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Body Builder Faith

What is faith? How would you describe your faith in one sentence? What difference does your faith make? These are some of the questions I posed to our pre-confirmation 6th graders this past Wednesday night as we sat in my office talking together. “This is getting deep!” one of them said to me as we wrestled with the idea of faith together. Indeed, faith can sometimes seem like one of those deep conversation topics that is hard to grasp.

In the biblical book of Hebrews, faith is described as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (11:1).” I encourage you to commit this verse to memory, highlight it in your Bible and recite it often. It’s short, sweet and to the point. Faith is both hope in God’s promises for the future and conviction, or trust, in all of God’s works that we cannot see.

The pre-confirmation youth and I talked about how God gives us all the faith we need. We don’t have to go out searching for faith. We don’t have to worry about if we have enough. God is the giver of faith and God always provides. This conviction that God has and will give us faith is something in which we can take comfort.

But, that’s not all! Faith is like a muscle. We all have it, but only some of us exercise it. When we exercise our faith, it gets stronger. We can feel it in a more pronounced way. It becomes visible to others. Faith becomes something we think about and engage with through the exercise of worship, prayer, scripture reading, service and life together in Christian community.

As I’m passionately discussing exercising faith with our 6th graders, one of them looks up at me and says, “So, basically, pastors are body builders.” Immediately, there was lots of laughter from all of us! But, it is not just pastors who are called to be body builders, it is all of us in this faith community who are called to exercise our faith and coach others along in exercising their faith, too.

I continue to be amazed by the faith of our young people and the ways that God is working in and through them. I’m thankful for all of the teens and adults in our congregation who are serving as body builders of the faith to help our children learn how to exercise their faith muscle. I hope you will prayerfully consider how God might be calling you, too, to get involved in body building in our faith community.

How Much is One Ton of Food?

The calendar has now turned to February, which means that it is time for us to get to work stocking the ECHO food pantry. While we support ECHO’s work and collect for their food pantry throughout the year, February is the month when Abiding Presence takes responsibility for ensuring there is plenty of non-perishable food, toiletries and household products on hand to meet the needs of our neighbors. Stocking the ECHO food pantry is February is a longstanding Abiding Presence tradition. It is also more important than ever as the needs of our neighbors increase.

So, what can you do? Bring food, toiletries and household products each and every time you come to church this month. When you’re at the grocery store stocking your pantry, replacing your shampoo or picking up laundry detergent - buy double and bring one set to church for ECHO. If you’re grabbing cans from your pantry, make sure they haven’t expired. If you have children or grandchildren, take them with you to the store to help shop and then bring the items to the donation bins at the church. It’s a great way to instill a sense of service from a young age.

Our goal is big - ONE TON of food, toiletries and household products! The fact that February is the shortest month of the year doesn’t deter us from setting a big goal. We know that working together we can meet the needs of our neighbors and ensure that the ECHO food pantry is well stocked.

Supporting Each Other and the Community
Nadia and I took advantage of the nice weather one afternoon this past week to scooter together around the neighborhood on our scooters. She was only a little bit faster than I was up the hill!

Nadia and I took advantage of the nice weather one afternoon this past week to scooter together around the neighborhood on our scooters. She was only a little bit faster than I was up the hill!

As some of you may have heard, I had some minor post-holiday foot surgery to take care of an old injury that flared up and wouldn’t heal on its own. At this point, I’m well on the way to recovery with the minor inconvenience of not getting around quite as easily as I normally do. I’m back in the office and leading worship and looking forward to seeing all of you.

While I’m always grateful to be part of our amazing faith family, I’m especially grateful in times like these. Having so many offers for help from people who I knew I could call on was invaluable. Thank you!

Here at Abiding Presence, we’re always looking for ways to support each other and the community. We’re excited to be launching a new support group this month for parents and caregivers of children with ADHD that is affiliated with CHADD, a national ADHD organization. The first meeting will be Thursday, January 24 at 7:00 p.m. and is open to people in the church and community. The support group was the idea of one of our members who was looking to connect with other parents of children with ADHD. Abiding Presence was happy to help provide encouragement and resources to make the group a reality.

