Fry On Friday: “The Old Man and the Wedding,” July 14, 2017

The bride was lovely.  The bridesmaids, all nine of them, were lovely.  Even the groomsmen attempted to be lovely themselves.  All went smoothly until…  (You knew that was coming, didn’t you.  Why does every wedding include the word “until..?”)

An elderly gentleman stood up from his seat in the second row.  Just stood up, in the middle of everyone and everything.  After a moment, he turned to his left and began making his way into the center aisle.  The minister had stopped speaking by now.  The gentleman turned, not toward the back of  the sanctuary, but toward the bride and groom.  We checked our programs and understood:  it’s the grandfather of the groom; he’s going to say a few words.

Which he did, after climbing the two steps to the chancel and taking his place before the couple.  He spoke eloquently of marriage, with the wisdom of an 89-year-old who had been a groom himself sixty-some years before.  I know this man.  He is a giant among intellects—former college president, former head of the doctoral program of a prestigious seminary.  He is a men among men, teaching winter wilderness survival to National Park Rangers.  Now he is old.

He spoke, among other things, of what he termed “erotica.”  This made the bride briefly cringe, not because she was opposed to the matter but because she did not want to envision an 89-year-old aware of such things, much less considering them important.  Wisely, the old man lingered here for only a couple of sentences.  “It’s a wonderful source of pleasure and I recommend you try it sometime, if you’re so inclined.”

Having finished speaking, he began to retrace the route to his seat.  The steps now fell as a sheer precipice before him.  He hesitated.  Being a mountain man, he knew that far more lives are lost during a descent than while reaching the peak.  The congregation held its breath.  He cautiously, slowly, deliberately swung his right foot forward.  When it landed  tentatively on the middle riser, it was joined in matrimonial harmony by the sturdy cane in his left hand.  After successfully reaching this small precipice, there was no pause.  Instead, a chaotic, hell-bent-for-leather race to the bottom.

Once safely arrived, he looked up at the guests and smiled triumphantly, “I can still hold an audience breathless,” he observed for all to hear.

For a few moments, the old man had given the gift of the elders.  He had slowed us down, at least enough to become aware of the holiness of holy matrimony.   The groom, without uttering a sound, had proclaimed for all to know:  “I still want to hear what my grandfather has to say.  If it takes a while, you folks can wait.”  The old man, beyond his words, had made his own vow as well:  “I can, and will, climb mountains for you, my young man, if you but ask.”

Hurrah for erotica.  But there are other forms of love that shape us deeply.   This unspoken exchange between a young groom and his elderly grandfather was that day the most treasured wedding gift of all.


Dr. Dave Fry is the senior and founding pastor of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church in Duluth, Georgia, which was started in 1985. Send comments to “Fry on Friday” at dave@pleasanthillpc.org.

Fry On Friday: “Putting Things Into Words,” July 7, 2017

Preparing to be a minister, I learned Greek.  I can read the Parable of the Good Samaritan in the original language.  I wish that I had learned carpentry.   I wonder how often, after a day filled with words, weary of conversations and beatitudes and mountainside sermons, Jesus turned to his carpentry tools.  While the disciples circled up with their after-dinner wine, to discuss the day’s encounter with the rich young ruler, I see Jesus retreating to the workshop with  plane and adz.

I love words.  Putting things into words is what I do.  “What’s the sermon about this week, Preacher?”  “Pastor, would you lead us in prayer?”  “Dr. Fry, can I ask you a question?”  I give people words.  Sometimes I wish I could put things into my hands.  Like a carpenter with a chisel.

Early yesterday morning, the day after our friend died, Bill and I sat just outside the stables on The Farm, gazing across the field that glittered like diamonds in the morning dew.  Our friend had died suddenly.  The woman he loved had kissed him goodbye, then spent the day at work, not knowing until she returned home to find him that her world had ended.  We sat mostly in silence.  What could words add?  My knowledge of the original Greek was no help to either of us.

“Too wet to mow that hay,” Bill observed.  “I’m getting way behind, but we’ve had so much rain all I can do is wait for it to dry.”  I nodded in affirmation, aware that he was speaking both of hay and of tears.

After the hundredth deep sigh, I rose to leave.  “Can I show you something?” Bill asked as we reached his truck.  He pulled out a small box.  “Ever collect arrowheads?” he asked.  Hasn’t every boy who grew up in the southern mountains?  He opened the box.  “I’ve stopped collecting them.  Now I make them.”  Thirty sharp triangles of flint, quartz, and antler.  Some large enough to stop a bear; some the size of babies’ teeth, all Bill-made works of art.  “Hold that one up to the sun,” he ordered.  It sparkled like a kaleidoscope.

