Fry On Friday: “Pain” February 19, 2017

          I did not want to return there.  When I visited him in the hospital last week, it did not go well.  Ravaged by the late stages of a slow-developing cancer, he sat in the semi-darkened room, his world shrunken to now contain only a single entity—pain.  The nurse moved his wheel chair slightly in order to reach his shunt, but didn’t clear the corner.  The chair’s wheel gently bumped against the wall.  He screamed in agony. “No! No! No!” he pled.  The “Aaaaaaaah!” was not a word or a thought but an involuntary animal cry, stopping my movement, even my breath.

            We’d had meaningful visits before, during his hospital stays through the past year plus.  We’d joke a bit, offering a brief distraction from the small room that had become his world.  He’d ask the nurses to leave, and then talk to me about his living—he wanted as much more time as therapies would provide—and his dying.  He wasn’t afraid of dying, he said, just sad about leaving so much he loved.

            As I sat down he looked at me, his gaze both intense and preoccupied.  I started the familiar pattern with a light comment.  No response.  He just looked into my eyes.  I read the Bible verse that had been used in worship that morning.  Isaiah 58:12.  “The Eternal One will never leave you; He will lead you in the way that you should go.  When you feel dried up and worthless,     God will nourish you and give you strength.  And you will grow like a garden lovingly tended; you will be like a spring whose water never runs out.”  (The Voice translation)  He just looked into my eyes.  “Nice,” he whispered.  One word. 

            Why had I returned?  I knew from our last visit that I couldn’t do anything, couldn’t change the outcome, couldn’t touch the pain, couldn’t help it make sense.  Whatever he wanted from me, I certainly wasn’t giving it.

            His arms jolted as though he’d touched a hot electric wire.  He arched his back.  The spasms were beginning again.  “Just breathe, just breathe,” he chanted.  I reached out and grasped his finger.  (His hands were in fists, with his index finger pointing like a gun barrel, or signaling the number one, or just pointing at me.) His finger curled fiercely around mine.  We sat in silence as the waves assaulted him like an incoming tide.

            Helpless.  Useless.  Impotent. Incompetent.  He didn’t need me; he needed the strongest pain meds in the entire hospital, in every combination.   I said a prayer.  We sat again in silence.  Why had I come there?

            As I rose to leave and took a step towards the door, he told me why.

            “I love you, Dave.”  
  


daveDr. 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.

Rev. Fahed Abu-Akel, Palestinian Christian in Atlanta Visiting PHPC, Sunday Feb. 19

22be17ad-1ef5-4bd7-973d-dab12ab9c50cAll are invited to the final session of our “Just As I Am” series on Presbyterian 101, Sunday Feb. 19 to hear Rev. Fahed Abu-Akel teach about how we respond to God with our lives. Fahed is a Palestinian-American pastor, former moderator of the 214th General Assembly of the PC(U.S.A), and Atlanta resident. Don’t miss out on this special opportunity!

Fry On Friday: Super Bowl Haiku, February 10, 2017

Falcons.

Birds of Prey.

Feed on small game.

Big game—not so much.

            The best word I’ve heard used to describe the Super Bowl experience was “brutal.”  We were so close to a celebration this city hasn’t enjoyed since the Braves World Series in 1995.  And then we weren’t.

            When the Patriots scored their winning TD, I was glad we were home alone. It was not a time to party with friends.   I was in no mood to be polite.  I needed to explore a vocabulary not often used among proper Presbyterians.

            I recall in the era of Super Bowls XV – XXV  (a.k.a., the eighties) if you didn’t receive multiple invitations to Super Bowl parties, you were a social outcast.  Super Bowl Sunday was more than a sporting event; it was party time: New Year’s Eve, St. Patrick’s Day, and Cinco de Mayo combined.  (Plus my birthday, of course, which will soon be declared a National Holiday.)  Nobody watched the game alone.

            I found no one who was planning to attend a Super Bowl party this year.  One exception—a couple going to their son’s home, just family.

            Robert Putnam saw that coming in his book, Bowling Alone (Simon & Shuster, 2001).  Putnam observed that local bowling leagues, once flourishing, have become almost non-existent.  About as many people still bowl, but they do so individually, not in leagues.

