Talking About What’s Important

talking-about-whats-importantAs we make our way through our life as a family in Bedford Presbyterian church, what’s important about it for us shifts around.
We talk about it.
We talk about the sermons.
Or our children on the stage fronting the assembled parish.
Or the joys and concerns. Or the hymns. Or simply the unrelenting goodness and cheer of Paul and all the church leaders.

Sometimes, however, the sense of what’s important to us about BPC will come from farther afield.
We’ll note that our children have developed a remarkable comfort standing in front of any large group of people.
That comes from BPC we’ll say, smiling, happy.
Or when, as we watch TV we sense with some dread a hardening in the language and, at least apparently, in the hearts of many towards the most unfortunate.
We then feel a countering wave of relief and happiness that the people of our church commit, personally and collectively, week in and week out, to reach out into our community to help where help is needed. Or, better still, when we hear our children, of their own impetus, showing empathy to those in a hard way, an openness to those different from us and reverence for those that do good things.

These are the things that are important to us. We know that there’s more to come for all of us.
And for that we are deeply grateful.

Jen and Jorge

Faith in Action

faith-in-action-mainBedford Presbyterian Church promotes faith in action by providing opportunities for people to help those in need. There is nothing more debilitating to the soul than to read or hear about human suffering. In the face of so much need, it would be very easy to commiserate with others about the world’s woes without really taking any steps to improve the situation. I would not feel comfortable attending a church where concerns were voiced, but then set aside or forgotten. BPC helps others on a local, national, and international level. Since 1996, the church has taken trips with Bridges to Community, mostly to Nicaragua, to build earthquake-resistant homes for families that live in dirt floor houses with leaky roofs and walls.

erik and i

Erik and I

I have traveled with BPC five times to Nicaragua, but my most recent trip in February 2016 was particularly special. My younger son, Erik, who was a BPC volunteer in Nicaragua all four years in high school, became an International Volunteer Coordinator (IVC) with Bridges after he graduated from college. This past February, I worked in the group that Erik headed up, and was impressed with the way that he coordinated all aspects of our week, from translating for the masons and community members to leading evening discussions to keeping a group of high school students involved in the construction process. The opportunities provided by BPC during Erik’s high school years—Midnight Run, Habitat for Humanity, work trips to Appalachia and Nicaragua—had a profound effect on the way he views the world and the choices that he’s making with his time and energy. I thank the BPC community for being an important part of who Erik is today.

Chris Perry

A Bee in One’s Bonnet

stories 3Who can explain a fixation on attending the Sunday service? A whim that mutated into a yen, a turn, a habit? Go overboard: a hang-up, a compulsion? Could prove your destiny.

You’re early, say ten of ten. A mom, maybe a couple, with a child in tow, scurries around the corner.

Neat, plausible ushers, sometimes a family of greeters, welcome you inside. Accept your bulletin. Meander in, say hellos, shake on that. Find your seat.

The minister works the center aisle.

The choir rehearses bars of a coming refrain.

Q. Is the number attending (high summer or depth of winter) sufficient to warrant conducting the service?
A. Yes, when two or more are gathered. People wander in.

An organ prelude. Neighborly chatting. Join in a hymn.

Speak “opening sentences” responsively.

You may be seated.

Read a prayer in unison.

Recite The Lord’s Prayer.

Welcome to our church. Sign in, we’re homey. Here’s what’s happening.

Pass the offering. Sometimes a soloist sings from above.

Chant the Doxology. How often do we appreciate professing the Trinity?

Time to greet one another. Quick is best.

Share joys and concerns. A first grandchild. A wedding anniversary. A daughter left for college. A neighbor has cancer. An aunt is hospitalized. My sister is sinking. Some time back, a microphone was passed among the pews to facilitate communication but this proved cumbersome. Now it’s your lips to our ears, no augmentation. Hearing-challenged? So solly. We’ll lend you an apparatus. Too lazy or penurious to get a hearing aid, I gave up catching these messages. Doesn’t matter. Over time you’ve heard the run. Cancer, heart attack, broke his arm, slipped in the hallway, had a relapse, my nephew lost his job.

