Fry On Friday: “Thank You,” November 17, 2017

Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church friends:  Although I will continue to write “Fry on Friday,”  after November 17th I will no longer send it to you. If you wish to continue to read my writings after that date, you may find them at https://fryonfriday.wordpress.com/.


          Even on the bad days, I’ve never imagined doing anything else but being a pastor of a church.  This church. 

            Preaching is part of the job.  Some weeks it’s the very best part  The ideas flow naturally and I can’t wait until Sunday morning.  Some sermons, however are like C-sections, all mechanics and sweat and hard work. 

            About a month after we started worship services, I realized that I had already run out of things to preach.  You allowed me to make a fool of myself in Children’s Sermons with the implication, “Just let us laugh at you; that’ll be enough.” 

            Then you gave me the gift of time.  Time to study the scripture,  read, reflect, search for something to say week after week in a desperate attempt to answer the ceaseless question, “What shall I preach about next Sunday?”

            You gave me time for the preparation behind my sermons; you let me find God in the scriptures and in my studies. This has shaped my soul. 

            Thank you.

             Occasionally while delivering a sermon, I would suddenly be aware of how quiet and motionless the room had become.  “My God!” I would think briefly, “They’re actually listening!”  Those moments were holy because I knew it was not me you were listening to, but the word of God for us that day. “People hear the sermon they need to hear,” we preachers sometimes say to each other, “not the one we intended to preach.”   I don’t know if you heard  the message I intended to preach, but what you heard was at least preached through me, and that was a gift from you.  And God.

            Every once in a while, you’d quote me.  “I remember something you preached five years ago that really made a difference,” you’d say, and follow that with a story.  And that was the best gift of all:  you have allowed me to make a difference here, a    difference to you.

             You gave me time to prepare to preach, and you gave me yourselves.  You opened up your lives to me, giving me the opportunity to also see God in you.

             Sometimes it was beautiful, as you spoke your vows in a wedding ceremony or as you presented your child to God in the sacrament of baptism or when you affirmed in front of  God and everybody,  “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.”  Sometimes it was beautiful beyond words.
          
              Sometimes it was awful.  The phone call from the ER nurse that said, “We have a couple whose 3-year-old child has just died unexpectedly.  They’ve asked you to come.”   On the worst day of your life, you have invited me to be present.  Who am I to walk such holy ground?   God is present in you, in tough times.  For you to allow me to be in the room and share that presence was a priceless gift.

            Thank you.

            For countless plates of Christmas goodies: cookies, fudge, cheese sticks, pecans, home-made breads…and in 32 years, not a single fruitcake.

            Thank you! 

              It has been a privilege to be your pastor, to serve this church, and to take my place as part of this community of faith called Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church. Thank you. 


After founding Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church in Duluth, GA., in 1985 and serving as the head of staff for 32 years, Dr. Dave Fry retired from full time ministry this week of November 12. Please keep him and his wife Debbie and the church in your prayers as they both see what God has in store for them next on this journey of faith. 

Advertisements

Fry On Friday, “Music Will Get Me Through This,” Nov. 10, 2017

Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church friends:  Although I will continue to write “Fry on Friday,”  after November 17th I will no longer send it to you.  If you wish to continue to read my writings after that date, you may find them at https://fryonfriday.wordpress.com/.


            Music destroys me these days.  And the music carries me.  My last Sunday of 1,664 in the pulpit of Pleasant Hill Church is day after tomorrow.  (That’s thirty-two years, not counting vacations and a couple sabbaticals.)  Most days I function fairly well, staying busy, staying engaged, staying in the moment.  Then a chance encounter with a snippet of melody and line of lyrics and I’m an instant hot mess.  How is it I can get through scores of sermons dry-eyed, yet not two lines of a song without a ten-tissue melt-down?

            Music tears me apart.  And music gets me through it.   At least one of the perks of my job is that I get to select the hymns.  Here are excerpts from some of them.  They’re from Glory to God, the hymnal we use in worship.  We ended worship last Sunday this way:  #798.  All with Joyful Exultation. (Sounds like a Hasidic wedding dance.)     

Stanza four:

Dry our tears we shed in mourning; give us steadfast hope always;
     fill our hearts with expectation;  fill our songs with thanks and praise.

            My pre-grief tears are healthy mourning, I am told, so I try not to fight them.  On the other hand, whatever steadfast hope I have is pure gift and pure grace, and I embrace every moment.  My heart is as filled with sadness as with expectation, but when I  fill my mouth with thanks and praise, sometimes my heart gets carried along in the updraft. 