Our Parents of Teens Group will also resume meeting this month on Wednesday, January 23 at 7:00 p.m. This group is facilitated by a licensed social worker from the community who comes in to provide conversation and guidance for parents raising teenagers. We also host a monthly Metal Health Family Support Group facilitated by a pastoral counselor.

If you have an idea for a way that we can better support one another and you’re willing to help take a lead in making it happen, please reach out to me. The church and I are here to provide encouragement and resources. I’d love to see a relaunch of our meal ministry to provide meals to members of the congregation who may be recovering, grieving or welcoming a new family member. I also know there are plenty of other support groups that might be helpful for us to launch or community groups with which we can connect. There are lots of possibilities, we just need people with a bit of time and passion.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! How are those New Year’s resolutions going? I admit, I haven’t been perfectly adhering to my resolutions to eat healthier, exercise more, and finally use that Rosetta Stone software I bought to learn German!

But resolutions, even if they’re not perfectly kept, are worthwhile in helping us think about how we are living our lives and if our lifestyles really serve our well-being. I invite you to consider some resolutions to tend to your spiritual well-being this new year. Perhaps it’s by setting your alarm clock 5 minutes earlier so you can spend a few minutes talking to God to start your day.  Or by downloading an app on your phone with devotions that you can read or listen to: Pray as You Go or Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals are two that I use every day. Or perhaps you can download a bible app and read a chapter or two a day…I have a Year-long Daily Bible Reading Plan I can share if you’re interested!

I encourage you to consider some of these more spiritual resolutions, not because God requires us to be perfect or because we’re trying to level up and unlock saintly status. I invite you to consider some of these practices so that you may grow in relationship with God: trusting in God’s love and will for our lives instead of operating out of our own insecurities, fear and desire for control.

God doesn’t ask perfection, just our presence. Consider what you can let go of so you can be less frantic and more present with God and those around you. Be present in 2019 with the God who loves you beyond all understanding, in your daily life and also with the Body of Christ here at Abiding Presence. Life and faith are not a solo journey; abide and be present with us as we walk the way of Christ together. Jesus didn’t walk alone; neither do we. Thanks be to God!

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What if...

Like some of you, I’m in the frantic stages of shopping, wrapping decorating and preparing for Christmas. I envy those of you who have had your gifts wrapped and under the tree for weeks. Right now, I wish I was you! I may have started listening to Christmas carols in mid-November, but I didn’t get wrapping until just this past week.

In the midst of all of the preparations as both a pastor and a mom, we had not one but two families with whom we have worked throughout the year approach us to help provide Christmas gifts for their children. Many thanks to all of you who jumped in to help in the midst of your own family preparations! As a church family, we were able to provide gifts for nine children in two families in addition to all of the toys we collected for ECHO’s Christmas shop.

Working with these two families, I’m mindful of the needs of our neighbors for resources. We have amazing social ministry organizations in our community such as ECHO, the Lamb Center, the Shepherd Center and others, too, who support families and seniors throughout the year. But…those organizations cannot possibly meet all the needs of our all neighbors on their own.

As we prepare to head into the new year, one of the things I ear God calling us to do is to find more opportunities to provide resources to those in our faith family and to our neighbors through our community center, especially in regards to health and wellness. The possibilities for us are endless! A parish nurse, a social worker, trained volunteers from the congregation who are willing to help our “walk in" neighbors get connected to social services. What if we had trusted therapists on site and provided childcare for parents during their appointments? What if we expanded the support groups we offer to provide one for caregivers and/or a grief support group? What if…?

I invite you to start dreaming, praying and listening to God about how we as a church can continue to best provide for the needs of our faith family and our neighbors. Come the new year, I’d love to share a cup of coffee and hear your ideas. We have such an amazing congregation, that the possibilities of how we might expand our ministries really are endless. So, if you have some time and/or some passion, start dreaming and praying!

Latte, Light and Luke
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Early this past Monday morning, before anyone else was in the building, I took my latte into the sanctuary, lit the first candle on the advent wreath and began reading the gospel of Luke. Reading through the familiar story of my favorite gospel once again, I found myself drawn into the story with eager anticipation. It is a reminder that Christ’s birth doesn’t come at the end of the story. As I keep preaching, “God isn’t done with us or our world.” Reading through Luke’s gospel in preparation for Christmas reminds me of that truth.

