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A Message From Pastor Van Orden
Dear Bethany friends:
As all of you have heard, yesterday the leadership of our congregation made the difficult decision to suspend worship for the next two weeks (three Sundays in all). We are hoping that the progress of the COVID-19 virus and the success of our efforts to limit its spread will allow us to resume our normal schedule beginning with Palm Sunday (April 5).
I’ve been struggling to find a way to be reassuring and serious at the same time in the face of this pandemic. Everyone has heard the sound advice from the CDC and other trusted sources: don’t panic, keep a safe distance between yourself and others and wash your hands frequently.
Beyond that, however, we need to approach the next few weeks with hope – with confidence that we will emerge from this time with our faith deepened and our love for one another stronger than ever.
I will try to communicate with all of you regularly, via email and our congregation’s website and Facebook page, while we are physically apart. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me if you would like to talk or message one on one.
Finally, my wife Lynn and I read a poem this morning that we found to be helpful. I hope it helps you as well. It is entitled “Pandemic” and the author is Lynn Unger
“What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.”
Blessings to you all.
With the recent release of "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," we can agree that the legacy of Mr. Fred Rogers is still alive and well. His life has been the subject of movies and documentaries, featured in news stories, and even found its way into several of Pastor Van Orden's recent sermons.
Nearly 17 years since his passing, stories are still coming to light about Mr. Roger's effect on people who needed the love of a "good neighbor." I think we can always use a good neighbor. In fact, I think we can all BE a good neighbor. With this being the season of Lent, what better time to prepare our hearts for the celebration of Easter than by looking inward and reflecting on what it means to give of our time, whatever that may mean in our current state.
While this particular article is from 2017, its message is still very relevant. To read about how a chance encounter with Mr. Rogers changed the course of a young man's life, click the button below.
A Monday "Punny!"
A newly married couple had their first argument over who should make the morning coffee. The wife, being determined and a Christian, went to the scriptures for her answer. With great confidence, she told her husband the Bible clearly stated the man should have to make the coffee.
The husband, certain she was mistaken, said "where did you find that? The book of Revelations?" Giving her husband a sideways look, the wife confidently opened up her Bible. She searched for a moment, then pointed triumphantly and said: “It’s right here!" Then she turned the Bible to her husband where he saw for himself - "HEBREWS!”
Happy Saint Patrick's Day
Today is a day, stereotypically, associated with attending parades, drinking Guinness, and eating corned beef and cabbage, all while sporting your best green attire. While there are lots of epic stories and legends surrounding March 17th (not the least of which is that its the day Elisa Schoen was born, HBD!), the history of Saint Patrick, and the day set aside to honor him, is pretty interesting. Did you know that he wasn't born in Ireland, but in Britain? Did you know the shamrock was considered a "sacred plant" and was used to explain the Holy Trinity? Do you know where the "traditional" meal of corned beef & cabbage originated?
Undoubtedly, this will be a mild year for the "celebrations" of Saint Patrick's Day. I hope all of you are staying healthy and entertained during these unusual and unnerving times. That said, if you're a fan of history and you'd like to know more about Saint Patrick & all things associated with March 17th (or if you'd just like a little distraction), click the button below to read more!
A Mid - Week Message from our Pastor
Here we are on another beautiful March morning. If you need a mid-week pick me up (I know I did!), please see below for a message from Pastor Van Orden!
I want to go to the beach. I'm not sure why, but today I want to see the ocean. Something about being near the ocean (or almost any body of water) makes me feel like I'm more spiritually connected. I know a lot of people who feel that way. Of course, there are many places people feel connected to God, but I think my connection to water came from my childhood growing up at the Jersey shore.
When I was little, my Nan (aka Ruth Welker for those of you who may remember) bought a little cross-stitched picture that was hung by the door of our shore house. It was the last thing you saw before you left our home and it read "Dear God, be good to me. The sea is so wide and my boat is so small." I remember wondering why, if you were already in a boat on the water, God needed to "be good." To me, there was nothing better than the sensation of "floating," whether in a boat, on a boogie board, or just drifting on your back with the tide.
