Pandemic Ponderings of the Transitional Executive Presbyter for the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley

November 30, 2020

Dear Friends,

My father died in December many years ago. Since it was Advent, at his memorial service one of the songs we sang was “O Come, O come, Emmanuel”. How I resonated with the longing, the sorrow, the anguish of the verses in a grief so fresh and was jarred each time we got to the refrain. Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice? Later, as I have reflected on it, that is precisely what our Christian faith invites us to do and makes possible– to rejoice even in the midst of sorrow and longing because we know that Emmanuel, God with us, shall come. In that hope, even through tears, Rejoice.

I thought of that yesterday as so many of our churches sang that familiar song, read apocalyptic texts and lit a single purple candle to hope. And thus the congregations of the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley began the journey of Advent. As with 2020 in general, a 2020 Advent will look different and everyone acknowledged it. Many traditional activities have had to be abandoned all together while others will go on in new and different ways. And, as I have been all year, I have been amazed at the creativity and adaptability of our pastors, musicians, and congregations. Here is just a sampling from around the presbytery of what our churches are doing to bring hope, love, joy, and peace to our communities and the world as witnesses of the Light that darkness cannot overcome. This is by no means an exhaustive list so if I didn’t mention you, let me hear from you!

  • First Presbyterian of Wetumpka is back meeting in their beautiful sanctuary (with masks and precautions) and are committed to partnering with Angels Helping Hands to thoroughly outfit 32 community children with a clothing item (including shoes), and a gift. And a sweet tradition of that congregation (started by an anonymous donor) is to give the young children a chocolate Advent calendar at the beginning of the season. The donor died this past summer but, as grace would have it, another anonymous donor has stepped up to provide the calendars this year. O taste and see that the Lord is good!
  • Southminster, Birmingham is offering daily audio/visual devotionals recorded by members of the church. They are also teaming up with Greater Birmingham Ministries to provide 21 gifts of $100 each to members of the community. They are raising an additional $2100 in this season to make these gifts available to show the love of Christ to some of those most in need.
  • First Presbyterian, Eufala is embarking on an Advent study of Grace and Gratitude. The response to the study was so great, they ended up having to order more books and look forward to a spiritually enriching time.
  • Providence, Montgomery is also offering a digital advent calendar with daily devotions/reflections throughout the season. Check out
  • Edgewood, Birmingham has created Advent bags for their congregants which include craft and baking supplies and paper white narcissus bulbs, among other things. In addition, with their sanctuary fully decorated, they are arranging times for family units (pods) to come to the sanctuary, spend some time meditating and enjoying the beauty and peace of that space, and maybe even take their family pictures in front of the beautiful Christmas tree.
  • First, Auburn is providing Sunday school centered on Isaiah’s vision of peace, justice, joy, and salvation and midweek zooms including music and meditation and one on journaling. They’re also having a drive-through “cookie walk”.
  • Cahaba Springs, Trussville is offering a “Music of Advent and Christmas Piano and Organ Concert” for the community on Dec 6 at 11:00am. You can catch it on their FB page. They’re also joining the community of Trussville for a Santa Parade as a way to connect with their neighbors.
  • First, Alexander City held a Thanksgiving service on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and it was the best kind of service – all your favorite Thanksgiving Hymns played beautifully by musician Hotankay Sanders.
  • Bethel Presbyterian Church, Tuscaloosa is taking up a special offering for gifts and donations to the Presbyterian Children’s Home during this season.

That’s it. That’s a sampling of some of what is going on in and through the congregations of this presbytery during this strange and holy season as the church seeks news ways to touch a fearsome and weary world with the light of Christ. May the light itself bear them, and all the churches of this presbytery, on their way that all on all who sit in darkness and in the land of darkness, a great light shall shine.

I’d love to hear more of what your churches are doing as you adapt to a pandemic Advent/Christmas. Join me on Thursday at 4:00pm. The link is:

As ever in prayer,

Sue Westfall

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