Christmas Day – December 25

The Word

Psalm 97

The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!
Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.

Fire goes before him, and consumes his adversaries on every side.
His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his righteousness;
and all the peoples behold his glory.
All worshipers of images are put to shame,
those who make their boast in worthless idols;
all gods bow down before him.
Zion hears and is glad, and the towns of Judah rejoice,
because of your judgments, O God.

For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth;
you are exalted far above all gods.
The Lord loves those who hate evil;
he guards the lives of his faithful;
he rescues them from the hand of the wicked.
Light dawns for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
and give thanks to his holy name!

Reflect

“Flüelen, from the Lake of Lucerne,” 1845, Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Mr. and Mrs. William H. Marlatt Fund.

Like the psalmist, we often think and speak of the immensity of God. God is the almighty force that controls wind and sea. The heavens and the whole earth “proclaim God’s righteousness.” God is king, a powerful conqueror and ruler who protects God’s people. Though we live centuries after the reign of King David, we are not so different from people then. We want a human leader who has a strong presence — someone who is physically fit, a military strategist, a strong communicator, a skilled debater, financially savvy, and more. So it is not surprising that we often focus on the immensity of God, the power of God, the awe-inspiring reign of God. Nor is it surprising that when the people of God found themselves without a leader or ruler, they began looking to passages like this as predictions of the Messiah. A Messiah who would be victorious in battle, a ruler who would seek justice, a conqueror who would restore Israel to its former glory.

I am always struck by the contrast between the festivities of the Christmas season, both sacred and secular, and the night of Christ’s birth as I imagine it. Of course there are likely some similarities — we experience the haste of preparing for company or getting kids dressed to attend a Christmas Eve service; they experienced the haste of finding a place for Mary to give birth as she cried out in labor pains. But now, we spend much of our time and energy on large and loud celebrations at Christmastime, whereas the first Christmas was a small, intimate moment surrounded by darkness and silence, broken only by the cries of mother and baby.

No one expected this Messiah.

The Messiah, born in a stable, swaddled, and laid in a manger.
God incarnate, in the form of a helpless babe.
The Messiah, crying out to be fed and changed.
God incarnate, not in great strength and power, but in the small, vulnerable form of an infant.

This Messiah was not a king, as we define it.
God incarnate was a poor man with no political power.
This Messiah brought no military victories.
God incarnate broke bread with sinners and healed with a gentle touch.

For the past two years, we have all grieved the loss of large gatherings and boisterous celebrations. But we have also found a blessing in the midst of much grief — the ability to slow down and embrace the small, intimate moments that happen upon us. Maybe we can continue to reframe how we approach the Christmas season as we hopefully return to gatherings in the coming years — appreciating the quiet moments and the little joys as much as the celebrations. We can reframe what kind of king we desire, seeking not powerful persuaders, but gentle and compassionate leaders. We can reframe how we think of God, who approaches us not only in awe-inspiring immensity, but also in small, intimate ways. Let the earth rejoice!

Listen

On Christmas Day – arr. Henry Balcombe (1983-2012)

After four full weeks of Advent preparations, the great festival of Christmas has come once again! The organ music for today is that of unbridled joy – “Joy to the World” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”

“Go Tell It On the Mountain” was a slave song in the African-American community from the 19th century. John Wesley Work Jr. is famous for transcribing and compiling this and many slave songs and thereby making them accessible to a wide audience. He was employed by the Fisk University as professor of Latin and history 1904. Afterwards he was appointed to direct the Fisk Jubilee Singers and expertly led that group for years both on campus and in tours around the county. His fine work brought songs of the enslaved African-American community to white audiences around the country. In our current hymnal, this song is found as Hymn 136.

“Joy to the World” is an English Christmas carol written in 1719 by the English minister and hymnwriter Isaac Watts. The carol is based on a Christian interpretation of Psalm 98, Psalm 96 (verses 11 and 12), and chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis (verses 17 and 18). Since the 20th century, “Joy to the World” has been the most-published Christmas hymn in North America.

The pairing of these two treasured carols in this organ composition provides us a chance to reflect on the Joy of the Birth of Christ and our response to that joy from two very different musical traditions.

Christmas Eve – December 24

The Word

Isaiah 9:2-7

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Reflect

“Among the Sierra Nevada, California,” 1868, Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902). Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of Helen Huntington Hull.

When it was released earlier this year, there was much fuss over the new album by award-winning singer Adele. In the spirit of Isaiah and those who would have been his first audience, my thoughts about Adele at the time of writing are: predictions yet to come true but grounded in previous realities. History kissing hope.

All too often, we limit our theological understanding of Christmas to the “babe wrapped in swaddling clothes.” We love singing about Jesus taking on flesh as we glance at our nativity scenes lit up by fireplaces and Christmas tree lights, imagining a mother and father looking at their newborn with tenderness as sheep and cows are also in awe. The Christ child is indeed Christmas, but so, beloved, is the anticipated return of Christ and the coming reign of God. History kissing hope.

For us who claim Christ, this passage in Isaiah reminds us not only of the revelation of the Messiah in the manger but a glimpse into a cosmic future with the very same Messiah. Today on this Christmas Eve, it’s here: the birth and the belief, the wonder and the waiting, history kissing hope.