            And we’ll end worship this Sunday singing: #280.   Come, O Spirit, Dwell Among Us.  The F-minor melody sounds like a Braveheart battle cry Mel Gibson would use to fire up the troops.   

Stanza two:

We would raise our alleluias for the grace of yesteryears;
for tomorrow’s unknown pathway, hear, O Lord, our humble prayers.
In the church’s pilgrim journey you have led us all the way;
still in presence move before us, fire by night and cloud by day.

            It isn’t that “tomorrow’s unknown pathway” will be dreadful.  Just unknown,  like every other tomorrow I’ve ever faced.  In each one, God has “led us all the way.” I’m retiring, but God is not. God is still in the business of creating tomorrows and leading us there.

            We’re going to start with # 684  “Faith Begins By Letting Go  (to the tune of “For the Beauty of the Earth.) 

Faith begins by letting go, giving up what had seemed sure,
taking risks and pressing on, though the way feels less secure:
pilgrimage both right and odd, trusting all our life to God.

Faith endures by holding on, keeping memory’s roots alive
so that hope may bear its fruit; promise-fed, our souls will thrive,
not through merit we possess but by God’s great faithfulness.

            “Promise-fed, our souls will thrive.”  I can’t improve on those words.  Maybe singing them Sunday will help get me through this.

 


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 from PHPC and full-time ministry on Sunday Nov. 12. Send comments to “Fry on Friday” at dave@pleasanthillpc.org.    

Fry On Friday: “Another Day, Another Cruise” November 3, 2017

Pleasant Hill Church friends:  Although I will continue to write “Fry on Friday,”  after November 17th I will no longer send it to you.  If you wish to continue to read my writings after that date, you may find them at https://fryonfriday.wordpress.com/

 

             They celebrated their first wedding anniversary early last week, so technically, they are no longer newlyweds.  At age 79, he didn’t feel up to dinner and dancing, so they had a quiet evening at home.  Nothing memorable.

             What they did remember of the week was the visit to his doctor on Thursday.  “The tests show your tumor is growing at an alarming rate,” she reported, following with lots of medical terminology.   Short version, which is all they remembered:  “Stage four.  You have two to three months left.”

            They wept like newlyweds.  “I’m going to fight this,” he declared, though they’d been told that chemo would be useless.  It seemed he had only two choices:  fight or give up.  “I’m not ready to go without a fight.  I don’t care about chemo’s side effects, I can’t go without a fight.”

            “Let’s ask a different question,” I suggested.  “What are you fighting for?  What is ‘a good day’ for you?  However many days you have, what makes any of them a good day?” 

            He looked at a photo on the side table.  A middle-aged woman with hazel eyes and a Mona Lisa smile.  “Time with my daughter,” he announced.  “It feels like at last we’re just getting to know each other.   I want more of that.”

            “And a cruise.”  He fixed his eyes on his bride.  “I want us to share another cruise together. Whatever happens next, I want to feel well enough to do that one more time.”  “Let’s fight for those things, then,” we all agreed.

            Two days later he was rushed to the E.R., his body filled with pain and his lungs with fluid.  “We may have two to three weeks, not months,” she thought as she held him close. 

            A round of radiation to ease the pain, more blood work and CAT scans, some meds to reduce the fluids.   And then…laughter. The laughter of Sara from Abraham’s tent, of Elizabeth feeling her little Baptist-to-be kick in her womb, of Thomas as he fell at the feet of the scarred and risen Jesus.  Tear-filled, room-filling, raucous laughter.

            “You are not Stage Four,” pronounced the oncologist.  “Stage Two at worst.  A round of this and a treatment or two of that and I’ll see you again in six months.”  By the time I arrived, their cheeks were sore and throats raw from laughing.  The next day, they drove home to book a ship sailing out of Miami.

            They were only given the same thing we are given every sunrise:  a new day.  And the chance to ask the question, What would make this a good day?

           “This is the day the LORD has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  (Psalm 118:24)


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 from PHPC and full-time ministry on Sunday Nov. 12. Send comments to “Fry on Friday” at dave@pleasanthillpc.org.    

Fry On Friday: October 27, 2017

              I am sad.  I’m often not immediately in touch with my emotions, so when I feel melancholy, I have to figure out the source.  “Why do I feel this way?” I ask, and after a conversation with my wife or a trusted friend, I realize the cause.  I’m pre-grieving my retirement next month, or the car needs a new transmission, or I remember the score of the Alabama-Tennessee game.  Not this time. 

            Suddenly, I remember.  This month is the first anniversary of my friend Tom’s death. 