In the midst of this busy time of year, I invite you to join me in the Advent discipline of preparing for Christ’s birth by reading through the entire Gospel of Luke between now and Christmas morning. At 24 chapters, it makes for an easy one-chapter-a-day kind of a read. If you’re starting now, there is plenty of time to catch up in the one-a-day reading. You can also just take an hour sometime and sit down and read the whole thing from beginning to end. If you would like to bring your latte over, you can light the advent wreath and read in our beautiful sanctuary. (You’ll find a candle lighter tucked inside of the pulpit. Just be sure to blow the candle out when you are done, please.) It doesn’t matter where, how or when you do it, just make a commitment to do so sometime between now and Christmas morning.

As people of faith, this is a time of actively waiting, watching and preparing for Christ to come again. Reading through the Gospel of Luke is one way to engage in it this Advent season. See what surprises you as you read through the gospel story. Listen to what God is speaking into your life right now.

CoverMeredith KeseleyAdvent
Christ is Coming...Again!


I love Advent! It is my favorite season of the entire church year. It is a time of watching and waiting, preparing and hoping. Together, we cling to God’s promise that Christ will come again. Advent is the season in which we recognize that God will have the last word over the mess of creation and the muck of our lives. These four weeks before Christmas are filled with promise and hope for our futures. Advent is my most wonderful time of the year! 

During my pre-pastor and early-pastor days, I was an advent purest. I thought Christmas carols shouldn’t be sung until the Christmas Eve service, decorations should wait until as long as possible to be put up and that there should be a clear distinction between the four weeks of Advent and the 12 days of Christmas.

But then, something happened. I started looking around and realizing that we (the church) were missing out on a huge opportunity! Our culture was spending the whole month of December (and November and most of October, too) teaching people the meaning of Christmas - bargain shopping, snowmen, decorations, cookies, songs about jingle bells - and the church was relatively silent.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good cyber Monday sale like everyone else. Christmas cookies, jingle bells and Santa Claus are all part of my family’s celebrations, but they aren’t the meaning of Christmas. They aren’t why we celebrate.

I’ll confess that this year I started listening to Christmas music in mid-November. I still love Advent. I continue to cling to this season of promise and hope that assures us that God is not yet done with us or our world. Christ is coming…again! Thank goodness! It is abundantly clear that the world as it is today is not the world God would have it to be.

BUT, I also believe the church needs to reclaim its role of teaching about the meaning of Christmas. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. This is a powerful and important message that the world needs to hear…now!

So, starting this week we’ll slip a Christmas carol or two into our worship. We’ll begin looking at not only the promises of Advent, but the promises of Christmas, too, through the eyes of people like Zechariah, Elizabeth and Mary.

Indeed, Christ is coming…again! The babe born in Bethlehem was the beginning, not the end, of God’s kingdom coming near. As people of faith, we live in the tension of this in-between time when Christ has come and when Christ will come again. We are Advent people. We are Christmas people. We are God’s people who trust that God has come, God is here and God is not yet done.

From our Senior Pastor and Council President

WOW! You never cease to amaze us. Thank you for the faithful, generous and inspiring financial commitments you have made for 2019. It was an amazing weekend last weekend celebrating what God is doing in our midst.

So far, 136 households have offered commitments for the coming year. We reached the $5,000 challenge gift goal of 75 new/increased commitments by Celebration Weekend last weekend AND the $2,000 challenge gift goal of 50 additional commitments by Thanksgiving. That’s an additional $7,000 for our ministry this coming year. Thank you to all of you who have committed to helping make our vision a reality in 2019. There’s still time, though, for those of you who have not yet submitted your commitments to do so.

We promised in last week’s e-news that there was news coming about a big step we are taking right now toward our 2019 vision. Now, we’re ready to share that news!

We have hired Katy Moran as Interim Senior High Youth Director. We have been dreaming about and praying for a Senior High Youth Director for several years. When Pastor Keseley met Katy at a synod meeting, she immediately recognized her as having the gifts and skills of the kind of person for whom we have been praying. While we weren’t in any kind of formal search process to hire a Senior High Youth Director, the church council decided to embrace this “Holy Spirit moment” and bring Katy on board through May.