I put things into words; Bill puts things into his hands.  Creating arrowheads, chipping away at stone and flint to create shapes, Bill has a capacity for touching truth that is beyond my grasp.  Bracing myself against the assault of grief, I had felt my heart harden up like  a neglected lump of Play-Doh.  I needed to work through the loss, and knew I had to work it, not talk about it.

The memorial service will be held in a few days.  I will be asked to lead it, to speak a few words, and it will be an honor to do so.  I hope my words are of some help.  This morning, I think I’ll stop by The Farm and ask Bill if I can have an arrowhead to carry in my pocket as I speak.


Dr. Dave Fry is the senior and founding pastor of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church in Duluth, Georgia, which was started in 1985. Send comments to “Fry on Friday” at dave@pleasanthillpc.org.

Fry On Friday: “Braves Front Row Seats,” July 30, 2017

            Loving baseball as I do, I share a portion of Braves season tickets.  My seats are almost directly behind home plate, though on the highest level of the ballpark, far distant from the playing field.  Not prime seats, but it’s what I can afford and I enjoy them thoroughly.

            Last week I invited three friends as my guests to a Braves vs. Giants game.   As we got in the car, one of my friends produced four additional tickets.  “They’re from my boss; nobody at the office could use them.  I thought we’d check out how good the seats are.”   Answer:  pretty damn good!!  Row 1, Field level.  You know when you watch a game on TV and in the background behind the batter you can see a few fans?  Those seats.  That night, we were those fans!  I examined the tickets and learned the face value was $475.   Each.  This is what is called an upgrade.   This is what Paul had in mind when he wrote,  “The one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”  (2 Corinthians 9)  And that’s this Friday’s lesson, right?  Nope.  Guess again.

            Did I mention these up-close seats included access to a lavish buffet and open bar which were totally gratis?  Chipper Jones sat a couple tables away, but he didn’t ask for my autograph, so I didn’t ask for his either.  Surrounded by luxury, we even enjoyed the 90 minute rain delay.

            Frankly, my high-altitude seats, offer a better view of the game, the positioning of the fielders, the base-runners’ leads.  First Row seats distort distances and perspective.  From Row 1, however, the game becomes very personal.  We could see the expression on the umpire’s face when a batter argued a called strike.  We could hear Nick Markakis (Braves outfielder) chatting to a friend from the on-deck circle.  We saw the catcher grimace when hit by a foul tip.  We felt like we were part of the game itself.

            I enjoy my high-altitude seats where I can dissect and analyze the game.  But I’ll opt for up-close and personal every time.  Even without the free food.  When God invites me to abandon my distant objectivity and throw myself into intense involvement, I hope I’m awake and have the courage to accept the challenge.  That’s my lesson for this Friday.

            Lesson #2:  I don’t think often about heaven.  But after spending three hours in heaven at the ball park, I can warm up to it.  Right now, heaven is a distant concept I can affirm in theory.  If eternity with God is as up-close and personal as a Row 1 seat, I can dig it.  Who knows—in heaven Chipper may want my autograph.

 


 Dr. Dave Fry is the senior and founding pastor of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church in Duluth, Georgia, which was started in 1985. Send comments to “Fry on Friday” at dave@pleasanthillpc.org.

Red Cross Blood Drive on July 9

Be Wonderful! Be A Hero!

Donate Blood!

Red Cross Blood Drive@ PHPC

Sunday July 9
2 pm to 7 pm
Fellowship Hall

To schedule your life saving donation, please go to http://www.redcrossblood.org

and enter sponsor code: PHPC

or send an email to ivy.campbell@redcross.org.

Free T-shirt and pizza to all participating donors!!!!

 

Rides for Refugees

Happy Summer! Are you free one Sunday (or more!) to drive our Burmese friends Hem and Tung to and from church? These two wonderful kids enjoy church and our inter-generational church school. We’re looking for volunteers to either drive them from their home in Proctor Square Apartments to the church; drive them from church to home or both!

As a reminder, we need to have two adults who have signed the PHPC Child Protection Policy to be in the car, each way. As always, thanks for your commitment to getting these two friends to PHPC on Sundays.

Click HERE to sign up!

Fry On Friday: “Two Children,” June 23, 2017

             Fry on Friday is supposed to be about how I experience God in my own life.  Didn’t happen this week.  Instead, I stood just off-stage and watched God in other’s lives.

            Third day of Vacation Bible School. Noonish.  Parents from the community arrive to pick up their children. (About half of our participants were non-church-members from the neighborhoods around us.  This means our VBS reflects the cultural and religious diversity of our neighbors—“Red and yellow, black and white…”  Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, “None”.)  Mom and Dad spot their pre-school son across the room and go to him.  “Come on, Big Guy,” smiles Dad.  “Let’s go home.”  The child’s face twists into abject sorrow.   “NO-O-O-O!” he wails. 