            To my surprise, that awareness doesn’t make the sadness go away or even ease up.  I have several strategies to employ:  not thinking about it, surfing the web, or my personal favorite— staying impossibly busy.  But this time I’m going to try to just hang out with the sadness, feeling it every time it surfaces and for as long as it wants to stay.

            It brings forth tears, but this week I even go out of my way to pass slowly in front of Tom’s farm, which drives the traffic behind me a bit crazy.  Hey, why shouldn’t they be sad, too? 

            Other things which usually energize me bring nothing:  I find no enthusiasm for creating a sermon this week; tonight’s Laundry Love event seems a chore; I play racquetball only because I need the exercise.  Then I wonder why everything has turned a dull gray.  Until I remember:  I am sad. 

            Though I deceive myself into thinking I’m skilled at it, I can’t separate one emotion from all the others, disconnecting one compartment of my life from all the others.  Emotionally and spiritually, everything affects everything.

            Here’s what I remember from past experiences:  when I feel really down, that’s when my Savior comes to me with some kind of comfort.  Not in a greeting-card kind of way, but in a way that is very real.  Often in the guise of another person, usually one who has experienced their own deep sadness.

            I hope and even trust that by the time you read this, I will feel joy again.  Probably by the time I announce the Opening Hymn Sunday morning.  Because being in God’s presence with my people always helps.
  


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 from PHPC and full-time ministry on Sunday Nov. 12. Send comments to “Fry on Friday” at dave@pleasanthillpc.org.    

Fry On Friday: “Busy,” October 20, 2017

       October.  May.  These are the hardest months in the work of a pastor.  We get lots of empathy about Christmas and Easter—“Oh you must be so busy this time of year!”—but I’m revealing the big clergy secret:  the holidays are relatively easy.  Music and the choir do the heavy lifting at Christmas; Holy Week services are quiet and reflective and almost plan themselves. (Especially if one is blessed with Associate Pastors.)  October. May.  These are the killer months.

            By October the fall programs have kicked in and are running full speed.  It’s Stewardship time.  Sermons, a theme, letters and emails to the congregation, posters, announcements—all on top of the weekly routine.  I thought it would slow down this year, as I’m less than a month until I retire.  Nope.  Full speed.

            Which is to say, I’m too busy to be aware of God these days.  Now it’s Friday and I’m trying to find time to write about something I haven’t had time to experience. 

            I wonder if Moses saw the burning bush because he was slowly walking, not driving by engaged in a Blue Tooth conversation on his cell phone. 

          I cannot find a verse in scripture reporting that a blind man, or a leper, or a short Zacchaeus was overlooked by Jesus just because Jesus was in a hurry with his mind on his previous conversation and his next engagement at the same time.

            I’ll do better next week.  Not more, but better.  Here’s how I hope that will happen:

  • I will reclaim the start of my day spending the first hour at home.  There, calmly and deliberately,  I will address the important matters.  Mid-morning, when I arrive at work, I’ll expect to play defense, trying to deal with whatever is thrown at me.  I will lose the illusion that once in the office, I get to call the plays. 
  • I will not open my email until noon.  I will resist the desire to just check it briefly, only for a minute.  Because it never ends up being only a minute, and it destroys my focus with a thousand urgent distractions.  I will also not open email after dinner.  “Just checking” results in just lying awake for an hour while I await sleep to arrive. 
  • I will schedule margins.  I’ll leave empty spaces between events in order to breathe, reflect, prepare, or simply rest.  (Checking email is not a form of rest!  Sorry—I needed to repeat that as a reminder to myself.)  No more back-to-backs.

           None of these offer a solution, of course.  But they’re what I know to do when I need to do less.  Maybe, as a result, I’ll notice God’s flame burning brightly though not consuming. 

            I have to stop writing now.  I’m fifteen minutes late for a meeting.  By next Friday, that isn’t going to happen.  I promise.  Well, I hope. 


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 from PHPC and full-time ministry on Sunday Nov. 12. Send comments to “Fry on Friday” at dave@pleasanthillpc.org.    

Fry On Friday: “Las Vegas,” October 6, 2017

9Ominously, like a lion in its lair,
he lurks in secret to waylay those who are downtrodden.
When he catches them, he draws them in and drags them off with his net.
10 Quietly crouching, lying low, ready to overwhelm the next by his strength,…
12 Arise, O Eternal, my True God. Lift up Your hand.
Do not forget the downtrodden….
17 O Eternal One, You have heard the longings of the poor and lowly.
You will strengthen them; You who are of heaven will hear them.
18 Vindicate the victims and the injured
so that men who are of the earth will terrify them no more.
Psalm 10, The Voice translation, slightly modified.