Listen

O Little Town of Bethlehem

On Advent 3 we lit the pink candle in the Advent Wreath. Also known as Gaudete Sunday or Rose Sunday (“gaudete” is Latin for “rejoice”), on this Sunday of Joy we focus on the building sense of joy as we await the great festival of Christmas.

The theologian Henri Nouwen described the difference between joy and happiness: while happiness is dependent on external conditions, joy is “the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing—sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death—can take that love away.” Thus joy can be present even in the midst of sadness.

This Christmas Eve, we focus our attention the beloved carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” In many churches, the tune ST. LOUIS is most often paired with this text. This tune was composed by Episcopal priest, Phillip Brooks, in 1868. The alternative tune, FOREST GREEN, provides a more flowing melody to this gentle text and is performed by the Westminster Ringers. In the recording you will notice that the handbells begin with the tune in a minor mode, then move to major. 

Pray

Christmas Eve—the Christ Candle

The children and youth of Westminster were asked to talk about the word gift. This is their response:

Prayer

Dear Lord, thank you for the most wonderful gift of Jesus. As we celebrate Christmas, we are most grateful for your gift to us.

Serve

Where to Serve in the New Year

The end of one calendar year and the beginning of a new one often leads us to resolve new ways of being, new ways of sharing our blessings with others. The challenge often is knowing how and where to give that support, especially in this time when our patterns of being and doing are being transformed. Each week, the church updates a list at wpc-alex.org/serve of how we may help our local brothers and sisters.

As Advent comes to a close and we celebrate the birth of Christ, we encourage you to take a look and see where you might yourself serve, or where you may direct your prayers on behalf of those who are able to do so. Allow time for this to be a matter of prayer, so that any resolutions that come emerge from a deeper place of listening and desire.

If you have any questions, contact localmission@wpc-alex.org.  

Advent Four – Week of December 19

The Word

Luke 1:39-45

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Reflect

“The Visitation with Saint Nicholas and Saint Anthony Abbot,” c. 1489/1490, Piero di Cosimo (1462–1522). National Gallery of Art, Samuel H. Kress Collection.

Contagious. Because we are currently living through a global pandemic, the word “contagious” may be more readily associated with COVID protocols than with joy. But Luke 1:39-45 is an extraordinary account of the contagiousness of the joy that is spread from Mary, mother of Jesus, to Elizabeth. 

We like to think of the ordinary joy that Elizabeth would have experienced receiving family at this time. She was six months into a pregnancy that she thought would never happen at her age. Being in her second trimester, she was probably feeling pretty good physically, attending to the mundane tasks of the day, whilst inwardly marveling at the miracle that was unfolding inside her. Mary, by contrast, was just starting her pregnancy journey. She probably had morning sickness as she traveled to the hill country. But going to Judea to visit Elizabeth was Mary’s first instinct after learning that Elizabeth, so advanced in years, was also expecting a miracle baby. Such joy must be shared! 

These two pregnancies, both wrought by the Holy Spirit, attracted one another like magnets. The joy rises to a crescendo as Mary enters into the house and greets Elizabeth. So intense is Elizabeth’s joy at seeing Mary that her unborn son leaps within her and she bursts out with a prophetic proclamation that Mary is the mother of her Lord. Surely this was revealed to her by the Holy Spirit, for how else could she have known that Mary was pregnant at this early stage? Elizabeth’s prophesy in turn triggers Mary to burst out in a long and beautiful song, known today as “the Magnificat.” Beginning with a greeting and ending in song, the contagious joy that was shared between these women moves them to glorify God.

In a season of Advent shadowed by the fear and uncertainty of the pandemic, let us look for opportunities to experience and spread joy. Whether by reuniting with family thanks to the vaccine, returning to worship in person, or sharing God’s love with a friend or neighbor, let us pray that our joy, perhaps ordinary, transforms us and those around us. And that it ultimately moves us to worship God in new and extraordinary ways.

Listen

Chant du Berger (Shepherd’s song) arr. Lani Smith (1827-1885)

I can only imagine the fear the Shepherd’s must have felt as they found their slumber disturbed by an Angel! And then, the words of the Angel: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” I’m certain there was much discussion after the Angels departed about what to do next. Of course, Saint Luke tells us that the Shepherds “came with haste [to Bethlehem], and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.”

Today, Yeri So provides us with a 20th century arrangement of the 19th century German Carol “Chant du Berger.” The original melody came from France (hence the title) however it was German composer Gustav Merkel that harmonized that tune into a Chorale. This quietly joyful tune truly paints a pastoral scene for me. Yeri highlights three distinct colors of our Westminster organ. She begins with the full tone found on the Great (middle keyboard). For dramatic effect, she moves to the Choir (bottom keyboard) about halfway through. Here we hear a sound that employs higher sounds. She concludes her performance with sounds from the Swell (top keyboard). The sounds are soft and sweet; serving to depict the shepherds disappearing in the distance as they journey to Bethlehem.

Pray

Fourth Sunday of Advent—the Candle of Love

The children and youth of Westminster were asked to talk about the word love. This is their response:

Prayer

Dear Lord, thank you for love. Thank you for the ability to give love as well as to receive it.

Serve

Did you know that ALIVE! (Alexandrians Involved Ecumenically) provides 30,000 pounds of food to those facing food insecurity locally? The next time you go shopping, pick up just a few of these items and drop them into the bins in the parking lot lobby (open on Sundays during worship, and business hours during the week). 