            We do more and more things alone, disconnected, detached.  It’s  become more comfortable ordering a pizza and watching in the privacy of our own room.

            Which is no big thing, except that it’s un-Godly.  “It is not good for one to be alone,” was the second observation God made about humans.  (The first was “And God saw that it (the newly-made human)  was very good!”)   At our core, we are desperate to belong.  One of the things God wants from Christians is to help  rebuild the relational nature of our lives.

            My faith challenges me to resist my introvert self and connect with other people.  A friendly smile in the aisles of the grocery store.  A couple of sentences with the person on the next stationery bike in the Spin class. (Actually, one sentence.  After that I don’t have the breath to speak.)  An out-of-my-comfort-zone attempt to get to know the two neighbors who’ve recently moved into my cul-de-sac. 

            “Fry on Friday” is about how I practice my faith.  This weekend, I intend to consciously connect with folks, whether I get an opportunity or have to create an opportunity.  I have no intention of “witnessing” to anybody, but connecting itself is a God-thing.

            Next year, I’ll celebrate the Falcon’s Super Bowl victory among a room full of friends.

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daveDr. 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: “Letter to Congregation About Dave’s Retirement and Transitioning Process”

January 30, 2017

To members and friends of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian:

We were all a little surprised when Dave announced that he would be retiring in November.  But, I don’t think it was really a shock to anyone.  Dave has been dedicated to helping form and sustain Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church for over 30 years and deserves an opportunity to relax and have more time to enjoy many of his personal interests.  It will also give him more time to focus his time and energy on particular areas of ministry that he personally has come to love.  I am going through a similar transition after 34 years working in public health, so I can understand what a challenging decision it is to leave a role you love.

But, enough about that.

As Clerk of Session, the responsibility falls on me to help steer the process of transitioning to a new Senior Pastor.  Fortunately, there are many others who will have critical roles in this process.  This includes the PHPC Session, Presbytery staff who have a lot of experience in this area, and the Congregation, which will have the most critical role—choosing a new Senior Pastor.

We will have ample help from Presbytery. Joy Fisher and Mark Roberson have been identified to help lead us through the transition.  Rev. Joy Fisher is our congregation consultant from the Presbytery staff who has served as a liaison between the church and Presbytery since 2014. And Elder Mark Roberson is a member of the Committee on Ministry which guides ministers and Certified Christian Educators and fosters healthy ministries in the congregations of the Presbytery. 

They are very experienced with this process and will be a tremendous source of information and guidance. I have already started corresponding with them with initial questions (and I am sure there will be many more), and their involvement is very reassuring.  Other churches which are similar to PHPC, including Atlanta First Pres and Roswell Pres, have recently  been through a change of pastors after a long term of service by their previous pastor.  We can learn from their successful experiences.

The Session will name a transition committee soon.  This group will oversee the process and make sure that all of the necessary steps are being taken.  They will also be tasked with keeping the congregation informed about what is happening.

We will first seek an Interim Pastor, who will serve during our search for our next pastor.  It may seem odd for us not to move directly toward identifying our next pastor, but, we will need some time to absorb the idea of Dave’s leaving and carefully consider who we are as a Congregation and who we want as our next Senior Pastor. In our first meeting with Joy, she explained that following this process will result in a much better long-term outcome because it will provide us a cooling off period, time to mourn the loss of Dave, and time to carry out a comprehensive search and make sure we are bringing on the right person to lead us forward. 

Bringing on an Interim Pastor prevents us from feeling rushed in making those decisions.  To identify this Interim Pastor, Session will select an Interim Pastor Nominating Committee, but that committee will probably not begin to seek applicants until August/September. The Interim Pastor will not begin to serve until Dave has completed his time in mid-November and we have had the chance to give him a resounding farewell.  We are very fortunate to have three terrific Associate Pastors who will keep the ministries of the church going through this transition.

