946 in Walton County, Georgia was dragged from a car with his wife and another couple by the Klan and brutally murdered. His transgression was being in the company of another black man who had confronted a white man abusing his wife.

 

Do you know:  Don Newcombe?

Don Newcombe was an All-Star caliber pitcher in the Major Leagues for 16 years. As was the case at the time his career was interrupted for 2 years to serve in the United States Army. When he returned in 1952, he could not stay with his white teammates in the same hotel when the team visited St. Louis. The National Anthem was played before baseball games in St. Louis in 1952, too.

 

A controversy has emerged from a professional athlete kneeling on the field when the Star Spangled Banner, as I learned it, is played. To kneel when the music plays or the song is sung is said to be disrespectful and offensive to those who served, offensive to our Country.  Really?

 

Do you know:  Sgt. Isaac Woodard Jr.?

In 1946 Sgt. Woodard had been honorably discharged from the United States Army and was on a bus heading home to Winnsboro, S.C.   In route he was dragged from the bus, jailed and brutally beaten by the white police chief in Batesburg. He lost his eyesight from this beating. 

 

Isn’t the treatment of Sgt. Woodard and many other black veterans the real disrespect and offensive to those who served in the military?  Isn’t what continues to happen to far too many black men today the real offense to our patriotism?

 

If you are watching S. W. Griffith’s silent film classic Birth of a Nation and see the Klu Klux Klan come riding at you waving an American flag, do you stand up and place your hand on your heart or salute?  I don’t think so.  The scene is blatantly racist.  Why can’t we extend to the football player the same awareness that some evils transcend traditional demonstrations of patriotism?

 

The Kneeling Athletes kneel in supplication praying the slaughter will stop.  They firmly believe Black Lives Matter.  My Christian faith leads me to emphatically say that too. 

 

And let’s not kid ourselves.  If the Anthem played at the segregated football game in 1965, and we didn’t complain, and the flag continues to flutter in courtrooms today where murder is justified, then we have a lot of work to do.  Maybe we all need to kneel and pray.




DECEMBER 1, 2018


   When I sort my incoming mail at the church it goes into three piles:  never bother, later, and immediate response.  There’s power in three.

   But we always find four Sundays in the Season of Advent.  We light an Advent candle on each of the four Sundays before Christmas.  Traditionally a promise fulfilled in the coming of Christ is attached to each day:  hope, peace, joy, and love.  Then on Christmas Eve we’ll sing “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” The Advent promises culminate in the birth of Jesus signified by the lighting of the white Christ candle. During Advent the power is fourfold, but they lead to BIG event number five.

   Often we use numbers to lay out a melody:  “one two three, that’s how elementary it’s gonna be…”  Or to help a child learn to count: “four five six, pick up sticks.”  The key is that the progression of numbers must lead somewhere you want to go.  “Come on let’s fall in love, it’s easy.“  Advent is also a kind of number progression.  It’s cute in its way too, with pretty candles and familiar songs.  But the power comes when it leads somewhere we really want and need to be.

   As you get ready for Christmas most of us find we try to squeeze three times the usual social engagements, shopping, and communications into a finite time period.  As we rush through the four Sundays of Advent like a whirlwind we try to remember why and how the birth of Jesus brings hope, peace, joy and love to the world.  We wonder if that will happen in our lives.  But if we remember to pay attention to the message behind the four Advent candles then all our busy preparations lead us straight to the BIG event number five. 


   For that BIG event you don’t need to go to church; you need to be a church.  There will be no fireworks, not even angel choirs in the heavens.  This Christmas I hope you’ll find stillness and a calm, quiet place where you just know that God really is with you.  That’s what the birth of Christ sings out.  When you hear that melody you’ll find it’s sweeter than falling in love.  It tells you that you count forever.

   Advent helps us find that place where we can receive the message of Christmas.  It reminds us how much we need God’s quiet assurance.

   May you discover this Christmas how the threefold God came in Christ four you.  Now, doesn’t that deserve a high five?


Faithfully, Pastor Noel






OCTOBER 26, 2018

Pastor Noel posted the following commentary in the E-Tidings newsletter of the Community Church.