It’s by a “little bit here, and a little bit there” that they can provide food by the thousands, so please join the wise men in leaving gifts at the manger by donating food to the bins in the Christ’ child’s name.  

ALIVE! Food needs:

Advent Three – Week of December 12

The Word

Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Reflect

“Peaceable Kingdom,” c. 1834, Edward Hicks (1780–1849). National Gallery of Art, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch.

I don’t know about you, but this past year has felt anything but peaceful. Many of us continue to face rocky waters even as we might glimpse that ever-so-desired light at the end of the tunnel. Storms and natural disasters physically and emotionally shake our world. Global pandemic still overwhelms us. Fear and violence are ever present in our society. With these troubles in mind, one might wonder how it is that we could feel any Peace. Indeed, on the surface, it would seem much more realistic to be consumed by worry or at worst, feel totally out of control.

But Paul tells us that we ought not to worry about anything, for God’s Peace will guard our hearts and minds. As someone who likes to be in control, this is a challenging statement for me. I have particular trouble letting go, and even more trouble finding Peace about it. In my search for that deep Peace over the last few years, however, I have often turned to God with this simple breath prayer, particularly in moments of deep spiritual turmoil: 

(Breathe in) God, I give you my mind, body, and spirit…  

(Breathe out) …for Peace and healing.

Sometimes, I will repeat this prayer over and over for several minutes. The more those words become connected with my breath, the more I feel the Peace of the Holy Spirit settling in on my heart. In a sense, I feel like I am breathing in God’s Peace. 

You might find yourself skeptical of the power of prayer when things seem so out of control. As we prepare for the Birth of Christ, brothers and sisters, I encourage you to find ways of experiencing God’s Peace, in both moments of turmoil and moments of tranquility. 

Paul calls us to pray with supplication and thanksgiving. 

What does that prayer look like for you? 

How does God bring you to experience Peace amidst the chaos? 

How can we share that Peace with others, whether it be Passing of the Peace in a service or passing by someone on the street? 

Peace of Christ, to all! May the Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, today and always. Amen.

Listen

Meditation on “Veni Emmanuel” – John Scriveyner

These familiar words from scripture inspired Baroque composer George Frederick Handel to include them in his oratorio, Messiah. Oratorios are musical compositions for choirs, soloists, and orchestras. Most

The hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (tune: VENI EMMANUEL) gives us a joyous way to conclude our season of Advent. Historically, the western church has used the Great “O Antiphons” as a part of prayers services during the final seven days of the season. They are referred to as the “O Antiphons” because the title of each one begins with the vocative particle “O”. Each antiphon is a name of Christ, one of his attributes mentioned in Scripture. They are:

17 December: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
18 December: O Adonai (O Lord)
19 December: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
20 December: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
21 December: O Oriens (O Dayspring)
22 December: O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)
23 December: O Emmanuel (O With Us is God)

In today’s recording, Yeri So has prepared a beautiful chorale prelude on this beloved tune. You will notice her hands using the upper keyboard (swell) of the Westminster Organ. This keyboard is used for expressive playing. The pipes are located in a chamber to the left of the choir. Behind the silver fabric are a series of ‘shades.’ These open and close (as directed by the organist) to allow more or less sound from the chamber into the Sanctuary. Throughout the chorale prelude, the shades are open, save the final chord. If you listen closely, you can hear a faint squeak as Yeri closes the shade to make the sound fade.

Pray

Third Sunday of Advent—the Candle of Joy

The children and youth of Westminster were asked to talk about the word joy. This is their response:

Prayer

Dear Lord, thank you for giving us joy. Help us to give joy to others, especially to those who need it more than we do.

Serve

Send a Christmas Card to Spirit Lake

Since 2001, Westminster has maintained a relationship with the Bdecan Presbyterian Church on Spirit Lake Indian Reservation in North Dakota. As part of that relationship, we have sent mission teams, conducted Vacation Bible School, and helped support Bdecan’s food pantry and clothing closet. We also provide scholarship funds to students attending the Candeska Cikana Community College, a tribal college located on the reservation. 

This has been a challenging year for the Bdecan church, with the death of longtime members and medical challenges facing the ministry’s program coordinators, Rosie and Bob Helland. Please consider sending our sisters and brothers at Bdecan a Christmas card or greeting, and identify yourself as being from Westminster when you do. Their address is: PO Box 141 Tokio, ND 58379.

Advent Two – Week of December 5

The Word

Malachi 3:1-4

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

Reflect

“Red Sunset on the Dnieper,” 1905–8, Arkhip Ivanovich Kuindzhi (1842–1910). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1974.

When we hear the word “pure,” we often imagine something that began clean and has never been otherwise. Pure water flows from the spring of a wild mountain stream. The pure innocence of a child has not yet been tested by the cares of the world. Eden was pure in the early days of creation, and the Psalmist likewise asks God to “create in me a clean heart.”

At Christmas, this quality of perpetual purity is an element of the celebration of Mary. Several of our most treasured carols – “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing;” “O Come, All Ye Faithful;” “Silent Night” – don’t even mention Mary by name, describing her only as “the virgin.” Some Christian churches profess the doctrine that Mary remained pure for her entire life, both before and after the birth of Christ.

That standard may be attainable by the mother of God, but what about the rest of us sinners? It’s not every Sunday that we can bring our offerings to church in righteousness. For us, Malachi brings words of reassurance: God does not only come for those who are already pure; God makes us pure. The prophet likens this to refinement, which drives out impurity and leaves only what is precious and valuable. A people that was once righteous, in days gone by, shall become so again. This is good news!

