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 

World Relief Refugee Ministry: Celebrating Burmese Friend’s Citizenship!

It’s been a good while since I’ve communicated with you about what’s happening with our 33 refugee folks.  We’ve been a bit delayed waiting on a new family; things have slowed down even further than before as I’m sure you may have guessed from watching the news.  But we will have another family before long.  God is working with them even now!

All our families are doing well.  Our first two families bought houses last year, and No Nawn Kil and her six kids are supposed to close on a house this month.  These days I pretty much just help advise our families on business matters, budget things, school, and Medicaid and food stamp renewals.  Not too exciting and not really worthy of an email to you. They have all become quite self-sufficient, which is the goal of our efforts.

I found out today that we had a very exciting milestone yesterday and I couldn’t wait to share it with you!  Ms. Helen Thluai, Run Luai’s daughter, who was in our second family and who arrived here with us in 2011, took the oath of citizenship yesterday.  And how appropriate to do it on Flag Day!

Here is Helen just after the ceremony with her certificate of U.S. citizenship.  She is the first of “our” Burmese refugees to pass the citizenship process, but her parents and Ngun Lan’s family are proceeding through it now.  Prayers for them!

Helen works in the produce department at the Publix in Duluth across from Walgreens, so if you happen to see her there, please say hello and congratulate her on this remarkable achievement.

–Dave Huffman, elder on Mission & Outreach and coordinator of World Relief ministry at Pleasant Hill

Fry On Friday: “Adam and Eve,” June 16, 2017

Here’s how the Bible starts out:
              Genesis 1:  “Six Days of Creation and the Sabbath.”
              Genesis 2 – “Another Account of the Creation.”
              Genesis 3 – “The First Sin and Its Punishment.”

            Maybe.  Maybe not.  The headlines are not part of the Bible; they’re insertions, added by the publisher.  (The above were from the New Revised Standard Version; your headlines may vary.)   I’d like to create my own headlines, at least “in the beginning.”

            Instead of considering the first story of the Bible as about creation and how sin entered the world, I’d like to think of it along a different theme.  I think the Bible starts with a story of the most important thing in life, something we cannot do without.  I’m assigning Genesis 1-2 a new headline:

            “The First Story of Love.”

            Multiple times the story uses “good” to describe our world.  Only once is the description “not good” used.  “It is not good that the man should be alone…”  (2:18)  A person without love:  not good.  We are made for relationships.

            Eve had been instructed by Adam not to eat from that tree in the middle of the garden.  Don’t even touch it.  (3:3)  Note God hadn’t prohibited touching the tree, just don’t eat from its fruit.  (2:16-17)  But Adam took it a bit further.  We’ve always had a tendency to be stricter than God.  This strictness eventually damages love.

            Eve desired wisdom, so she ate.  And she got what she desired.  Before that, her relationship with Adam had never been truly equal:  Adam was first; Adam had spoken directly with God; Adam named everything.  But now Eve was wise.  She looked at Adam; he was clueless.  He just didn’t get it.   Who’s the unequal partner now, pal?

            What did Eve do with her wisdom?  She could have used her new wisdom as an ace-up-her-sleeve for the rest of time.  (Oops—no sleeves yet.  Sorry.)  Instead, “And she also gave some to her husband…”  (3:6)  She opted for equality over superiority.  Love doesn’t take advantage.

            “…and he ate.” (3:6)  After all, like the serpent said, the fruit hadn’t killed her.  Yet something in her had died, Adam could see that.  It horrified him.  The side effects of that tree’s fruit—not pretty.   Maybe Eve told him what she’d done; maybe he put it together by himself.  He was faced with a tough choice:  to be right with God, or to be with Eve.  “…and he ate.” He chose Eve.  Love often asks us, “Do you want to be right or do you want to choose love?”  (Can I get back to you on that?  Because I so love to be right!)

            Of course the story is about sin and banishment from Eden.  But maybe we’ve overlooked that the story is even more about love.  And love eventually always gets messy.  Love always demands a hard choice.  At first you fall in love (“bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”).  But to stay in love, you have to choose.

            There follows a long section about the consequences, and they are not pretty.  Love doesn’t solve everything.  So they made clothes, to hide what had never been a problem before.   Then God gives them a going-away gift.  “And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.”  (3:21)  “If you’re going to wear stuff, you’ll find these much better,” God seems to say to them.

            Apparently God, too, set aside being right and chose to be in relationship with this beginning-to-love couple.  Perhaps they’d been made in God’s image after all. 

            That’s the story of love.


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: “Mercy,” June 9, 2017

Splat. The freshly grilled, heavily marinated pork loin landed on the floor, missing my shoe by a couple inches. Not even “splat!” with an exclamation mark; just a plain, unremarkable plop. But the landing strip of the loin’s brief flight was the den carpet.