It’s eerie. I scan the crowd, recognize many individually if not closely, recall impressions,  incidents, exchanges, illnesses, disabilities, operations, handicaps, temperaments, judgments, appreciations, fancied slights, granted deserved, you’re shrinking, recite your monologue. In a sense I know  many among our congregants year in and year out, often marginally. At base, hearing precisions of their refrains isn’t consequential. Audited or not, those emanations are half-remembered melodies, love’s old sweet song, music of the spheres. In some endearingly conjectured, manufactured, appropriated sense, we’re in tune. So sing honey, we hear you, you’re family.

Reading from the Bible. The Message.

A hymn, all join.

A benediction. May our lives reflect where our prayers first lead.  What if we have a faulty connection or forgo dialing? Does drifting count? Who’s the judge and who’s to say? Fingers crossed.

An organ postlude pipes at full throttle. We stand transfixed.

Consider the ivory plaque sited next the wainscot of the sanctuary’s north wall,  commemorating the call of the Reverend John Herow, from 1857 to 1878. “With untiring zeal he gave himself to the service of this church.” In this elegantly bare room under Herow’s witness, we join a century of generations past. Meet, greet, announce, party, mourn, sometimes snooze, attend.

The Sunday Morning Service, a delight beyond price, above rubies. Why does anyone deny himself?

James Johnson
August 4, 2016

Working Together

stories 2When I relocated to NY in 1982, I began to check out the options available for my young children to receive the discipline of a spiritual, and not necessarily religious, education. I was tireless in my search, visiting churches and synagogues in NY and CT with no avail.

I wanted for them to have an understanding of a belief that influences one’s everyday life, one that molds character and values, one that would propel them to be kind, caring compassionate individuals with a knowledge that they had an obligation to serve those around them, to make a difference. Indeed, these sentiments were inculcated in them at home, but, I was acutely aware that the reinforcement of these values, outside the home, was equally important. Several years went by, and we, as a family, were “churchless,” and then, serendipitously, a friend, invited my son to join him on a work trip to El Salvador, led by Paul Alcorn.

This was the beginning of a long and rewarding relationship with BPC, for my two children and myself. For us, BPC is about social justice, being inclusive and open minded, never afraid to wrestle with difficult issues, about not providing glib answers to knotty problems, but rather having the humility to admit that some questions do not have answers or answers that are nuanced, about being able to say, “I understand,” or “it is ok,”when what one has just shared is off the grid, it is about a  community of people who think about the “other,” rather than the “self.”

I am grateful to BPC for co-parenting my children, giving them the tools to be critical, bold, strong and committed to ideals that matter. I thank BPC for the career choices my children made, for the way they conduct their exemplary lives, as young adults. I owe a deep debt of gratitude to BPC, because I know that what began with my children, will surely be passed on to my grandchildren, and so on,  it is unstoppable, and I can categorically  and honestly say that I could not have done it alone.

Thank you, BPC!


Families Are Complicated

stories 1Nothing in my life prepared me for being a grandparent. You’re probably thinking – what could be better than grandparenthood? Yea, that’s what I thought. I was not prepared for the disappointment and heartbreak that came along with my realization that I was a G2. I didn’t know there was a difference – silly me. But let’s face it, as a mom who had two of the most wonderful sons, I could not possibly be prepared to be shut out of their lives and then the lives of my grandchildren.

So, there I was, a child of parents who had at one time been members of BPC, but who had become anti-organized religion. I hadn’t been to church since I was maybe 5 or so. I didn’t even think of it as a shining light in the darkness or a soothing balm on my tortured soul. Not until one day I happened to walk my friend in to church one Sunday morning and on a whim decided to go inside with her.

What I found in there was acceptance, love, caring – all from people I had never met before. I think Rachel was preaching that first day and she said something like “families are complicated.” Right there, I suspected that I had found something special. The second time I came with my friend, she suggested I come up and sing in the choir. I had never done anything like that before. The only singing I had ever done was in my car. So there I was, sitting among strangers doing something I had never done before. Let me tell you, the members of the choir are an awesome bunch. They were so inviting, so complimentary, so friendly, I was totally sold.

So that is how I ended up with my second family at BPC.