The trial, though, is whether we can stand when God appears. After a time of preparation, the Lord will come suddenly. In Handel’s Messiah, this text from Malachi is set to some of the most frenetic and intense music in the oratorio. The baritone sings of the refiner’s fire, and the music paints the rising and leaping flames.

Those whom God touches by fire, however, are made clean by that fire to do God’s work. “Woe is me,” said Isaiah, “for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips!” But God sent an angel to touch Isaiah’s mouth with a fiery coal, preparing Isaiah to prophesy. At Pentecost, too, the tongues of flame over the apostles’ heads were a sign of the Holy Spirit. This Advent, may God appear to us, even as a refiner’s fire, to make our hearts pure and ready to receive Christ incarnate.

Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee.

Listen

“Thus Saith the Lord” & “But who may abide” from Messiah

For thus saith the LORD of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land;
And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts.  
Haggai 2:6-7

Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. But who may abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire.
Malachi 3:1-2

These familiar words from scripture inspired Baroque composer George Frederick Handel to include them in his oratorio, Messiah. Oratorios are musical compositions for choirs, soloists, and orchestras. Most often, they are used to retell biblical stories from the Old Testament. Messiah, as the title suggests, retells the story of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. It is divided into three parts. Part the First quotes bible passages regarding the prophecy and nativity of Our Lord. Part the Second focuses on his passion and resurrection. The final section, Part the Third, reminds us of our promised life eternal. The word oratorio comes from the Latin verb orare, to pray (hence oratory). The musical composition was named from the kind of musical services held in the church of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Rome. In this devotional, Dr. Ben & Chris Hagan have prepared the fifth movement of Handel’s Messiah for you. In it you will hear Handel’s musical depiction of the Lord “shaking the heavens.” To paint this text, he employs the musical device, melisma, a group of notes sung to one syllable of text.

Pray

Second Sunday of Advent—the Candle of Peace

The children and youth of Westminster were asked to talk about the word peace. This is their response:

Prayer

Dear Lord, thank you for giving us peace. May we find it within ourselves and help give it to others.

Serve

Reach out to PC(USA) Mission Coworker, Paula Cooper

Jesus emphasized love of neighbor and invites us to have a more global sense of what it means to be a neighbor. At Westminster, we practice his teaching by extending our love and care beyond our local and national boundaries. This Advent, consider sending a Christmas email to Paula Cooper, whom WPC supports as the Presbyterian Church (USA) mission co-worker based in Zambia. As regional liaison for East Central Africa, Paula facilitates PC(USA) relationships with partner churches and institutions in Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, and Zambia, where the church is growing rapidly, and pastoral training and leadership development are of major concern. The pandemic has imposed particular burdens on her ministry. 

Paula may be reached by email at paula.cooper@pcusa.org, and you may copy internationalmission@wpc-alex.org, so that we may echo your well wishes.

Advent One – Week of November 28

The Word

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Reflect

“Sunday Morning,” ca. 1877, Thomas Waterman Wood (1823-1903). Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Francis P. Garvan.

Joining or starting or belonging to a new community, no matter what age you may be, can be invigorating. Church provides a very unique venue in doing so: like Paul and the Thessalonians, who faced intergenerational opportunities for spreading good news despite trials and tribulation.

As they discovered long ago just after Jesus’ life, trying to start new paths call us to look for learning; look for the possibility for growth. At first not all that well received, the new community at Thessalonia looked for pain’s possibilities. Paul called them to be alert. When faced with change and upheaval they were to look for the good; to render thanks.

Being in community strengthens and encourages us in faith. Trials are our common lot but we are to lean into faith, which consoles. Paul and those of the new community in Thessalonia didn’t idle during great trials but allowed loss to evolve into gain. Their failures led to learning.

So share your breastplates of faith with one another and discover threads of courage and light; the flickers of hope for tomorrow.

Listen

Savior of the Nations, Come

“Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland” (English: “Savior of the Nations, Come”) is a Lutheran chorale of 1524 with words written by Martin Luther. The chorale was used as the prominent hymn for the first Sunday of Advent for centuries. The tune – simple and beguiling – fits perfectly with this season of preparation for the great Feast of the Nativity. 

Saviour of the nations, come; virgin's son, make here your home. Marvel now, O heav'n and earth, that the Lord chose such a birth.

From God’s heart the Savior speeds;
back to God his pathway leads;
out to vanquish death’s command,
back to reign at God’s right hand.

Now your manger, shining bright,
hallows night with newborn light.
Night cannot this light subdue;
let our faith shine ever new.

Praise we sing to Christ the Lord,
virgin’s son, incarnate Word!
To the holy Trinity
praise we sing eternally.

This week’s recording is of this tune played on the Westminster Organ. Verse 1 is just the melody and showcases the foundation stops in the positiv division. Verse 2 is performed on the Oboe. Verse 3 is a choral prelude by German Baroque composer Dietrich Buxtehude. Verse 4 returns to only the melody and features our “chiffy” flute: the small percussive sound at the beginning of each note is a “chiff,” and is cause by the sudden rush of air into the pipe.

Pray

First Sunday of Advent—the Candle of Hope

The children and youth of Westminster were asked to talk about the word hope. This is their response:

Prayer

Dear Lord, thank you for giving us hope. 