Katy comes to us as a member of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Herndon and a 2018 graduate of Longwood College. She started college with plans to become a special education teacher and then heard the call to ordained ministry. She will start her Master of Divinity at United Lutheran Seminary in the fall of 2019. Katy has spent the past five summers on the staff of Lutheridge Camp in North Carolina. She is well trained and equipped to bring all of the faith and fun of Lutheran summer camp to our youth ministry. Katy will work alongside our existing youth ministry team “Making Firm the Foundation” in preparation for our Log College Project grant project that will launch next fall.

Katy will start with us Sunday, December 2 and will be present at both worship services and the Abiding Table that morning. Please take a moment to introduce yourself and welcome her to Abiding Presence when you see her. We’re thankful for the work of the Holy Spirit that has connected us with Katy and for the opportunity to bring her on board for this school year.   

We say this often, but we continue to feel like it is an exciting time to be the church here at Abiding Presence. Thank you for all the ways you are helping to grow and shape our ministry for the sake of the world.

Blessings,

Rev. Meredith Keseley
Senior Pastor

Steve Lucky
Council President

This Weekend is Celebration Weekend!

You are an amazing group of people! Our congregation never ceases to surprise me. Watching the Holy Spirit work in and through you is a tremendous blessing. Looking ahead to 2019, I can honestly say that I am as excited as ever to take get to work Making Firm the Foundation at Abiding Presence. Thank you for ALL the ways you come together to be the church to make ministry happen. This weekend we are going to celebrate!

As of this moment, we have 105 households who have offered financial commitments for 2019. A big thank you to all of you! Of those 105 commitments, 81 represent new or increased commitments. I am thrilled to share that we not only met, but also surpassed our goal of receiving 75 new/increased commitments by this weekend. This means we will receive a $5,000 one-time challenge gift from a family in the congregation. What a blessing!

But, that’s not all. When it looked like we were closing in our first challenge gift goal, another family came forward to offer a second challenge in order to help emphasize just how much every single commitment – regardless of size – matters in our faith community. We currently need only 29 more households to offer their commitments prior to Thanksgiving in order to receive a second challenge gift of $2,000. If you haven’t yet submitted your commitment, please help us meet this goal. You can submit it online or we will have commitment cards available at worship this weekend that can be placed in the offering plate.

This weekend we are going to celebrate…and get to work making our vision a reality as we seek to together be the church for the sake of God’s world. We will be blessing quilts made by members of the congregation to be sent to Lutheran World Relief and then distributed to people around the world in need. Our Log College Project Design Team will be commissioned at the 8:45 a.m. service as we get to work re-imagining our ministry to and with senior high youth. All of our pre-confirmation kids who have baptismal anniversaries in November will be recognized and blessed. We’ll gather around one of Michael’s home-cooked breakfasts at the Abiding Table for faithful conversation. Our Sunday School kids will gather in their classes for another week of learning. This week’s gospel text and sermon will help us think about our response as disciples of Christ to the brokenness of the world. Then, in the afternoon, we will gather for the CROP Walk with other faith communities in our area to stomp our hunger. It’s going to be quite a weekend. I hope you will both be at church and be the church.  

Oh, and that’s not all…the church council and I have an exciting announcement to share about something your generosity is going to allow us to do right now to take a big step toward furthering our vision. We’ll be sharing the good news during the announcements at worship and follow it up with a congregational letter next week.

Thank you! Thank you for your commitment to being the church and for the privilege of serving as your Senior Pastor.

Life Changing Ministry...Literally!
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A couple of weeks ago I was teaching confirmation and I watched it “click” for one of our confirmation kids. I had a group of them standing around the baptismal font learning about what it means to be baptized children of God. We were talking about the promises God makes to us in the baptismal waters and suddenly the magnitude of these promises hit a particular kid. It clicked. Being a baptized child of God suddenly meant something and was relevant in a way it never had been before. I watched as if a weight suddenly came off this young person’s shoulders, a smile spread across their face and they exclaimed with sheer joy. It was amazing! In that moment, standing around the baptismal font, I took a moment to silently give thanks for the ways this particular faith community is changing lives…literally!