Here just before the mid-term elections we are all thinking about what we “hope” will happen.  Hope is an increasingly precious commodity in our life together.  Rev. Amy Thompson, the relatively new Senior Minister at The Riverside Church in Manhattan, tells this story about hope:

I recently heard a Radiolab (public radio) episode that tells the story of Alan Lundgard and Emilie Gassio.  Two twenty-one year old art students, they were living the dream in a loft in Brooklyn and studying art and basking in the glow of young love… One day on her way to class Emilie was hit by a truck.  In the ICU, clinging to her life, her parents and Alan kept vigil around her bed.

For weeks they waited for her to recover, with few signs of hope.  The doctors were getting ready to discharge her to a nursing home where she would likely spend the rest of her life.  But Alan thought there was hope.  He insisted, “She’s in there, she just can’t get out.”  Emilie had hearing loss and wore a hearing aid.  Alan in desperation tried something he’d read about in a story about Helen Keller.  He traced out on her arm the words, “I love you.”  Emilie immediately awoke briefly and responded.  But when more proof that she could really recover was demanded, Alan tried putting in her hearing aids and turning them on.  Suddenly, when that happened, when she could finally hear, everything changed.  “Just by hearing your voice,” Emilie said, “I came back.”


At the end of this touching story Rev. Thompson asks simply, “Where are you hearing hope today?”


I hear hope when I listen to our Bell Choir, the Bells of Hope, play. Despite the comings and goings of different members the bells ring on!

I hear hope when I go to visit a church family and we say grace around the table together.

I hear hope sitting in my office at church and the MTA train chugs by:  hope for commuters that they soon will arrive home….hope for our congested metro area that mass transit can work better than driving solo into the city.

I heard hope a couple Sundays ago when we baptized a baby with her family all gathered around…. I heard the hush of the Holy when we all shared a sacred moment.  God was here.


But mostly I hear hope these days when someone lovingly reminds me to listen for hope in my life.  Isn’t that kind of what we do for one another in the church… remind one another to listen?  Thank you for helping me listen for hope!


Faithfully yours --- Pastor Noel






November 30, 2017

Linda and I recently watched an Anthony Bourdain “Parts Unknown” episode set in Manilla. We learned that the Christmas season in the Philippines begins in September with songs and many parties. The whole society enjoys a three month time to get away from seriousness and to share in the joy of recognizing someone and telling them, through a gift, that they belong. Then comes the arrival of gift boxes from the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who work overseas separated from their families. It’s hard to get a box to arrive a week or two before Christmas when you send it from abroad. Plus, when you see your children or other loved ones only once every year or two you tend to over-buy out of an understandable feeling of sadness at the separation. 


Filipino culture exhibits a different attitude toward gift giving than is typically found in the United States. Their attitude toward gift giving emphasizes a gift as a means to make an occasion special and to show everyone they are included. Especially under the influence of advertising, our gift giving tends to try to reveal how special we are. We give gifts to show that we understand you, the recipient, perfectly, and thus found the perfect gift. Or in the church we hope our giving demonstrates that we are generous and kind to those in need. 


How might Christ’s birth shed a new light? 


The Christmas story tells of the three Wise Men bringing baby Jesus gifts to his birth bed in the stable: gold, frankincense and myrrh. These fancy gifts were meant to show all that the newborn babe born to such poor parents in such “mean estate” was to be, in reality, a king. Then I think of the poet Christina Rosetti’s beautiful lyrics in the hymn In the Bleak Midwinter: “If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb… yet what I can I give him, give him my heart.” The Christ child elicited a response not so much of self-sacrifice but of awe. In him we see the holy. 


Often we give gifts to show who we are. Other, non-Western cultures can show us the joy of giving gifts to include others. But the Christmas story spurs us to make our gifts point to the holy acts of God among us. 

I don’t think this means presents should become “churchy.” But we might want our gifts to capture what seems especially alive with the Spirit of Christ to us today. Are you “coming alive” in a new way? Share that. Do you have a new hope for the world? Tell people! Was there a wonderful experience this past year? Send me a picture. In every case God continues to bring us joy. This Christmas may you recognize anew that you have already received the greatest gift

of all: the gift of the birth of Christ, God-with- us.


– Faithfully and joyfully, Pastor Noel

JULY 26, 2017

A lament expresses our sadness to God.