Serve

Support the Alternative Giving Bazaar

As a part of your Advent devotion, we encourage you to participate in this year’s Alternative Giving Bazaar, which supports the essential needs of the children of the United Orphanage and Academy (Moi’s Bridge, Kenya) and those served by our other local, national and international mission partners, as well as the Westminster Community Grant program.

To participate, go to wpc-alex.org/agb, where you will find videos and introductions to these partners and how your support enables their mission. Or visit the AGB display (and potentially pick up some goodies) when you attend in-person worship the weeks of December 5 and 12.  

Christmas Eve: The Nativity of the Lord

The Word

Luke 2:15-20

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Reflect

The Annunciation to the Shepherds (ca. 1555/1560). Jacopo Bassano, Venetian, c. 1510-1592. Samuel H. Kress Collection, NGA.

What always strikes me most about this passage are the two very different ways in which the shepherds and Mary reacted to the birth of Jesus. The shepherds “went with haste” to find the baby and then “made know what had been told them about this child” by the angels. I could almost picture them running to Bethlehem with boundless energy and jumping up and down with excitement upon finally reaching the holy family. Barely pausing to catch their breath, they sped off to tell everyone else they could find. On the other hand, Mary “treasured” the words of the angels and “pondered them in her heart.” Here I could imagine a young woman sitting quietly with her child, wearing a slight, somewhat shy smile that was hardly noticeable to those around her.

This passage also makes me think about how I react to good news. Sometimes, like the shepherds, I’m so happy that I want everyone else to know what is happening right away. Sometimes though, the news is so momentous that I would prefer to ponder it in my heart first, to enjoy it for a while on my own before sharing. Maybe this is how Mary felt as she tried to understand that what had been promised to her many months ago – that her son would be great and called the Son of the Most High – was actually coming true. Maybe to Mary, news like that takes a bit more time to sink in before it’s ready for a public airing.

This Advent season is most likely different from any that you or I have experienced before. As I am writing this, I don’t know what our worship will look like or how many of us will be able to gather in person together. In these strange times, can we run and tell people things in person? Will good news be heard through our masks and face shields? Even though we have so many more ways of communicating than the shepherds did, I can’t help but wonder if this year we will miss out on some of their energy and joy. Of course, like Mary, we can still pause to enjoy some good news on our own. It might feel particularly right to celebrate some things quietly, whether it’s a chance to worship in person or see family and friends for the first time in a long time.

And so my prayer for all of us is that this year, as in years past, our hearts may overflow with joy newly experienced or recalled from Christmases past. That we won’t be able to stop ourselves from showing this joy to others and inviting them to experience it with us, even if we are experiencing it through our computer and tv screens. I pray that in our quieter moments we will ponder the mystery of God sending his son to live among us as a baby. Our hearts may overflow with joy in a simple but nearly unnoticeable way as we contemplate and meditate on God’s amazing love for us. I hope that even this year, we will embrace both kinds of moments during this Advent season, because through them we will be glorifying and praising God for all we have heard and seen.

Listen

Christmas Eve wouldn’t be quite the same without our annual Service of Nine Lessons and Carols. The service was conceived by the Right Rev’d. Edward White Benson and premiered on Christmas Eve 1880 in Truro, England. Only a handful of lessons and choruses from Handel’s Messiah were offered that year. As time went on, so did the popularity of this service. The combination of music and the spoken word made the Christmas Story come to life. Add to that the inclusion of readers representing all ages of the congregation and this service truly became one of the most engaging of the year for the whole community.

News of this service spread throughout England. In 1918 the Rev’d. Eric Milner White, the new dean of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, added his own ideas to the service and offered it’s premiere in King’s College Chapel. It is his Order of Worship that has been offered in tiny chapels and grand cathedrals all around the world for more than 100 years. The service always opens with the carol, Once in Royal David’s City. There are always nine lessons from Holy Scripture reminding us of the loving purposes of God. After the ninth lesson, the carol, O Come All Ye Faithful, is sung.

This year, our choir is unable to lead the congregation in the singing of O Come All Ye Faithful. However, we have come together to create a virtual choir of the same. As we worship in our homes, may our song be ever “joyful and triumphant” as we remember the birth of the Christ child. May our (virtual) choir (of angels) lift our spirits in the third verse with their soaring descant as they bid us to “…come, let us adore him.”

For me, Christmas ‘arrives’ each year in the final stanza on the word, “word”. Listen for this phrase:

Jesus, to thee be glory given!
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!

And may the power and majesty of the music make real for us the power and majesty of the scripture: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Happy Christmas to all!

Serve

In times of tragedy, crisis or need, we sometimes hear internal and external voices saying, “We don’t need prayers. We need action!” As people of faith, what if we understood prayer as a part of action, and our words with God as bridges to God’s will being made manifest in us and through us? Recall how God in the beginning said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Remember how before being crucified, Jesus said in the garden, “Yet, not what I want, but what you want.” Hold also the vision of the Holy Spirit, filling the disciples at Pentecost with speech, that testified to what God was doing by the power of the gospel of Christ.

This Christmas, consider prayer a meaningful part of your service. Speak to one another, and speak to God, as though your words matter, as though they are the molds by which your actions with and for others take shape.

In that spirit, here is a prayer for peace, shared by our denomination. Pray it, celebrating how peace makes a sound in your very own voice.