After this, the congregation will elect a Pastor Nominating Committee (PNC) to identify a permanent replacement for Dave as our Senior Pastor.  This group’s work will begin with intensive reflection on the character of PHPC, who we are as a congregation, and where we want to go from here. The congregation’s input into this vision will be critical and the PNC will look for ways to get as much input as possible. This will be done before we begin to accept applications so that possible candidates will know who we are and whether they are interested, and so that we will really know what characteristics in a new Pastor we will be looking for.

So, along with Transition Team, Session and others, I hope to try to keep the Congregation as informed as possible as the process moves along.  Look for regular updates.  If you have questions, please ask a Session member.  While they may not be able to answer immediately, we will try to get you an answer as quickly as possible.

Yours sincerely,

David Ashley

Clerk of Session, Pleasant Hill Presbyterian

 

 

The Chosen Word Newsletter: February 8, 2017

“For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building”              (I Corinthians 3:9)

“Kind is…Radical Hospitality” by Soul Pancake (December 2016)

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“THANK YOU”
from the Middle Youth Group for making our Souper Bowl of Caring collection a success! PHPC generously gave $584.16 in donations and 263 non-perishable food items, which will be given to The Hands of Christ Duluth Co-Op.

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“THANK YOU”
from the Middle and High School Youth Groups for contributing to the Special Offering this past Sunday for the PHPC Youth Scholarship Fund. The congregation gave $800 that will help offset the expenses of summer youth trips: HS Montreat Youth Conference, MS Mission Trip with Raleigh Youth Mission, and HS Mission with DOOR-Atlanta.

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Save The Date, VBS “Hero Central” June 12-16
Save the Date! Vacation Bible School dates are set for June 12-16, 9am-12pm. Come join us at Hero Central where we will discover our strength in God. Registration will open later in the spring. If you would like to volunteer, please contact Jennie at jennie@pleasanthillpc.org.  

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Called to Children’s Ministry?
Raise your hand if you feel called to serve the children of our church!
We have two fantastic opportunities for you:
1) Extended Session Leaders are needed to hang out and play with our 3-year-old-Kindegartners who go to one of the Pre-School classrooms following the Children’s sermon at 11 am worship. To sign up, contact Michelle Wilson at mjnwilson@comcast.net.
2. Nursery Worker Subs are handy when our regularly employed nursery workers are out of-town or call in sick. If you’d like to help out, please contact Rev. Jennie Sankey at jennie@pleasanthillpc.org.

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Hot Cocoa After 11 am Worship, Sunday February 12
It’s a crazy, stressful world out there. Following worship, don’t rush out the door in a hurry to get things done. Take a moment to slow down, drink some cocoa, provided by the Membership & Fellowship Committee, and visit with others.

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JOY (Just Older Youth, 55+), Wednesdays February 15 and March 1

Preschool/Senior Shenanigans!
Feb. 15
10:30 am–12:30 pm

Gina McGuire, Director of the PHPC Pre-School, brings joy to JOY as we celebrate Valentine’s Day week with the pre-school children by doing craft activities and games!
(RSVP by February 8)
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Ash Wednesday
March 1
10:30 am–1:30 pm

 We’re meeting two weeks early for special Ash Wednesday programming. The Rev. Jody Andrade will lead us in Bible study as we prepare to enter the season of Lent. After lunch, we’ll have the opportunity to attend the 1pm Ash Wednesday service. Invite your friends!
(RSVP by February 22nd)

In addition to the lunch meal, we are offering the opportunity to order additional meals in a “To-Go” box. (Suggested donation for lunch and/or To-Go boxes: $5 per meal). Please RSVP to Janice Breckenridge @ seniorministry@pleasanthillpc.org or 770-447-1673.

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Third Thursday Theology , February 16
Who is Jesus? (What a Difference a Lens Makes!)

So far, we’ve had an exciting tour through the Gospels and the letters of Paul in our Third Theology series on “Who is Jesus? (What Difference a Lens Makes!). This month we will be exploring how the book of Hebrews answers the question, “Who is Jesus?”.  Written in the mid to late 1st century, Hebrews is more than a letter. The unknown author is a dynamic preacher and teacher whose eloquent testimony to the significance of God’s revelation in Jesus is a source of encouragement to people whose faith is under attack. Let’s reach across the centuries and listen to what he has to say about who Jesus is. Join us from 10 am to 11:30 am in the Small Fellowship Hall.