I can’t wait to get “away” for vacation. Preparing for our trip, I wondered about the small towns we’ll drive through on the way to Vermont. “Hmm,” I thought. “I wonder what houses here cost.” The dream of a country getaway place dies slowly. Sunday, at dinner, I excitedly showed Linda and our daughter Sara an online real estate ad. “Look! This town, Hoosick Falls, has some really beautiful and inexpensive homes!” “Wow!” said Linda, “That’s a pretty house.” “Hoosick Falls?” asked Sara. “Yes, have you heard of it?” She replied, “As a matter of fact I have. Drinking water in Hoosick Falls was contaminated with PFOA, the toxic chemical in Teflon that makes it slippery.” Sara knows her stuff. Water contamination is her field. “The state doesn’t have a plan yet to clean the water. The best they can do is give people activated charcoal filters but that’s only a stop-gap measure.”


“At least now we know why houses there are so inexpensive.” Linda asked, “Is the moral of this story ‘All that glitters is not gold?’ Sarah chimed in, “I have a better one. Some online wit penned this one-liner: ‘Who’s Sick in … Hoosick Falls?’” Linda and I both groaned. “Think about how desperate people must be. You want to move out of town and get your child to clean water… but you can’t sell your home because no one is buying.” “Yes,” I thought, “the family that owned the pretty house would be happy to sell to some big city slicker from ‘far away.’”


It was my turn to be witty. “I think the one-liner for this story was coined by Anna Giordano.” Linda’s eyes widened, “That garbage recycling lady who came on so strong when she spoke at church?” “Yes, the very one,” I replied. “But she made a point that hits home. There is no longer an “away” in “throw it away.” Sara nodded: “Everything comes back to bite us. We think it’s going away someplace else and we don’t have to think about it anymore.” “But,” I interrupted, “There’s no longer an ‘away.’ All the systems are collapsing into one another.” “Right,” she interrupted me in turn. “Here’s another example. When we take antibiotics, we excrete it in our urine. Now they’re in all our water supplies and we can’t filter them out.”


Who’s to blame? Well, you can blame me. I once used a frying pan coated with Teflon. Anyone else want to raise their hand? Remember how Pogo told us years ago: “We have met the enemy, and he is us"?


My lament: O God, our actions bring us pain we do not anticipate, and we end up hurting others unintentionally. Forgive us. Heal your world. We pray it’s not too late.


Faithfully yours, Pastor Noel

March 27, 2017

We knew hosting the soup supper for the ecumenical Lenten Bible this past March 22 would prove challenging since our stoves in the kitchen are gone, and new (used) ones haven’t been purchased yet. I am so grateful to Margi and Ralph, Angela, Ana, and Austin and Gennette for bringing soups they cooked at home.


But I wanted to make soup, too. Cooking Tuesday at home got away from me, so Tuesday night I called a grocerey store and put in an order. I stopped by first thing Wednesday to talk about details. The best price I could get was $80 to feed twenty persons soup! So I said "No Thanks" and called some friends in the church.


Thank the Lord, Ana Pacheco was home. She had the cooking utensils and wasn’t going anywhere. So for $16 worth of ingredients we made enough to fill two big pots. It was a minor miracle of loaves and fishes.


We are trying out a new "Purpose Statement" as a congregation: Our current draft of it is: "Courageiously serving, as Jesus does, those iin jeopardy." Along the way to becoming a more "activist church" that genuinely wants to courageously serve those most in jeopardy in our world, we will need to sometimes say "yes" to a request before we know how to actually do what is asked. This can feel uncomfortable but the truth is churches today must skip ahead at least a generation in their decision making skills. Gone are the days in which an urgent decision can be put off to the monthly board meeting. The need and the opportunities to really make a difference don't wait any more. A great value in the secular world in which most people live is "nimbleness" in decision making. That means learning to become quicker, more flexible, and adaptive. Or, with my soup as an example, being willing to improvise sometimes when plan A doesn't work out.


This Easter we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus the Christ who brought to the world a "New Covenant" for salvation. But I believe the world had to say "yes" to God's plan. Mary had to be willing to carry God's child. Disciples needed to say "yes" to Jesus' "Come follow me." As so often in life timing is everything.


Let's celebrate Christ's resurrection by looking for his active presence in the world. Most often we encounter him where there is great need. Let's practice saying "Yes!" and give glory to God. It feels really good when we do.


With resurrection joy, Pastor Noel