A Prayer for the Reign of Peace

Almighty, all-merciful God,
through Christ Jesus you have taught us
to love one another,
to love our neighbors as ourselves,
and even to love our enemies.

In times of violence and fear,
let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts,
so that we may not be overcome with evil
but overcome evil with good.

Help us to see each person
in light of the love and grace
you have shown us in Christ.

Put away the nightmares of terror
and awaken us to the dawning
of your new creation.

Establish among us a future
where peace reigns,
justice is done with mercy,
and all are reconciled.

We ask these things
in the name and for the sake
of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Advent Four – Week of December 20

The Word

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” 

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Reflect

The Annunciation. Fra Filippo Lippi, c. 1435/1440. Samuel H. Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art.

I have always loved the beautiful reply from Mary to what must have been astonishing and terrifying news: “Let it be with me according to your word.”

Such simple acceptance, such an ability to trust that it was going to work out. I have a tendency to over-think, over-analyze, and over-plan. I rarely let it be. But that’s my aspiration. And it gives me hope—that if Mary could manage it in the face of hearing that she was going to give birth to the Son of God, then surely I can manage it on an average Tuesday.

As we prepare for the birth of Christ, let it be with all of us according to the Word—the Word that is about to become flesh and change the world with a message of love and light…and simple acceptance. Amen.

Listen

One of the chief reasons I followed the call to become a church musician is that I am able to unite people through music. At Westminster, we are blessed with a vibrant music ministry and one that frequently collaborates with other musicians. Over the years, my music director colleagues Louise Wilson at Farlington Methodist and Linda Cancellieri at Trinity Methodist have been frequent collaborators with us. In spite of our distance during the Corna-tide, these terrific women have continued to work with me to create meaningful music – virtually. As all of our churches are preparing for Christmas this Advent, Louise and Linda have been kind enough to offer their singers the opportunity to join in a virtual choir which we call the Alexandria Sacred Chorale. In our most recent project, “People Look East,” the chorale included 51 voices with Louise at the organ. Louise and I made recordings of the organ and conductor in early November and the singers used those to record their voices from home.

The poem “People, Look East” was first published in 1928 in the Oxford Book of Carols and was originally titled “Carol of the Advent.” Churches throughout the English speaking world have used this carol for nearly 100 years during the season of Advent. The author, Eleanor Farjeon, was in the prime of her career when this was published. She was well-known for imaginative books for children and had already produced the popular hymn, “Morning Has Broken.” Her commissioners asked her to compose a poem set to an ancient French tune. In my estimation, she not only succeeded in her charge, but excelled in it! The words pair perfectly with the tune despite the later being composed 200 years earlier.

Just like the season of Advent moves us ever closer to the great festival of Christmas, each stanza of the poem moves us heavenward through imagery: People/guest, Furrows/rose, Stars, and finally, Angels. The stanzas conclude with the phrase “Love the __ is on the way.” May the poetry and beautiful singing of the Alexandria Sacred Chorale lift your spirits as we celebrate this the last Sunday of Advent. –Dr. Ben

People, look east. The time is near
of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able;
trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Guest, is on the way.

Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare,
one more seed is planted there.
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
that in course the flower may flourish.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Rose, is on the way.

Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
one more light the bowl shall brim,
shining beyond the frosty weather,
bright as sun and moon together.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Star, is on the way.

Angels, announce with shouts of mirth
Christ who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley humming
with the word, the Lord is coming.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.

Serve

2020 — it’s not been an easy year for anyone. How better for us to close it out than by celebrating the birth of our Savior. Yes, the celebrations may look very different this year, and yes, there are many reasons for which NOT to celebrate. And yet, we join those heavenly hosts singing “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace!” (Luke 2).

The end of one calendar year and the beginning of a new one often leads us to resolve new ways of being, new ways of sharing our blessings with others. The challenge often is knowing how and where to give that support, especially in this time when our patterns of being and doing are being transformed. Each week, the church updates a list of how we may help our local brothers and sisters. As Advent comes to a close, we encourage you to take a look and see where you might yourself serve, or where you may direct your prayers on behalf of those who are able to do so. Allow time for this to be a matter of prayer, so that any resolutions that come emerge from a deeper place of listening and desire.

Advent Three – Week of December 13

The Word

John 1:1-8; 19-28

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

Reflect

St. John the Baptist by Titian, 1540. Gallerie dell’Accademia.

Today, more than ever, our world needs witnesses of hope. Our text brings us a messenger of hope in the form of John the Baptist: he is the hairy, unkempt, wild-looking guy wearing camel’s hair. There would be locusts caught in his beard and honey dripped on his shirt. Much like the Scribes and Pharisees, we don’t want to hear what our weird cousin John has to say, but John plays a pivotal role in all four Gospel accounts for the Advent season. We don’t want to listen to this relative who always shows up at the beginning of the holiday celebrations talking too loudly and eating a diet of barley, berries and bugs. He interjects himself into our holiday plans shouting repentance, baptism and salvation. 

