October 29, 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