Around this same time, I asked one of our church members to do something particular to their professional background. The church had a specific need and I knew this person was the person to meet it. I also knew I was probably asking a lot. It wasn’t a quick hour or two and done kind of thing. When I checked back in with them about it, I was blown away to hear them say to me, “This project has been a blessing to me,” and then they went on to tell me how. In the midst of an unexpected turn in the conversation, I once again took a moment to silently give thanks for the ways this faith community is changing lives…literally!

Again, around this same time, someone walked into the church off the streets looking for assistance. I engaged in the usual conversation about grocery gift cards and our food pantry when the person said, “I know this is a church, but I have this problem…” At this point we sat down and they shared their story. I was able to speak a word of God’s love into their story where they had previously heard judgement and condemnation from the religious community. Sitting in that suddenly holy moment, again I silently gave thanks for this ways this faith community is changing lives…literally!

Week after week, I am privileged to see the impact Abiding Presence is making on people’s lives – both people in our congregation and people in our larger community. Thank you for the ways you make this life changing work possible through both your presence in our faith community and your financial support for our ministry.

This week we are asking you to please make a financial commitment to Abiding Presence for 2019. For those of you who have been around for a while, you will recognize this as our fall stewardship campaign. For those of you who are new to the church, this is the way we anticipate income for the coming year in order to responsibly set a budget for our ministry. We need to raise $60,000 in new income for 2019 to make our vision for ministry a reality. I hope you will join me in increasing your commitment to Abiding Presence for the coming year.

Additionally, this year we have a challenge grant of $5,000 that has been offered if we meet our goal of 75 new or increased commitments received by Celebration Weekend – next weekend! Please turn your commitment in online or on paper by this Sunday at noon. Next week our stewardship team will be calling households who have not yet turned in a commitment to invite them to be part of making our vision a reality.

Thank you for all of the ways that you are the church. Thank you for the ways you open yourselves up to be transformed in this community. Thank you for the ways you are being the hands, feet and voice of Christ to others in our faith community and beyond. We are the church together. As always, I am grateful for the privilege of being the church with you as your Senior Pastor!

Blessings,

Pastor Keseley  

All Saints Sunday

All Saints Sunday is one of my favorite Sundays (and Saturdays). I look forward to singing For All the Saints all year long. The reading of the names of those who have died this past year is one of the most sacred acts I am privileged to perform as your pastor. The image of the great cloud of witnesses surrounding us is one to which I personally cling in my faith life.

This year, we’re observing the Festival of All Saints a bit differently. Rather than scrolling the names of our loved ones who have died, we are creating a visual display around the altar. We will see a glimpse of the great cloud of witnesses that gathers with us each time we worship and celebrate the Lord’s Supper. There will be pictures and names of people who have passed away. It’s not too late for your loved one to be included! Simply bring a picture with you when you come to worship and place it on the display at that altar.

We will also read during worship the names of all of our loved ones who have died since the last Festival of All Saints. We will toll the bell for each person who has entered into the great cloud of witnesses this past year.

All Saints isn’t just a time of remembering those who have died, though. It is also a time of giving thanks for the living saints among us. We will begin our service around the font reading the names of all those who have been baptized since the last Festival of All Saints. We will celebrate these living saints who have been named and claimed as children of God and who are counted among God’s saints today.

Martin Luther understood all of us to be simultaneously saints and sinners. Saints, according to Luther’s understanding, aren’t perfect, miracle performing people. Instead, Luther defined saints as forgiven sinners. Luther is quoted as saying, “The saints are sinners, too, but they are forgiven and absolved.”

We are all saint…and sinners…and when we worship we are joined to the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us. So let us come together to give thanks “For all the saints who from their labors rest,” the saints among us and the saints to come.

A Timeline through Our History
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Exciting things are happening at Abiding Presence! Earlier this fall we shared with you the news that Abiding Presence was chosen as one of twelve congregations across the country (and the only Lutheran congregation) to participate in a "Community of Practice" with the Log College Project through Princeton Seminary. We're now getting to work discerning, learning, praying and listening to how God is calling us to innovate our ministry with and to the senior high youth. We're thinking about both the youth who are already at Abiding Presence and the youth in our area who might be searching or longing for a faith community. 