The first time I heard those words in a new way was when I was going into my sophomore year at Rowan. More specifically, it was the morning my grandfather (George Welker, of the vast coupon collections) passed away. His health had been deteriorating for some time, so we'd all gathered at the shore house in anticipation of his passing. Out of the need to have a private moment to mourn, I'll never forget seeing that little prayer as I walked out of the house that bright July morning. The prayer reverberated in my head as I walked the path to the beach and found myself standing in front of the most perfect, crystal blue waves.
"The sea is so wide and my boat is so small."
I certainly felt "so small" in that moment, standing next to the vastness that was the Atlantic Ocean. Small and insignificant, heartbroken and alone, but there was something comforting in hearing those words in my head. It's funny how differently we interpret things as we get older. I know I sat on the beach for a long time that day, that little prayer repeating itself in my head while I contemplated so many things.
I don't remember all the things I thought about, but I had two major revelations. The first thing was that I was going to take more chances. My grandfather met my Nan on a double date. The only problem was that she supposed to be his buddy's date. Pop quickly readjusted the date alliances, Nan accepted the date change happily, and the rest was history.
In my life at that time, there was a certain "frat guy" that I'd had a crush on for months that I'd been afraid to ask out for a myriad of reasons. As I recalled Pop and Nan's first "meeting," I kept thinking of this guy and that I wanted, in that moment, to talk to him about losing Pop. I promised myself that I was going to go back to school in September and talk to this guy (fun fact, I DID talk to that guy and, seven years later, I married him).
My other major revelation was that the Lord WAS good, despite the loss our family had experienced. When we feel small, forgotten, scared, or lost, when we feel insignificant or bad things happen, the Lord is still good. That was a tough thing to accept that day. In many ways, it is still tough to accept. We listen to the news and read about things that we can't control. Despite that, the Lord is still good. God still loves us and gives us the ability to try to help and do God's work.
"The sea is so wide and my boat is so small."
Alone, we are small. We are separated and scared. Together, though, we are more. We're not alone in a boat on the sea. We are a fleet, lifting each other up. We are each other's life rafts. We're an armada, keeping each other safe. And, even though we're on different ships, we're still there for each other as children of God.
As Pastor Van Orden said in yesterday's post, "God is doing" things even in this time of chaos and uncertainty. Even if we can't physically gather together, we can still have a positive impact on our world. In the vastness, we just have to start small.
"With joy, you will draw water from the wells of salvation." Isaiah 12:3
I realized, after writing about the ocean, I should share my "beach access" with everyone. You can google "live feed beach" and come up with any number of beach views around the world. Of course, I'm including a link to the beach I mentioned in the above post.
If you click the button below, you will see the beach I grew up on in Strathmere, NJ. While Mother Nature hasn't always been gentle to the beach itself, the ocean view is pretty much the same. If I can't be there in person to put my feet in the water (especially since it is probably still pretty cold!), this is the next best thing!
Maybe, that's another reason why I associate the ocean with spirituality. In Biblical times, when travelers arrived at their destinations, the host would put out water to clean their feet (we've all heard the stories of Jesus' feet being washed in multiple places in the Bible). Since most people in that time had to walk as their main mode of transportation, I'll bet they REALLY needed a good soak.
Similarly, think about one of the first things someone does after arriving at the beach? You drop your supplies, set up your "camp," and walk, run, or (if you're my Luke) gallop down to the water to dip your feet in the ocean waves. After our journey, we get to cleanse our feet in the waters, both literally and figuratively. I'm not sure what could be better.
I hope you find some peace and joy today! Enjoy the waves!
Twas blind, but now I see
Today's Gospel reading is included below.
John 9: 1-41
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. 8 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”
10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.
11 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”
12 “Where is this man?” they asked him. “I don’t know,” he said. The Pharisees Investigate the Healing
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”
16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.
