Meeting Times at 4th United Presbyterian Church

Cafe' Worship: 9:15 a.m. each Sunday in Gathering Hall (activities provided for children; coffee; snacks)
Adult Sunday School: 10 a.m.

Sunday Worship: 11 a.m.

Bible Study: each Thursday at 6 p.m.

Community Forum: last Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. with meal (no community forum in November, 2011)

About the 4th United Presbyterian Bible Blog

Posts on this blog are from me, Rev. George H. Waters, one of the two organizing co-pastors of 4th United Presbyterian Church. Our other organizing pastor was Rev. Sonya McAuley-Allen, who is now pastor of a church in Charlotte, N.C. Since June of 2011, Rev. Elizabeth Peterson has been our parish associate pastor for new church development. The earliest posts are sermon notes from the few I have typed the last two years. Then, there is a series of notes posted on the book of Romans. After that, it varies from week to week, sometimes church news, sometimes reflections on a happening, a passage of scripture, or even some pictures. This blog is meant to open the conversation we have going on in our church to others in our community.

The picture below is of our church's sanctuary, built in 1913.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Reverence for Life

I was thinking again about the life and work of Albert Schweitzer, who was a musician/doctor/biblical scholar. He and his wife spent the last few decades of their lives running a hospital in Africa. The great principal and deepest conviction that moved Schweitzer was his "reverence for life," which he felt was at the heart of faith. For Schweitzer, communing with and honoring the Creator of all life went hand in hand with having a deep feeling and respect for all life, whether human or other life. One's relationship to all of his or her fellow creatures was important and sacred, according to Schweitzer.

This Sunday we will sing: "Morning Has Broken," which is a beautiful hymn praising our Creator and celebrating the wonder of life in this world and the presence of God in all parts of the creation.

It seems very important to me that children learn to have reverence for life, which means concern for all creatures. One memory that really stands out in my childhood is how much it bothered my mother when she hit a squirrel one day as we were driving around in the car. It really bothered her; and,so it really bothered me and my sister as well. That's what I mean about teaching our children about reverence for life. I also remember worrying over and trying to nurse a bird back to health who had flown into one of our windows. Things like this matter more than we might think.

If we feel we are just too important as human beings to consider the lives of animals as important, it shows an arrogance towards our fellow creatures and a lack of gratitude towards the Creator for life itself.

And, in this reverence for life, we certainly carry a deep feeling for our fellow human beings. I drove past the Salvation Army on Tuesday, and noticed a woman, a man, and four children (looked like ages from 2-8 years). They looked like a family that was living in a homeless shelter. I particularly noticed the older child, a girl of around 8 years old. I wondered about what it must be like for her attending, or trying to attend a local school next week.

And, we notice families torn by violence and drug/alcohol abuse. And, we experience that sometimes very close to home. Having a reverence for life causes us to care about these things that happen to others and to us. Having a love of life causes us to expect something better for others and for ourselves. Because life is meant to be celebrated and enjoyed, not simply endured.

But, there are times when life feels heavy,and there are times when the bearing of it takes all the strength a human being has from God. And, whether life is full of joy or sorrow, it has dignity, a dignity given by the Creator in whom we live and move and have our being.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Holy Words from a Holy Man

"I never lost hope that this great transformation would occur. Not only because of the great heroes . . . , but because of the courage of the ordinary men and women of my country. I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. Even in the grimmest times in prison, when my comrads and I were pushed to our limits, I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps just for a second, but it was enough to reassure me and keep me going. Man's goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished."

- Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom : The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela (Little,Brown & Co., NY 1994), p.622

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Can human beings really change?

This question haunts history and often haunts our personal lives as well. "Can he, can she, can I really change?" It was this question, I believe, that haunted Nicodemas, and why the old respected teacher came by night to seek wisdom from the young, country prophet. And, this prophet, who was more than a prophet said to Nicodemas: "You must be born again . . . of the Spirit of God."

I like the language "born again." It conveys the radical starting over, giving up, and newness of life from God that comes among us and to us in Jesus.

But, we, like Nicodemas, think and feel: "But, how can a man really start over (or, as Nicodemas literally said: "Can a man go back into his mother's womb?")? Or, as Jackson Browne sings: "The future's there for anyone to change, still you know it seems, it would be easier sometimes to change the past."

"Can he ever change? Can she ever change? Can I change?"

In a British novel I was reading yesterday, one of the characters gives an opinion on this question saying: "No, but people can learn to manage themselves a bit better."

From the human side, maybe that is a pretty good answer. Maybe it is when we learn to manage ourselves a little bit better that the soil is prepared for change. Maybe that is all we can do. Learn to manage ourselves a little bit better and hope for the change that comes from beyond, the Spirit that blows where it wills, and nobody knows where it starts and where it ends. It takes faith to believe we can learn to manage ourselves better, and faith to believe that that prepares the ground for a transformation that we can't manage but only accept with thanksgiving and wonder.

August 8th Celebrations

On August 8, 1963, President Andrew Johnson of Tennessee freed the slaves he then owned. This is "Tennessee's Emancipation Day," and this occurred before the 13th amendment was put into effect nationwide.

