Thursday, December 12, 2019

Joy to the World

Dear friends,

A few days before Christmas in 1997, I was in my car, making the 11-hour drive from my apartment in western Massachusetts to my childhood home in Pittsburgh, PA.  It was my final year teaching school, and we had just finished the fall semester.  In addition to luggage and Christmas presents, I was bringing home a mountain of papers to grade.  I hadn’t yet written my Christmas letter.  I was anxious about how I was going to pay for seminary in the fall and what I was going to do with my cat when the time came to move.  I was tired and stressed, traffic was heavy, and the sky above me was gray.

I turned on the radio to pass the time.  The station was in the midst of a live auction, with listeners calling in to place bids on a popular toy called “Tickle Me Elmo.”  The actual price of the toy was about $30, but supplies were running low.  The on-air auction price was near $1000, with each caller urgently explaining why it was crucial that their child or grandchild end up with Tickle Me Elmo.  I switched stations.  A Salvation Army brass band started playing “Joy to the World.”  To my surprise, I promptly burst into tears.

Into the midst of my holiday and personal stress, exacerbated by listening to desperate adults frantically pledging hundreds of dollars to secure a toy, came a wordless reminder of what Christmas is all about:  joy to the world.  Not manufactured joy, marketed and purchased by consumers; but joy as the gracious gift of a loving God—joy incarnate.  God chose to come into our midst as a tiny, fragile, vulnerable baby in order to be with us, to love us in spite of ourselves and our Tickle Me Elmo ways.

Joy to the world—that’s God’s ultimate intention for us, at Christmastime and always.  I hope you’ll join us for worship as we seek and celebrate that joy, especially as finish up our Advent waiting on Sunday, December 22; and then as we welcome Jesus’ birth once again with three services:

Tuesday, December 24:
4:30 PM - Family Christmas Service with Holy Eucharist II
10:40 PM - Concert of Christmas Music
11:00 PM - Festival Eucharist II

Wednesday, December 25:
10:30 AM - Holy Eucharist II

Friends, God’s desire is for the world he created to have the joy of being in relationship with him.  We get sidetracked by the lure of so many shallow “joys,” when the one joy we truly need can be found swaddled and in a manger in lowly Bethlehem.  I pray that each of you will experience that joy this Christmas.

Blessings to you in this holy season, and always.


Thursday, December 5, 2019

Reflections about Gun Violence from Karen Merritt

Growing up as the daughter of a Baptist minister and avid hunter in Mississippi, I know that many nights our supper table was supplemented with wild game because of my father’s skill with a rifle. Owning rifles to hunt has always been part of living in the south. As a physician working in the hospital during my training, I had an opportunity to see firsthand what guns could do to people, with death or life-altering injuries being the endpoint. In my mind, the argument has been more than the right to own guns; it is how we do as Christians address gun violence in our society?

In the Commonwealth of Virginia in 2018, 1021 persons lost their lives to gun violence. The number of gun related suicides has been rising since 1999 and nearly two-thirds of the gun related deaths in Virginia at this time are suicides.   

Although guns and gun violence are not specifically addressed in the Scriptures, human dignity and the sanctity of life do resonate with our core beliefs as Christians. If we say that gun violence leads to a disregard for human life and dignity and does not recognize the image of God in every person because it takes away life carelessly, then we must address the issues as people of faith.  There are those who say that talking about guns and gun violence is too political, but the most political person we know is our Lord. To preach "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” in the midst of the Roman Empire was pretty political. To ask people to turn the other cheek and love our enemies, or admonish his followers "whatever you do to the least of these you do to me” when Rome was all about might and wealth was radical and political. 

The emotions that lead up to the acts of gun violence: fear, anger, despair, desperation and hatred aren’t political.  They are emotions that we as Christians can help others work through without the need for violence. We can advocate for equality for all so that the desperation felt in rural and urban America doesn’t culminate in gun violence. Folks do have a right to own guns in our society, but it is up to the people of faith to help those living in darkness not become victims or perpetrators of gun violence.

Karen Merritt sings in our choir and is one of the Co-conveners of St. Andrew's Parishioners Against Gun Violence.  The Team meets regularly and holds quarterly vigils.  The next Gun Violence vigil will be on Sunday, January 26 at 4 PM.  All are welcome.  For more information about the Responding to Gun Violence Team, contact Karen Merritt at or Merrill Hemmert at

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

A Letter from the Hilton Clergy about Vacation Bible School

Dear Friends, 

For more than 30 years our churches have partnered together for Vacation Bible School. It has been an amazing ministry! Through story, art, music and play we share the good news of God’s love for us all in Jesus Christ. It is awe-inspiring to realize we have reached literally thousands upon thousands of children in our community. We make a difference for good in our neighborhood. VBS is a true blessing, and we long to see it continue. 