However, John reminds us of the true meaning of Christmas. When questioned, John leaves little doubt. He is not Elijah, nor is he a prophet, he is not a man with credentials or religious ideology. John tells us he is not the light, but he has come to bear witness to the light. John is clear and straightforward: he is bringing a word of promise and optimism, testifying, pointing to the Savior Jesus Christ, telling us to, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” 

Everything about John points to the light and to the life of the one who both stands among us and the one who is to come. John clearly understood that his primary call was to prepare the way for the One greater than himself. John testifies that he is a herald and proclaims the greatness of the One who would come after him. John tells the Scribes he is not even worthy to perform the act of a slave to “untie the thong of his sandal,” because Jesus comes not to baptize with water but to baptize with the power of the Holy Spirit. 

John’s is a voice of hope, but his voice was not the first to witness. Before John, Mary proclaimed the greatness of the Lord. She spoke of the One who shows favor to the lowly, offers mercy, and lends the strength of his arm. He fills the hungry with good things and comes to the help of his people. And before Mary there was Isaiah, anointed by God to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release the prisoners. He spoke about God comforting those who mourn and rebuilding the ruins of their lives, clothing them in garments of salvation and robes of righteousness. Isaiah’s is a joyful anticipation. They were witnesses of hope. These witnesses testified to a light, a life and presence beyond their own. Hope that does not change the circumstances of our lives but changes us. The Advent themes of expectancy, repentance, and promise of the Messiah are found in these words of John as he prepared the way for the ministry of Jesus. 

Today we can look to John’s example for our own work and our preparation to receive the transforming presence of Christ in our lives. Each one of us is called to prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming: even as 2020 comes to a close and hope may appear dim, even as the promised reign of God seems far off, even as we embrace this new normal for our lives. Jesus came over 2,000 years ago as a babe in a manger. He is constantly coming to us, in His love, in His grace, and in His mercy and He will come again to bring all things to fulfillment. Are our hearts ready to receive him? 

John calls us out of the wilderness so that we might focus on Christ. He asks us to respond to a message of repentance, to pray about those things that separate us from God and from one another, to pray and to cry out, “Lord, deliver me from this, forgive me for that.” He invites us to follow him on Jesus’ way, the way of the cross; the way of giving our lives away. 

John the Baptist may not be featured on our Hallmark Christmas cards, but this compelling figure enters the Christmas narrative to get us ready for the coming of Christ. He calls out to all who will hear: the Lord is on His way. He’s coming in the fullness of His salvation. He’s coming, the Son of God in whom all the promises of God are a resounding, “Yes.” We, too, can be witnesses as we prepare to receive the real gift of Christmas. 

 This is the Good News of the Gospel, thanks be to God. Amen.

Listen

Today we light a special candle in the advent wreath: the candle of Joy. Unlike others in the wreath this candle is pink, for on this day we remember the Blessed Virgin Mary. Each year on the third Sunday of Advent, the gospel lesson is the Magnificat, or Mary’s Song, from the first chapter of Luke. Just after the angel Gabriel visits Mary with the good news of Jesus’ birth, Mary proclaims, “My My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” It is this expectant joy we celebrate today. 

The music I chose to share is from an anonymous 15th century English text. Our own chamber choir recorded this beautiful setting in November. The choir sings in the original early english, below you will find a modern English translation. I pray our musical offering will leave you with a sense of Joy on this, the Third Sunday of Advent.

I sing of a maiden
That is matchless,
King of all kings
For her son she chose.

He came as still
Where his mother was
As dew in April
That falls on the grass.

He came as still
To his mother’s bower
As dew in April
That falls on the flower.

He came as still
Where his mother lay
As dew in April
That falls on the spray.

Mother and maiden
There was never, ever one but she;
Well may such a lady
God’s mother be.

Serve

During the Christmas season and at other times during the year, we look to those like John the Baptist who may live differently from us, but who have much to teach us about how to give and to live rightly. At Westminster, our relationship with Bdecan Presbyterian Church on Spirit Lake Indian Reservation in North Dakota helps us to learn more about how those on the reservation live and also the different ways to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ.

Westminster has maintained a relationship with Bdecan since 2001. As part of that relationship, we have sent mission teams, conducted Vacation Bible School, and helped support Bdecan’s food pantry and clothing closet. Since 2016, we have supported a scholarship fund for those attending the Candeska Cikana Community College, a tribal college located on the reservation. Our relationship with them has not only helped them with food, clothing, and education, but has also helped us grow as Christians by getting to know others from different backgrounds and learning how their worship can inform and inspire ours.

This summer, Rosie and Bob Helland took over for Joe Obermeyer as the program coordinators at Bdecan. As program coordinators, they have been overseeing the food pantry and clothing closet, conducting Sunday school and other youth events, and have plans to institute additional programs for adults, such as a men’s breakfast and a women’s Bible study. We invite you to send them a card this Christmas to encourage them in their work with those at Bdecan and Spirit Lake and keep them in your prayers this Christmas season. Their address is: PO Box 141 Tokio, ND 58379.

Advent Two – Week of December 6

The Word

Isaiah 40:1-5

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Reflect

Madonna and Child, c. 1450. Circle of Lorenzo Ghiberti (Italian, 1378-1455). The Cleveland Museum of Art.

When I read this passage, my mind instantly fills with music. First Handel’s Messiah, a powerful, beautiful and mature piece. Then “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” from Godspell, an energetic and youthful, but no less powerful piece. The pieces present such different ideas: the idea of comfort – calming and peaceful and deserved, a parent comforting a child – and a herald exclaiming the joy of preparing for the coming Lord. I have struggled to come to terms with the two views. How do they come together as one passage and one message? It was in the struggle, and discussion with others, that I realized the two passages are not truly separate but in fact linked, particularly when viewed through the season of Advent.

