On January 1, 2020, Peggy and I were on a plane heading far out over the Pacific Ocean for the start of a great adventure. The congregation graciously and generously provided for this opportunity as part of my three-month sabbatical. I knew the church was in good hands, since the Personnel Committee had made detailed plans to support the staff in my absence, a number of guest preachers, including members of the congregation, were lined up to preach, and Mike Ozaki, with the help of our wonderful staff, was ready to assume additional administrative and pastoral tasks. I am deeply grateful to all of these folks!
Peggy and my principal destination was the island nation of Kiribati which lies close to the equator, roughly halfway between Hawaii and Australia. That is where our dear seminary friend Baranite Kirata lives and serves as the Lead Pastor of the Kiribati Protestant Church. He and his wife Ebe, along with other members of their family were our gracious hosts on the island of Tarawa.
Though pictures of wide beaches, mangrove and palm trees may give the impression of a tropical paradise, Kiribati is one of the poorest nations in the world. To make matters worse, if is the nation most threatened by sea-level rise due to climate change. We learned much about how the people and churches there are dealing with this very present danger that will force them or their children one day to leave the land they deeply love.
On Tarawa, an intensely crowded, urban, and (unfortunately) environmentally degraded place, we joined in several church celebrations and presented gifts from our congregation to the board of their new and struggling seminary. I was invited to lead a training event for lay pastors there and also had the joy of preaching in several different congregations. Peggy and I also spent several days on Abaiang with its dense tropical jungle where life is slower and tied more to traditional patterns of fishing and copra gathering. There were the honored guests of churches which gathered for several days of worship, preaching, singing, dancing, and shared meals. There was so much joy and laughter, but it was quite an adjustment for Peggy and me. On Abaiang, we never saw a chair so we had to get used to sitting on woven floor mats. At the meals we always had fresh seafood, fried breadfruit and boiled taro but never a green vegetable!
After Kiribati, we linked up with our daughter Julia for two glorious weeks in New Zealand. We hiked up mountains, saw glaciers, enjoyed the sights in Christchurch and Wellington. Everywhere we went, we were impressed with the emphasis on environmental stewardship as we delighted in the unparalleled flora and fauna of this amazingly beautiful land. We can’t wait to return!
We learned of the pandemic while we were in New Zealand, but we couldn’t have imagined how much it would soon affect us all. Back in the United States, I contracted the virus on a visit to New Orleans in mid-March. My symptoms were severe, and while Peggy worked hard to nurse me to health, we had the unfailing support of the congregation. I felt the power of the many, many prayers that were offered. There was an outpouring of food to keep us going, and numerous cards to encourage me. I cannot adequately thank all of the wonderful members of the church for seeing us through those very dark days, but also I must give honor to our faithful Lord, who, I am certain beyond a shadow of a doubt, was with me in the very worst moments. With God’s help, on Palm Sunday I was able to resume preaching as scheduled at the end of my sabbatical though I was still shaky for a number of weeks as my strength slowly returned.
In that period, congregational life was instantly transformed. We made the pivot to on-line worship with the help of two amazingly talented men--Kerry Trout and Jerry Sawyer—who have recorded, edited, and produced our weekly worship videos on YouTube. There was a steep learning curve for all of us on the staff as we adjusted our schedules and worked frantically to adapt to technology we’d never used before. I never expected at this stage of ministry to become a studio preacher, and I know that is true for Mike, Allison, and Deannine, as well as Ned who has taken on the technically challenging task of putting together choir pieces with remote singers. Our team has been amazingly adaptable and have worked so hard to bring worship to the congregation each week.
In the meantime, the ministry of the church has continued. We’ve held many meetings on Zoom and offered opportunities for prayer, reflection, and learning on various on-line platforms with Martha Trout working behind the scenes to organize and publicize these offerings. In July, we started in-person worship with a small group gathering outside each week through the Summer and Fall. In November, we came back to the sanctuary but regretfully had to abandon that effort when the pandemic worsened. Through our Mission Unit, and under Mike Ozaki’s direction, we’ve worked to support members of our community who’ve been most stressed by economic losses. We’ve tried to stay in touch with one another as much as possible, though that has often been rather difficult. Through it all, our members have been faithful, engaged, but also patient as we’ve all been learning together how to live through these strange and troubled times.
All of that practice in video production and developing Covid-safe procedures allowed us to do some extraordinary things as we welcomed the news of our coming Messiah in the Advent and Christmas seasons. What fun we all had seeing the Children’s service, and how moved we were by the choral pieces and readings for the Candlelight service and the Christmas Eve services. Likewise, there was much joy in welcoming members to experience the Christmas story in a totally different way by viewing actors at various stations reenacting Bible scenes for us on December 23 and 24. It must also be noted that while that was going on, our members were also hosting Out of the Cold while others were preparing for the large Christmas Day dinner which they provided by take out or delivery. Thank you faithful ones—Bill and Cheryl Price, Clark Moose, and Roger Garthwaite, among others—who made that happen!
As we begin a New Year, I am so grateful for our members and staff, including those I haven’t named, but most of all for our faithful Lord who has brought us safely through a very challenging year as we look towards a renewal of the life of our community in 2021.
Dean Lindsey, Pastor
State College Presbyterian Church
132 West Beaver Avenue
State College, PA 16801
Stay and Play Preschool
Sunday Worship ~ In the Sanctuary
10 :00 am - a brief service with social distancing and face masks required.
Live-Streamed Worship ~ An email is sent out on Saturdays (to those on our mailing list) with a link to our live-stream of the worship service on YouTube. If you would like to join our mailing list, please click here.
Normal Building Hours: (the building may be closed during summer and vacation times. it's best to call ahead at 814-238-2422)
Monday - Thursday: 8:00 am - 4:00 pm
Friday: 8:00 am-Noon
Sunday: 8:00 am - Noon