Since that first emancipation day, African-Americans from East Tennessee and on up into Kentucky as well have celebrated August 8. In the days of segregation, Chilhowee Park would close the fairgrounds to its regular customers (white people) and open the Park for this celebration for its black citizens. There are many Knoxvillians still alive today that remember these celebrations.

August 8th has a special meaning for our congregation, because our cemetery (known as the 1st United Presbyterian Church Cemetery) has buried within it at least two of the most well known of Andrew Johnson's freed slaves: William Johnson and Elizabeth Johnson. The grave and marker of Elizabeth Johnson has been found, however, we are still looking for the grave of William Johnson, though historical documents make it clear that he is buried in our cemetery.

The cemetery committee of 4th United Presbyterian Church headed by Elder Mary Whaley continues to work for restoration of these historic cemetery grounds. And, many citizens in the Mechanicsville community and local volunteers are taking an interest as well.

There is a celebration of August 8 to be held on Saturday, August 7, 2010 at M.L. King Park in Alcoa, TN (bus tour at noon, then food, music, etc. at 6 p.m. that evening).

A celebration of this important day of freedom is also scheduled for August 8 in First United Presbyterian Church Cemetery (our cemetery) during that Sunday afternoon. Details will be announced this week.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Thinking out loud on a Friday afternoon about 4th United Presbyterian Church

July 2, 2010: I woke up this morning, thinking that I was still in a dream. But, then I realized that it was really true: my daughter was in our house, home after being in South Africa for almost six months. It has been a week involving a lot of different things – waiting for my daughter to come home on July1, and waiting to hear about the condition of my mother’s heart, and then after those central matters in the family, there was the usual work with clients, a mediation on Monday, church building issues on Tuesday and even representing someone in a domestic case this week for me. And, now it is Friday. I finished work early today, and am home. It’s about 4 in the afternoon.

My faithful little dog, Reuben, is next to me on the couch, and I am glad to be able to sit back and take this week in. And, as I do, my thoughts turn to our church, 4th United Presbyterian Church. A church that began with the union of two old, small churches: 1st United Presbyterian and 4th Presbyterian. Our church was formed on February 7, 2009. We have spent the last year dealing with building problems, people problems, financial problems, and just plain “starting something new” and “dealing with change” problems. Now, we are emerging from the struggle and opening our eyes and looking around to see the community that we are in. We are beginning to look at ourselves and ask: what are we supposed to do in our time here on the corner of Glenwood and Broadway?

Some of us might be thinking: well, I wouldn’t mind being back at 1st United Presbyterian and in our building on the Knoxville College Campus. Some of us might be thinking: I am alright with being in this new place, but when are we going to move forward? When is our building going to be usable? When are we going to let people know we are here? When are people, other than the group we already have, going to come and join us? When are we going to begin reaching out to our local community? When are we going to have something here for our children? Others among us might be very hopeful and excited about what is going on, as these can see the possibilities and the goodness of God’s Spirit in all of this.

I ask myself today: where am I? Because I have been in the third group of hopeful thinkers in all this for most of the time. But, I have my days when I have thought: well, I wish we were back where we were. And, those days when it feels like nothing is ever going to get going. But, there have been days here, God knows, there have been days, when I have seen the coming of the glory of the Lord in the newness, in the praise and hopeful spirit, in the new things that come our way, and new people that seem to be coming at times. God knows, there have been days, when I have seen the coming of the glory of the Lord in a community emerging that sees no real differences between different people, because of the experience of our profound sameness in Jesus Christ. God knows, there have been days, when I have felt the power of this grace growing. But, where am I today?

Today, I am in that second group. I am feeling “when is anything going to get going?” The building, the ministries, the outreach, the partners in ministry, the sense of what it means to be at home in this community. When? That’s where I am today. I am impatient right now. And, maybe I ought to be – at least on some things.

When I honestly survey what it is going to take to get moving at 4th United Presbyterian, I am struck with a simple thought: it is going to take commitment, work and giving time to this work. It took a lot of just plain hard work to get the merger accomplished. It took a lot of hard work to get the new structures in place and the budget under control. It took hard work to get support from Presbytery. It took hard work to get other resources necessary to prepare our building for use. It has taken regular, hard work to get this foundation laid for our ministry. But, now we move to the real task at hand: responding to God’s will and experiencing God’s love for those around us in our community. This takes a different kind of hard work. The hard work of “being there,” of “being concerned,” of “acting on that concern.” The hard work of planning with others in mind. The hard work of working long hours to get something good done. But, the real power for this work comes from something that is not hard at all. And ,that is letting oneself be loved and held and cleansed and awakened and renewed by God’s very gracious and holy Presence. Where this core experience is there, the work that is “hard,” is like running when you are in shape. It takes exertion of effort, but it is joyful and brings energy more than takes it away.

So, I am taking one step back from my impatience to step towards that holy sanctuary of the most High God. That place deep within, that is so quiet, you can’t do anything but “be still and know that the Lord is God” when you are there.