17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man replied, “He is a prophet.”
18 They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”
20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”
25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
27 He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to
Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”
30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out. Spiritual Blindness
35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
39 Jesus said,[a] “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”
41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
If the video does not play, please click the button below to redirect to the YouTube address.
Open our Eyes
Good Tuesday morning! I was so thankful to see and feel the sun today, I'm not sure I can put it into words. After the cold downpouring rain from yesterday, today's sunshine is especially appreciated.
You will find the words to the hymn Open Our Eyes Lord below. There is also a recording by our own Jonathan Clifton to accompany it. Today feels like a good day for singing, so please feel free to join in!
Open our eyes, Lord We want to see Jesus
To reach out and touch Him And say that we love Him
Open our ears, Lord And help us to listen
Open our eyes, Lord We want to see Jesus
Open our minds Lord, to follow His teaching,
To reach out to others, to show them compassion
Open our hearts Lord, to care for each other,
And through our love Lord, please let them see Jesus
Open our eyes Lord, forget our obsessions
Joy isn’t buildings, or wealth or possessions
Open our hearts Lord, to serve one another,
And through our love Lord, please let them see Jesus
Greetings All! I hope you're all staying warm on this wet, grey Wednesday. Below, please find this week's Mid-week Message. If you have any trouble getting the video to play in this window, please click the button below to redirect to YouTube!
Also, this week we are going to start a Sunday morning "Brunch with Bethany" on an app called Zoom. If your computer has a camera or if you have a smartphone, you are able to "chat face to face" on your computer screen! Our Sunday "Brunch" will be at 10:30 am beginning this Sunday, March 29th and will consist of a discussion of the sermon message and a general togetherness for all of us to stay connected. If you are interested, please click the button at the top of this page to add your email to our list. Then, just be on the lookout for an "invite" on your email address from Bethany! We hope to "see" you soon!
**Brunch is not required and is BYOB (bring your own brunch).
Making a Difference
Today, I needed to be productive. Every news update feels negative (even when it's not supposed to be) and I want to DO something. I want to help, somehow, and it feels like there's nothing I can do that will make any kind of difference. And I'm tired of feeling that way.
The more I sat and stewed about it, the more restless I found myself. There is so much need in the world right now, there has to do something to do. Then, a news article about the "homeless situation" in Queens during the COVID-19 crisis caught my eye.
Here at Bethany, we've been talking about taking a more active position in trying to help solve the homelessness crisis that exists in South Jersey. The global crisis has taken precedence in the last few weeks, but I'd like to start looking for people and places that are helping. I'm contacting some of the resources on our "For Friends in Need" page above. Obviously, all the office buildings and shelters are closed physically, but I'm looking for places that still offer services, whether they're offered remotely or in delivery form.
Bethany Family, this is where I need your help. We can stay in contact with each other (which, personally, makes me feel better in general) and share our knowledge with one another. Do you know of any place nearby that is still helping? I know that anyone who is in need of groceries can still access Seeds of Hope for local delivery (contact Bill Isard at email@example.com).
It may not be much, but it is something. If you think of any resources or information about helpers, please email me at or post to our Facebook page! Let's try to be the light in the dark!
Surveying the Cross
I came across this little joke on a random site and it got me thinking. This feels appropriate for the season of Lent, especially the unusual Lenten season we are having this year. It made me consider just what it means to "survey the cross." And, considering how much we are "giving up" this Lent, I think surveying the cross this Easter will be that much sweeter.
Call me Mrs. Clean
Hello from another rainy afternoon. I remember the old saying that "March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb." I wonder what happens if March "comes in like a lamb?" Hopefully, that doesn't mean that it has to "go out like a lion."