The five-second rule does not apply to cream-colored carpet. Although I scooped up the fallen loin instantly, the carpet just under the light switch now had the appearance of a tragic road kill. Not only the color of dark rust, but a marinade odor that caused me to instantly lose my appetite for the new grilling recipe that had such potential for success until a moment ago.

Did I mention the carpet is cream-colored? And 99% of it remains so.

I was clearly and totally to blame. The loin did not jump; I dropped it. I was not texting while walking, but I should have been more careful. Rounding the corner my attention wandered for a fraction. Splat.

A quick rinse under warm water restored the loin, now lightly marinated instead of generously coated. But the den carpet. I sat at the dinner table, the stain etched into my vision. The family conversation by-passed my sullen, silent presence. My wife had shrugged it off, “Stuff happens, Baby. Don’t worry about it.” My son, who’d been upstairs, didn’t notice. “Great loin, Dad! Could use a little more marinade, though.” The dog rejoiced at my spillage. I was the only family member who was not happy. With an exclamation mark.

Only one way to deal with this.   Mercy. I’d prefer every other way. I’d so much rather win approval and admiration through my solving things, because I’m pretty good at that. Or by making it someone else’s fault; I’m super-good at that. Mercy was the only way I was going to get over this mess, which the rest of the family had already accomplished. Me having mercy on me—that’s a challenge.

What I need to do is so obvious: forgive myself, apply grace to my own life, admit that I too am a sinner (and a spiller), and set it aside. See—I’ve managed to turn mercy into another project for me to accomplish. I can’t do mercy, only accept it. That’s the hardest part—you get mercy by receiving it, not by accomplishing it.

I’m still working on this. Or not working on it, just letting it happen. Meanwhile, if you want to have mercy on me about anything, drop by for lunch. We’ll have leftover pork loin sandwiches. If you don’t mind a little carpet fiber around the edges.

*Those of you who’ve read Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy will recognize the source of my thoughts. If I borrowed them too directly, I hope she’ll have mercy.


Dr. Dave Fry is the senior and founding pastor of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church in Duluth, Georgia, which was started in 1985. He will retire in mid November after 32 years of faith-shaping ministry at Pleasant Hill. Please send comments on the latest “Fry on Friday” post to Dave at dave@pleasanthillpc.org.

Pentecost Sunday June 4: Wear Red! (And Summer Schedule Begins!)

Pentecost Sunday, June 4–Wear Red!
Come celebrate Pentecost–the coming of the Holy Spirit among Christ’s followers (as wind and flaming tongues of fire) and the birth of the Church Universal as told in Acts 2!

Wear red,  which is the liturgical color for this special Church holiday that is observed by Christians across the globe.

If you don’t have any red, wear symbolic colors of flame like orange or yellow.

Or buy a brand new red PHPC T-Shirt!
Available for purchase in the Narthex, outside the Sanctuary on Sunday!!!! If you want to grab a shirt before Sunday, stop by Jody’s office this week.

Also, don’t miss out on our Summer Schedule!

Fry On Friday: “Talking Politics,” June 2, 2017

           Six identified Republicans, six Democrats, and four undeclared. We’d gathered to talk politics, agreeing to check all weapons at the door. We declared that we intended not just to talk but to listen. We wanted to hear the other side’s viewpoint from people we already held in high regard. So we tried. We really did try.

            And it worked!

            We learned that since November’s election, we’d all changed in at least one way. None of us relies on a single source of news and information any longer, as we now feel every source is biased to some degree. Some of us supplement our preferred-biased news with news from the opposing bias. Others replaced former favorites with new suppliers. (Sirius XM’s POTUS channel, the BBC, and The Week magazine received high ratings, with a healthy dose of skepticism recommended.)

            We shared stories of awkward holiday visits with families, where we felt like the Lone Ranger surrounded by rustlers. When politics came up, we were called names, branded as fools, and seriously considered sleeping in the car. With the doors locked. Then, several days later, a cousin called wanting to hear more about our view on an issue we’d talked about.   Not every visit with every family, but enough to identify a trend.

            We knew we sounded like gullible children. But maybe, we whispered, just maybe the worst of the antagonism and rancor is beginning to pass. Maybe the divisiveness in our nation is not an irreversible trend that will only grow worse, but is about to peak, to be followed by a counter trend. Maybe we’ll begin to listen to each other again.

            We see no evidence of that in the media. We certainly don’t see evidence in our politicians. If we are to become one nation, it will have to come from the people. People not necessarily in agreement, but willing to engage and work side by side. It will have to start with the one we see in the mirror.

            We closed the way all meetings should close—with pie. And because it had been a tough meeting, pie a la mode. And prayer, of course, but it was over pie that we talked about kids, and holiday plans, and reaffirmed our friendships.

            Afterwards, sitting in my car, I had my own closing prayer: “Lord, I haven’t heard people engage civilly and respectfully about politics in a long time. Where did that come from?   Was that You in the room, Lord?”

        Who’d a thunk?


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.