            It’s been a long morning and it’s time for lunch and he’s got to be tired.  I get that.  But something is happening that makes him want to stay. He’s had fun.  He’s made new friends.  He feels safe and cared for by adults who were strangers at the beginning of the week.   He didn’t get saved; VBS conversions last week—zero.  But if a young Buddhist/Muslim/None child grows up remembering that this Christian church is a safe place where he’s welcomed, God has had a good week.

            Sunday morning I’m sitting in the back row of an intergenerational Sunday School class.  We’re being told the story of the 30+ Burmese refugees whom we’ve sponsored as they’ve moved to the U.S.   We’re also celebrating the first of them becoming an American citizen.  One of the refugees, a six-year-old girl, colors intently, pouring 100% of her artistic talent into choosing crayons, applying the pigment, appraising her progress.  It’s a demanding task, and when it’s complete, she’s weary.  She puts the paper aside, looks up, and climbs into the lap of the woman sitting next to her.

            This woman with the available lap, along with her two daughters, spends each Saturday morning reading to the child and her siblings. She’s lost track of the number of hours she’s spent with this little girl over the past year.  This small act of climbing into a lap is the result—so natural and so absent of deliberation that neither adult nor child gave it any thought.  I, however, saw the heavens open up and angels ascending and descending as the seraphim sang, “Holy, holy, holy!” 

            Maybe God didn’t touch my life this past week.  But God put me in the right places at the right times so I could see it happen.  Good enough.    
 


Dr. Dave Fry is the senior and founding pastor of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church in Duluth, Georgia, which was started in 1985. Send comments to “Fry on Friday” at dave@pleasanthillpc.org.

Clerk’s Corner: Transition Team Report, June 22, 2017

Dear Congregation,

The first of several opportunities to consider the future direction of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church has been completed, and I wanted to let you know some of the take-aways from that event.

On May 20, more than 20 members of Session met together for a Foundations Retreat. This was an opportunity for the Session to recall and discuss programs and ministries of PHPC since our founding, what programs and ministries have been continued, what programs and ministries were tried and discontinued, and why.

Although I was not able to attend, the Transition Team has since met and discussed what arose at this retreat.  Two things struck me most when the Transition Team was talking about this: the consistency of the focus of our ministry since Day 1 and the wide variety of programs we have tried over the past 32 years to accomplish this ministry.

From the very beginning, PHPC has focused on providing a grace-based message of relationships to God and to each other. Starting with our mission statement, “Connecting faith with everyday life”, we have looked for ways to spread the love and grace of God to our congregation and to the surrounding community. We have always emphasized the cooperative nature of the leadership of our church. 

Whether we are seeking new elders for Session or someone to help serve a meal, we have always tried to be inclusive, welcome new ideas and reach out to encourage all members to be involved. We have always cared for those around us, whether that was the children and young mothers in our community, prompting us to create a Christian Preschool; creating Care teams for Seniors; or focusing on mission trips for adults, families and youth.  We embrace diversity, providing a safe, positive and nurturing environment to explore our differences. This makes us a more complete body of Christ.  And we have always sought to have a variety of programs so that, no matter people’s interests, there will always be a way for them to participate in ministry.

The programs and ministries were the second thing that struck me as we discussed the Foundation Retreat. I had forgotten many of the ministries that we have had over the years. But, just reading the list brought back many memories. I remember now how cutting edge it was to have a female Associate Pastor who actually preached from the pulpit; that now seems like ancient history. We also tried some different forms of worship over the years including the Sunday night contemporary UpWord! Service and the Southern Gospel service.

I was reminded of special fellowship events like our softball and basketball teams, the Open Door singles group, the 30s group, square dancing, 50s night, PHPC family camp, and alternative Christmas parties.  I remembered spending the night at the Clifton Men’s Shelter and some eye-opening events that really encouraged a lot of people to move out of their comfort zones. I was reminded of the first time we tried other outreach opportunities including International Mission trips, Family mission trips, Youth mission trips, Rainbow Village, and Family Promise. And other significant steps in a developing congregation were illustrated by the various dedication events as we built our first facility, an education building, the West Wing, and then the current Sanctuary.

As we prepare to bring in a new Head of Staff, we all need to consider what programs and ministries are important and critical to the life of PHPC, which could stand to go away, what we might want to bring back and try again, and what new ideas for ministry we might try. The Congregation Assessment Tool will be available in the next several weeks and it is very important that everyone provide input.  Don’t leave this to others and assume that someone else will bring forward your ideas. We need to hear from everyone.

David Ashley
Clerk of Session, Pleasant Hill Presbyterian