We are in a time of transition. You will remember last year, due to road construction we had to change our venue, schedule, and program format. Securing enough adult volunteers was a big challenge, and now we’ve had several members of our VBS Steering Committee retire after many years of faithful service. 

We believe VBS remains a vital ministry opportunity. For it to continue, though, we need a strong new leadership team and an adequate number of adult (ages 18+) volunteers. We are looking for talented, energetic and committed individuals who love to create, organize, recruit and teach. The new leadership team may follow our traditional VBS model (5 days in July, 9:00 am - noon, workshop rotation model, 30+ adult volunteers, 100+ children participants). Or the team may conceive and implement a VBS program totally brand new! 

If we are to offer VBS this summer, our new leadership team must be in place by January 15. We are looking for two members from each congregation. Program design would begin in January. Recruitment of adult volunteers would begin no later than March, and by May 15, we would need to have solid commitments from the minimum number of adult volunteers we would need to carry out the program. 

Are you ready to be a part of our new VBS Leadership Team? God is calling! Give it some prayer. Talk it over with your family. It is a big responsibility, but just think of the blessings we can share! 

If you are interested in serving on the new VBS Leadership Team, or if you have any questions, contact your church by Jan 10.  (At St. Andrew’s, contact Anne Kirchmier.)

Grace and Peace,

Natalie Chamberlain, Hilton Christian Church
Clark DeSarro-Raynal, Hilton Presbyterian Church
Anne Kirchmier, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
Elizabeth Lutz, First United Methodist Church
Tina Melusky, Trinity Lutheran Church

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Annual Congregational Meeting on Dec. 8

December 8, 2019
immediately following the 10:30 AM service

The Annual Meeting is an important event in the life of every parish.  At St. Andrew’s, not only will we elect vestry members, but we will hear updates from our newest teams (Building Implementation and Engaging the Climb).  We will also take time to thank the dedicated staff and parishioners who lead and support us in our ministries. 

Whether you are a newcomer or a long-timer, please plan to attend the Annual Meeting.  All church members 16 and older are eligible to vote.  At the meeting, we will be electing the Vestry Class of 2022.  To date, the following parishioners have been nominated:

Joel Duregger is a Claims Auditor who usually attends the 10:30 AM service.  He is an usher and PORT volunteer, and he has served on the Vestry and Facilities team and also as a youth program volunteer.

Dawn Edquist is an Organizational Change Manager who usually attends the 10:30 AM service.  She is on the Altar Guild and the Second Century Hospitality Team and leads the Building Implementation Team,

Isabel Hatchett is a retired school teacher who usually attends the 10:30 AM service.  She has served twice on the Vestry and was once the Vestry liaison to the St. Andrew’s Episcopal School Board.  Isabel has been a Delegate to Annual Diocesan Council and has served as a lector, chalicist, and Christian Formation teacher.

Lindsey Nicolai is a U. S. Army Civilian Contract Specialist who attends the 10:30 AM service.  She is a member of the Adult Choir, a lector and chalicist, facilitator of the Outreach Team, PORT volunteer, and member of the Second Century Hospitality Team.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Thanks for Giving

The year of our first century is winding down and Thanksgiving is upon us already.  It may sound trite, but we really do have so much to be thankful for.  Chief among my blessings is this church and the people here.  I am thankful for your goodness, your kindness, your generosity, your talent, your honesty.  I am in awe of the way you roll up your sleeves and get to work when need arises. 

This is the season, from now through Christmas, when we look forward to being together with loved ones.  Whether we are making turkey sandwiches for our Turkey Day homeless ministry, enjoying each other’s company at the Advent party, or gathering to listen to a beautiful Christmas concert by the Outside Wind ensemble, our hearts feel full.  As we gather around our own tables with family and friends, we are thankful, just thankful to be together, thankful to have one another.  And we remember those who are no longer seated at our tables and those who no longer occupy their place in the pews.

So this Thanksgiving, thanks for giving.  Thanks for loving.  Thanks for caring.

Thanks for being like Snoopy!

Rachel Roby