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“Just As I Am” Church School Class: Presbyterians 101, Sundays through Feb. 19
All are invited to the final session of our Just As I Am series “Presbyterian 101” on Sunday Feb. 19 to hear Rev. Fahed Abu-Akel teach about how we respond to God with our lives. Fahed is a Palestinian-American pastor, former moderator of the 214th General Assembly of the PC(U.S.A), and Atlanta resident. Don’t miss out on this special opportunity!

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Afternoon Book Club, Wednesday February 22
First it was a media sensation. Then it became the #1 international bestseller A Long Way Home. Now it’s Lion, the major motion picture starring Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, and Rooney Mara—nominated for six Academy Awards! It is a moving, poignant, and inspirational true story of survival and triumph against incredible odds. It celebrates the importance of never letting go of what drives the human spirit: hope. Join for a discussion of the book from 1-2:30 pm in The Bride’s Room.

 

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  Lent Event, Sunday February 26
Mark your calendar for our Lent Event on February 26. All children of God, ages 3-300 are invited to come to the fellowship hall to learn about what Lent is all about and create the resources you need for your Lenten journey this year.
 
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Lenten Season
Worship
Ash Wednesday March 1

1 pm and 6:30 pm Worship Services
Palm Sunday April 9
8:30 and 11 am Worship Services
Maundy Thursday April 13
6:30 pm Worship Service with Communion

Fry On Friday, “Racquetball,” February 3, 2017

            I love racquetball.  I especially loved it last Saturday, when I won the match, 11-10, 11-10.  I love winning a big point, winning it with an ace serve or with a kill shot into the corner.  I love going for the winner, and when you nail it, seeing what it does to the other guy.  And I hate it when I turn out to be the other guy, seeing what it does to me. My favorite poem is about racquetball (though it could be about golf, or tennis): “I hate this game!

                      
I hate this game!
I hate this game!
Nice shot!
I love this game!”


           I’ve spent over fifty years in ministry, attempting to be nice most of that time, or at least to appear to be nice.  Racquetball is not nice.  The guys in my group are good sports, not sore losers.  (Well, most of the time.)   But we are competitive.  There’s something primal about this.  Our games are about power, weakness, potency, domination, ruthlessly imposing one’s will on another.  On the courts, we seek out each other’s weaknesses in order to exploit them, we show no mercy at a friend’s fatigue, we grasp at every advantage. Yet the friendships among us suffer no ill effects.  We are great pals.
 
            Can someone who desires to be kind also be aggressive?  Can I seek to serve others and also seek to master a killer cross-court serve?  Must I be sweet in order to be like Jesus?  On the court, in a tight game, W.W.J.D?  I believe he would go for the kill shot and display a fist-pump when he hit it. Mercy comes afterwards, court side.

            Some people believe that losing within the confines of a game is actually a way of controlling and limiting the pain that accompanies loss.  I hate to lose, but losing at racquetball is less painful than losing in an ICU or at the end of a marriage. 

            Winning, on the other hand, is so sweet.  I work on my game, because I long to get better at something difficult.  Improving is such a small part of my life at my age.  We stop getting better at so many things so early on.  There’s little power left in my game, but I can improve in other ways—finesse, strategy, focus.  I learn that power is less a matter of raw strength than of refinement. 

            Finally, when I’m on my game, I love the sense of being in control.  When I grow old, so many of the things I struggle with will be beyond my control.  I want to push my body to its limits before it pushes me to mine.  My inability to totally master this game reminds me that there is something larger than me. 

            To love something as intensely as I love racquetball is either a God-thing or an anti-God thing.  I can’t explain the connection, but I choose to deem it a God-thing.  I believe God likes anything that makes me feel as intensely alive as I do on the court.  Lost in a tie-breaking point, I’m more able to also become lost in wonder, love, and praise.

            “Sometimes, Tom, you have to do a thing in order to find out the reason for it.  Sometimes our actions are questions, not answers.”  –John le Carre, A Perfect Spy
        


daveDr. 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.