Each quarter during the 2018-2019 school year we will be given an activity to help us reimagine our youth ministry. Our first activity has been to research the history of Abiding Presence and to share it with the whole congregation so we can discern, learn, pray and listen to God together. Specifically, we have been looking at the footprint of our church's innovation. The more we have researched, the more we have discovered just how much innovation we have in our history! Whether it was transforming a movie theater into a worship space when we first began, changing the seating direction in the sanctuary, launching three distinct worship experiences, dreaming of playground or launching weekday ministries to children and families such as MOPS and Mainly Music - Abiding Presence has been a church listening to God's bold vision and reimagining what the church might look like.  

As you come to church over the course of the next few weeks, please take a look at the timeline running on the walls that tells some of our story. It's not inclusive of every single thing we've done in the past 40 years as it would take a renovation project to give us enough wall space for that! It does, however, offer some highlights of where we've been and how we've responded to God's call. 

We need you to please do more than just look at the papers on the wall, though. Please take a moment to prayerfully walk the timeline with one of the "Guide through History” papers. Jot down what surprises you, excites you or where you experience God nudging us into the future. When you're done, place your "Guide through History" in the box in the church office. We'll have a drawing for a special prize "historical prize" from the guides collected. 

More than anything else, please join us in praying for our hearts and minds to be open to how God is calling us to be church in the future.

Remembering the Saints
Image of a church altar on All Saints Sunday

Image of a church altar on All Saints Sunday

We will celebrate the festival of All Saints in worship the weekend of November 3-4. It is a time for us to give thanks for all the saints - the loved ones and friends who have died - and draw strength, courage and faith from them. It is one of the most meaningful weekends of worship of the whole year for me personally. In fact, I wait all year to sing with gusto the hymn “For All the Saints” as I remember the saints in my life.

One of the most powerful things about All Saints Sunday is that it offers us the opportunity to know and trust that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who have died and gone before us. When we gather around the altar for Holy Communion, the air between heaven and earth is as thin as it gets. Holy Communion is a foretaste of the heavenly feast to come. It is an opportunity for us to connect with our friends and loved ones in the great cloud of witnesses in the most powerful of ways. We believe that when we share in Holy Communion that we do so with the body of Christ on earth and the saints in heaven.

We’re going to try something a bit different this year as we remember the saints who have gone before us and are part of the great cloud of witnesses. We want to create a visual representation of the friends and loved ones who gather with us at the Lord’s Table not just on All Saints Sunday, but every weekend we worship.

In order to do this, I’d like to invite you to bring in a picture of your friends and/or loved ones who have died. It can be in a frame or not in a frame, any size or shape you wish. Please put your name on it so we can be sure to get it back to you. Pictures can be dropped off in the church office anytime before November 3 or you can bring them to worship with you the weekend of November 3-4 and put them directly on the altar. If you would rather not bring a picture, you can fill out a name card with your loved one’s name or email the name for us to fill it out. These name cards will be displayed along with the pictures. I hope it will be a beautiful representation of pictures and name cards to help all of us experience power of being surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.

We will also be reading the names of anyone who has died since last All Saints Sunday. If you have a loved one who has died this past year, please email the name along with their date of death (or approximate date of death). We will read these names aloud in worship.

If you have any questions or would like to be involved in helping to put together our display of saints, please let me know. I look forward to celebrating all the saints with you next month.

All Are Welcome
Photo by  James Coleman  on  Unsplash

Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

Week after week, Pastor Heidi and stand behind the altar and offer the invitation, "This is the Lord's Table and all are welcome here." Every one in a while someone stops us after the service and asks, "Do you really mean all?" We do! We really do mean that all are welcome to gather around the Lord's Table. You will be welcome regardless of who you are or where you are on your faith journey.

