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Pastor's Monthly Newsletter Message

January 2012

~Nothing Is Lost~


“Nothing is lost.


Everything that went before is still in there somewhere,

still shaping us, still coming back to us at times.”


Members and Friends,

Has it ever happened, as you were going about your life, that you suddenly remembered a person you hadn’t thought about in years?  Perhaps it was some neighbor, or a classmate, or a co-worker from long ago.  That seemingly random person comes to mind unexpectedly.  Then, over the course of a day or a week, you find yourself occasionally returning to linger over memories of him or her.  Is she still alive?  What’s he doing now?  Where did they go?  After a short time, the person disappears as unexpectedly as he or she resurfaced…returning once again to those dark cerebral archives, waiting for a sound, or a smell, or a sight to call them back to mind.

This happened to me recently.  I was sitting at my desk, pulling together some last minute preparations for our Christmas worship, when “out of the blue” a face from long ago returned to mind.  Her name was Patricia, and she worked in some upstairs office of the library in Oklahoma City, where I was a checkout clerk.  Patricia was about forty-five, twenty years older than I was.  She took cigarette breaks every hour.  Her hair was dyed a fiery shade of red.  And though she was a pleasant enough person, her face had a simpering quality to it, as if she were forever moping about some petty grievance.  This is the face that returned to me out of nowhere, staring across the years with the same little frown as ever.

The religious landscape of Oklahoma is overwhelmingly Southern Baptist, with a large Pentecostal minority.  The little Presbyterian church I attended was often mocked by local people as “high church” (because we said the Lord’s Prayer) and “liberal” (because we recycled).  In fact, we were neither “high church” nor “liberal”…just Presbyterian.  Neighbors used to ask me how it could possibly count as baptism when the minister touches a baby’s forehead with a wet hand.  (I always told them that we believed in conserving water.)  As for Roman Catholics in Oklahoma, they were a tiny minority, and badly misunderstood by most people.  For this reason, many in the Roman fold felt a little defensive of their faith, seeking refuge in the traditions and certainties of pre-Vatican II Catholicism.  Patricia was a zealous convert to this “Latin mass” brand of religion.  She had no use for the conservatism, but she loved the medieval pageantry.  More than that, she loved shocking her fellow Oklahomans by telling them her dramatic conversion story.  Like many a passionate convert, Patricia wanted everyone else to convert, too.  Especially me.

Patricia once invited me to a New Year’s Eve party at her house, where she seated me at a secluded table with two Catholic priests who plied me with questions about my faith.  Here in Western Pennsylvania, the tradition is to serve sauerkraut at the New Year; in Oklahoma, they opt for black-eyed peas and cornbread.  The meal is supposed to bring luck in the coming year.  But ever since that day, black-eyed peas remind me of the discomfort of being ganged-up-on by proselytizers.  After my big move to Africa, Patricia sent a few airmail letters, but when it became clear that I wasn’t a likely convert to her faith, our acquaintanceship petered out.

So what was Patricia doing at my desk in Mt. Lebanon these sixteen years later?  I don’t know.  I learned about eight years ago that she died of lung cancer.  The writing of my Christmas sermon triggered long-dormant memories of her.  Red hair. Smoking.  Proselytizing.  At the start of this New Year, I find joy in the knowledge that even Patricia is still waiting in the wings, poised to spring back into my life at an unexpected moment.  Nothing is lost.  Everything that went before is still in there somewhere, still shaping us, still coming back to us at times.

2011 was a good year at Bower Hill Church.  We saw a growing number of social events, greater numbers of children in Sunday school, and more adults in worship.  “There’s good energy,” as they say.  As we expand in this New Year, we do it on the firm foundation of all the faithfulness and hard work that went before us—both in the closing year and in years far distant.  Today doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it’s the accumulation of a whole lot of yesterdays.  This fresh day in the life of our congregation—and in your private life—is the work of many hands.  And for that, we should be grateful.  Many blessings to you in this New Year!