The first portion of Isaiah talks of comforting the people who have been in exile. They have been through much and “will be comforted and rewarded.” Much like the Hebrew people, in exile waiting for redemption, the early Christians were waiting for the coming of Christ and the redemption that his coming would bring. In fact, the term advent comes from the Latin word for “coming.” The second part of Isaiah moves on from comforting to tell us to “prepare the way of the Lord,” for the Lord is coming. Historically, Christians believe that they were preparing the way for the Lord to come again quickly, but as time has moved on, the date for the return has become more distant and ambiguous.

As different as the two views are, they also come together beautifully. A mature, experienced point of view may be a better source of comfort after hardship, while the anticipation of waiting for something amazing and exciting and joyful is often best seen through the eyes of a child. So while I started out thinking about music, in the end, this passage reminds me of family. During Advent particularly, we are surrounded by reminders of family. With this text I am reminded how family comforts us with the strength of our parents’ arms during times of difficulty, and jumps for joy like a five year old celebrating the coming of Christmas (ok the presents, but still!) In fact, it is the knowledge that we will be comforted if we fall that allows us to feel the joy and anticipation of the coming gift – the Messiah.

So we should sing both the classic Hallelujah with grace and majesty as we clap our hands and dance and sing Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord! We should reach for our parents and grandparents, and their memories, as someone reaches for us. And we should jump for joy with the excitement of the best present EVER coming in this season of Advent.

Listen

“The Finale (The Dargason)” from St. Paul’s Suite by Gustav Holst, performed by the Monticello String Quartet.

English composer Gustav Holst was born in 1874 and went on to his great rewards in 1934. During his lifetime, he was nothing short of a prolific composer. He is most remembered for his masterworks for orchestra, The Planets. As a champion of the English Folksong Revival movement, Holst frequently employed English Folk songs as the basis for his compositions. In his St. Paul’s Suite, a multi-movement work for string orchestra, Holst combines English folksongs with newly composed melodies and sometimes with themselves. Such is the case in the final movement, “The Dargason.” Here, Holst takes the folksong “Greensleeves” and combines it was an ancient, traditional dance called “Dargason.” 

I find this combination to be particularly striking for the season of Advent. We are bombarded – as early as 1 October! – with Christmas songs here in the US. By early November, street decorations are making their appearances and now that December is well underway, it’s hard to pass a moment of social media scrolling without seeing or hearing something about the great joy of Christmas. For me, it is this ‘great joy’ that Holst aptly captures in his Dargason. The rollicking tune and tempo of the dance is sure to make even the most stoic tap their foot or gently sway. While there are no words associated with the dance, it’s unmistakably joyful!

A more close look at the calendar reveals that we are not yet in the season of Christmas. It’s now Advent – the time to prepare for Christmas. In most years, finding time for that preparation is nearly impossible. Usually my December is filled to the brim with rehearsals, parties, concerts, church services, and, of course, shopping. This year, the virus has caused us all to pause. We are all experiencing a season of Advent unlike any other. Despite that pause, the joy of Christmas is just around the corner and I, for one, am eager for Christmas Eve and Morning. The tune “Greensleeves” beautifully captures a feeling of expectation and quiet joy.  It is most often sung to the poem “What child is this?”  

While Holst intended no religious connotation to this work, I find it an oddly appropriate movement to include in our celebration of Advent at Westminster. The combination of rollicking joy with quiet expectation seems to beautifully capture my feelings about the weeks preceding Christmas. In this week’s recording, our own String Quartet performs an arrangement of the work. It begins with the jovial “Dargason” and part way through the dance gives way to the more introspective “Greensleeves” tune.  

What Child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

Refrain
This, this is Christ, the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Refrain

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come, peasant, king to own Him.
The King of kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Refrain

Serve

Jesus emphasized love of neighbor and invites us to have a more global sense of what it means to be a neighbor. At Westminster, we practice his teaching by extending our love and care beyond our local and national boundaries. As part of your Advent devotional, we encourage you to extend your love also to those we support in places far away geographically, but very close in Spirit. Here are two suggestions:

Send a Christmas email to Paula Cooper, the Presbyterian Church (USA) mission co-worker based in Zambia. As regional liaison for East Central Africa, Paula facilitates PC(USA) relationships with partner churches and institutions in Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, and Zambia, where the church is growing rapidly, and pastoral training and leadership development are of major concern.

Paula also provides support for PC(USA) mission personnel and Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) in the region. Paula is the recipient of ongoing budget support through our International Missions Committee. We encourage you to email your thanks and prayers for work and ministry, identifying yourself as a member or friend of Westminster. This way, she may know that our financial support is matched by our human care. Paula may be reached by email at paula.cooper@pcusa.org, and you may copy internationalmission@wpc-alex.org, so that we may echo your well wishes.

Attend the now-virtual Alternative Giving Bazaar (December 6 to 13). Funds raised at the bazaar comprise an essential portion of the funding needed to house, educate and nurture the children, youth and graduates of our partner United Orphanage Academy in Moi’s Bridge, Kenya. The event also supports our partner, the Community Coalition for Haiti, as well as Heifer Project International and Equal Exchange. To attend the bazaar, simply visit wpc-alex.org/agb, where you will find videos and introductions to these agencies and how your support can support their mission.