This weekend we're launching a four week sermon series and congregation-wide study of Holy Communion. We will be dwelling in God's word and digging in to what it means to be fed and forgiven at the Lord's Table. Together, I hope we will all grow in our understanding of God's love for us that is manifest in the tangible form of bread and wine. Our preschool and elementary school Sunday School classes will be learning more about what Holy Communion means in age appropriate ways. Our senior high and adults will be gathering in small groups to expand their understanding of the sacrament beyond what they might have learned as children in holy communion classes. I'm excited for us to be on this journey together as we take a step on our discipleship journeys. 

Having what is called an "open table" for communion is an important part of not only the faith community of Abiding Presence, but of the whole Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). We are quite clear as a denomination that the altar isn't our table. It's the Lord's Table. We aren't gate keepers of it, but invited guests to it. When we gather around the Lord's Table, we are fed, forgiven and sent out to invite others to come and to be fed and forgiven, too. 

Join a Small Group this Fall!
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What an amazing weekend of worship we had last weekend as we kicked off another year of ministry together! We had 120 kids in Sunday School, nearly 100 adults at the Abiding Table and 376 people in worship. We continue to love watching the Spirit work in and through all of you. 

At the end of the month we will be kicking off another congregation-wide small group experience. For those of you who have been around a bit, you will remember that we lifted up launching a congregation-wide small group ministry as an important part of the job description for our Pastor of Discipleship when we called Pastor Eickstadt last year. One of our 2018 goals as a congregation was to launch two sets of congregation-wide small groups. Last spring our first small group experience launched during Lent with great success with 45 people in 6 groups. Small groups help us live out our mission of Connecting People to Christ through Community by creating spaces for forming and deepening relationships with each other and which Christ.

The theme for our fall small groups will be “Gathered Around the Table: Fed & Forgiven.” We will be looking at Holy Communion and growing in our understanding of what happens each week when we gather around the Lord’s Table. In addition to our adult small groups that we will be studying this theme, we will be preaching on it in worship from September 29/30 through October 20/21. During that time our preschool, elementary and senior high Sunday School classes will be following a curriculum learning about Holy Communion, too. This really will be a congregation-wide time of learning and growing in our relationship with Christ and each other.

Unlike our Lent study, our fall small groups will not require you to read a book or prepare in any way. You just need to show up! Small groups will meet at leaders’ homes or at the church for five weeks, starting the week of September 23rd and running through the week of October 21st.  There are several opportunities to join a small group and we hope you will take a look and pick one to join by signing up here. If you don’t see a group at a time that works for you, please contact Pastor Eickstadt to talk about hosting one.

Sign up to join a small group, try it out and experience how God shows up when we gather around the table, at church and in the world! We cannot wait for our congregation to learn and grow together in our understanding of the sacrament of Holy Communion.

Blessings,

Pastor Keseley and Pastor Eickstadt

P.S. – If you have a child who would be interested in receiving their first Holy Communion this fall, please contact our Children and Family Minister, Sara Dyson. We welcome children to begin receiving Holy Communion at any age and at any time. For those families who would like the more formal “Rite of First Holy Communion” for their child, that will be available this fall as part of our “Gathered Around the Table: Fed & Forgiven” series.  

"Church Popcorn"

Our annual beach vacation always includes a visit to what our family refers to as "Beach Church." "Beach Church" isn't actually church on the beach. In fact, it's a regular ELCA congregation much like ours with a sanctuary, Sunday School classrooms, playground and parking lot. It's located a few blocks from the beach on the main highway. The service, which takes place in their sanctuary, is much like ours. The only thing that is actually "beachy" about it is that we go when we are at the beach!  

As we walked into the main doors, we were warmly welcomed by the greeter, much like I hope guests at Abiding Presence are welcomed. Once inside the sanctuary, we received several more smiles, hellos and welcomes as it was clear that we were not part of the normal crowd who gathered for their Saturday evening service. After the children's sermon, which the pastor added to the beginning of the service just for my two girls as they were the only kids there, we received a bag of microwaveable popcorn. "Thanks for popping by for worship," the kind woman who gave it to us whispered as we made our way back to our seats.  

This popcorn made a HUGE impression on my four year old. In fact, she spent the rest of the service informing me she was hungry and not understanding why we wouldn't eat the not yet microwaved bag of popcorn during the sermon. We've been home a couple of weeks and Nadia still is talking about her "church popcorn," which we finally let her eat this week. 