Nice Psalm.  But this week I need more than words of prayer; I need to take action.  What on earth can I do about this?  The cries for gun control and retorts of Second Amendment rights have  the repetitiveness of an auto play loop.  I’ll eventually join that discussion, but not yet.  I want to do more than express my opinion about politicians’ debates.

Here are some ideas.  None of them solve the matter of violence; but they’re perhaps a step beyond total helplessness.

·      I want to attend the next big concert booked for Atlanta, whoever is performing.  (Dear God, have mercy upon me; please don’t let it be heavy metal!)   I will purchase my tee shirt, raise my illuminated cellphone, and rock my aged body, not for the musicians on stage but for the people of Las Vegas.  I will continue their love of music and keep alive the joy they embraced that evening and allow music to lay its healing touch on my wounds.  I refuse to allow fear to keep me away and isolate me as a citizen of our community and our nation.  I am going to seek out a large crowd and be part of it.

·      I also want to try to score tickets to an Atlanta United soccer (Excuse me, I mean “futball”)  game.  Not for the soccer, but for the singing.  I’ve watched on TV, marveling at 70,000 fans on their feet, singing the entire event.  The ones not waving banners have their arms wrapped around each other.  I want to be part of that:

I refuse to allow shootings to make me stop treating strangers as neighbors.  More than a possible threat, every person I meet is still a potential neighbor.  I will affirm that faith-truth, even with people I encounter beyond the Stadium.  And if they spell “futball” different from me, I can live with that.

·      I will attend the next funeral I hear about, even if the deceased is someone I only slightly know.  I will join in the hymns, stand for the scripture, and bodsw my head for the prayers.  I will weep with those who weep, and refrain from speaking any horrible clichés about this being part of God’s plan.  I will participate in the power of shared pain, for shared sorrow brings us together more than a hundred victory parades.

·      I will wrestle with God to accept that life is hard, that we are a fragile species, and that the most beautiful people can be taken in a split second.  No gun control or right to bear arms will make us safe; no security procedures will remove all danger; no theology will explain it satisfactorily.   Nevertheless, I will try to continue to trust in God, the Prince of Peace for my well-being, even as I continue to seek effective actions to take.


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, September 28, 2017

             When we circled up at the end of a non-stop Laundry Love evening, Safir  broke away from his conversation and hurried to join us for our closing prayer.   It had been one of our busiest nights, with clients arriving at the laundromat in a steady flow for two hours.  More first-timers than normal, many of them new in town, made us wonder how word of Laundry Love gets out so quickly.  “Free” translates easily into multiple languages, it appears.

            Two pre-school boys with their grandmother, filled with desire for the contents of our snack tray, yet too shy to even make eye contact with the cookies themselves until Grandma gave them a nod of permission.  They then faced the impossible dilemma: chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin.  When told that “both” was a viable choice, it was instantly Christmas morning! 

            The middle-age mom with her son who is adult, though only physically.  Newly arrived from Louisiana, she is an insurance claims processor, here to service phone calls from Florida.   She packed for the trip in a hurry, so the two of them transport their laundry in about 25 small grocery bags, most of which tear from the weight.   

            And Safir, who hasn’t missed a Laundry Love event in months.  He’s a native of Pakistan and lives nearby.  In the laundromat he follows us around like a lonely puppy.  Nearing sixty, he tells of being a nuclear engineer until diagnosed with a brain tumor.  “It was the size of a golf ball!” he reports, his shaky hands indicating the girth of a basketball.  He now endures constant headaches and dizziness. 

            His tumor was removed but has returned and thus he travels daily to Emory Clinic for radiation.  I’ve given him a ride to tonight’s Laundry Love, because if I don’t, he’ll drive himself, which frightens us all.   The clean clothes are a side bar; he’s there for the companionship and, recently, for the closing ritual.  During the prayer, when his name is mentioned, his eyes fly open.

            Afterwards, the two of us heft his sizeable bag of clean clothes into my car.  “Does someone share this apartment with you?” I inquire as we pull into the driveway.  “I live alone,” he replies.  “Do you have family here in town?” I ask.  “Oh, no,” he shakes his head.  “What about in the U.S?”   “Dave,” he says,  “I have no family in the entire world.  Just me.” 

            I sit behind the steering wheel, trying to absorb what that must be like.  “Then we will be your family, Safir.”  “You already are,” he shrugs, as though it were the most obvious truth in the world.

            This week I have been grateful for every person in my life.  I am not alone in the world. 


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.