I also feel like these rainy days make "quarantining" much more difficult. In my house, today's weather resulted in a bit of "stir crazy" that led to an epic spring cleaning session. For those of you unfamiliar with my family's lifestyle, we are not "Danny Tanner-level cleaning people." While my vacuum cleaner is always out, that's because I use it as a part-time coat hanger and I may and may not periodically put Swiffer wipes on my bottom of my child's shoes, chase him around, and call my kitchen floor "clean." In other words, today's cleaning frenzy is uncharacteristic (and more than a little overdue).
While I prefer to be busy doing other things, there is, undeniably, a sense of pride in looking at a fully cleaned and organized room when I'm finished. This also makes the not so cleaned and organized rooms that much more noticeable, so the pride is short-lived. While our house is not that big, it feels like today's work was just a drop in the bucket. Despite all that we accomplished today, my husband and I are both overwhelmed by all that still needs to be done.
There are many reassurances in the Bible that are supposed to help with "overwhelming situations." Psalm 142:3 reads, "He tells us, “When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then You knew my path.” That's great. I know my current path, too, but it doesn't make me want to clean the rest of my house. Then, there is Matthew 11:28, “come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Realistically, I understand this. And while that's lovely, I also know I can complain about it all I want. That's not going to get the job done sooner.
Then, there is Matthew 19:26: “But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Of course I know it is possible. At this point, it is even probable. I know that there's a really good chance we will get a lot of things accomplished during this "indeterminate quarantine period." And you know what? That's part of why we're feeling overwhelmed, too.
We can distract ourselves, but there's still this thing hanging over our heads. Literally, figuratively, and on so many levels. And while these verses are meaningful and meant to be reassuring, in this moment I can say I'm still feeling overwhelmed.
And that's ok.
It is ok to feel overwhelmed. It is ok to be scared, frustrated, heartbroken, panicked or even angry. All of this is ok. All of this is normal (and I don't like to use that word, but it is true). The entire world in trying to process all of this and make sense of it, and that's ok. I find it, oddly, reassuring that I'm not going through all of this "alone." The irony is not lost on me.
Just now, my four-year-old has handed me a costume headband and wants me to be "the Queen."
"With God all things are possible."
Its another distraction, but I'll take it. A little nudge that God will " give you rest," a break from your "burdens," and will guide us "on our path." So, I'm going to go be the "Queen Mom" with my son and put everything else aside for now. The magical cleaning fairy won't visit me tonight and grant me a wish, so I can wake up to a fully cleaned and organized home tomorrow, but that's ok. I wouldn't want to waste that wish right now, anyway.
We'll get back to chipping away at the cleaning and the organizing and the projects and the repairs. But we'll get back to it tomorrow.
"With God all things are possible."
Of course, Lysol, a little elbow grease, and taking "playtime breaks" won't hurt, either.
My Happy Home
I don't know about all of you, but I've learned a LOT about technology in the last three weeks. I was lucky enough to marry a tech guy and my brother works as an IT guy, so I never really had to figure anything out on my own. Computers were never my forte, either, so for some of you, this might be old news. That said, I think some of this stuff is pretty cool. I'm still figuring a lot of things out, so I'm going to ask you all to bear with me as I use you as my "virtual guinea pigs."
Before I go any farther, please know that we had to record these videos separately and all rules for social distancing were obeyed at all times. My sister is sequestered safely at the shore while I'm at home (with all my noisy creatures), so this wasn't as easy as I'd hoped it would be. However, for a first try, I think it turned out ok. Hoping to try this again in the next couple of weeks! In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this video attempt!
*Web editor's note- This is the kind of "knowledge" I deal with every day. I'm starting to think they may be on to something!*
A Kindergarten teacher was observing her classroom as the children drew pictures.
The teacher would occasionally walk around and see each child’s artwork. As she approached one little girl who was working especially hard, she asked what the drawing was.
The little girl told her: “I’m drawing God!”
“But sweetie,” the teacher replied, “no one actually knows what God looks like.”
Automatically, the little girl continued drawing and said: “well, they certainly will in a minute!”
Mid Week Message
Happy Wednesday, All! Enjoy the wonderful sunshine today!