"Beach Church" made us feel welcome and part of their community in a way that has stuck with us. While we don't have popcorn at Abiding Presence, we do have candy bags. If you haven't seen them, check them out in the back of the sanctuary. They are a fun way for people to learn more about Abiding Presence. 

Above all, smile at people. Say, "Hello!" Tell people you are glad that they are there, especially families with children. Trust me, as a mom I will tell you that getting out the door to church is rarely easy or fun! It take effort. It also takes an equal amount of effort to show up by yourself to church. So, if you see someone sitting alone, make a special point to go over and say hello and welcome to them, too. 

You never know, it could be your smile or welcome that sticks with someone for weeks to come!

Gather with a Small Group this Fall!
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Every week, we come forward and receive a bit of bread and a sip of wine or grape juice.  We call it Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist…but what do all these names mean?  Why does it matter that we have it?  Is it just because it’s tradition, the way we’ve always done it?  And why do we have it every week?   

Maybe you’ve wondered about these same questions.  Maybe you grew up in a tradition that celebrated Communion differently and you wonder why we at Abiding Presence do it this way.  Maybe you grew up Lutheran but don’t quite recall those long-ago confirmation days and what Luther said about Communion in the Small Catechism.  Maybe you don’t even really know all that much about Luther and have never heard of a Small Catechism!  Don’t feel too bad if that’s the case because prior to joining the Lutheran church, I would have said yes to both of the previous questions!  (Even after attending Luther College!)

These are some of the questions many of us have had and which we’ll be exploring together in small groups this fall. The small groups will meet at various times at leaders’ homes or at the church for five weeks to listen, share and reflect.  We’ll explore the what, why and how but also the bigger question:  What difference does Holy Communion make for our everyday lives?

Specific small group times and places will be announced in September and sign-up sheets will be available in the narthex and on our website.  This will be our 2nd small group experience at Abiding Presence; our 1st was during Lent this past year and we had over 50 people participate in 6 small groups!  Unlike Lent, this experience will not require reading a book…all you will need to do is show up! 

So sign up and try it out for 5 weeks and experience how God shows up when we gather around the table!

Peace,

Pastor Heidi

Extending Jesus' Table Into a Hungry World
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According to Fairfax County Schools, approximately 28 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price meals.  That’s more than 1 in 4 students in our area whose families struggle to buy enough nutritious food to feed everyone.  Members of food insecure families worry about running out of food in their cupboards before their next paycheck and some even resort to eating less so that everyone in the family can be fed. 

How are we called to respond?  Well, Jesus commands us to “love our neighbor as ourselves,” so if I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is going to come from, shouldn’t I help my neighbor to do the same?  Jesus repeatedly responds to the hunger of the crowds with abundance, multiplying the loaves and fishes so that all are filled with food left over.  And every Sunday, we gather at the Lord’s Table, where all are fed, no matter their income or status. 

So at Abiding Presence, we follow Christ in serving our neighbor through many food ministries, including the Children’s Weekend Meal Program, in which we deliver packages of food and snacks to a local elementary school. There they are distributed to children who receive free and reduced meals at school during the week, so that they do not go hungry over the weekend. 

However, during the summer, these children are receiving neither school meals nor these bags of food.  So, in partnership with the PTA and school, we started a monthly “pop-up” food pantry this summer at the school. Although we have a food pantry at the church, we realize that some may not have the time or transportation to make it to Abiding Presence so instead of asking them to come to us, we are going out to meet them at a location that is within walking distance and in their neighborhood.  Jesus didn’t wait in the synagogue for people to come to him but instead, he traveled and went out to meet people wherever they were: in their homes, at the village well, around their dinner tables.  As His disciples, we are called to do the same.

So I invite you to be part of making a difference and serving our neighbor through our food ministries.  Help make our pop-up food pantry possible this month!  We’ll meet at 8:30 am at Abiding Presence to load food and tables and then we'll head to the local elementary school, where we'll setup shop from 10-11:30 am. Let Pastor Heidi know if you can make it for all or part of the morning, donuts and coffee will be provided! Together, we can serve and love our neighbors, being the church in the world and extending Jesus’ table to all.