The Vine - The Newsletter of West Leonard Street CRC
December 6, 2020
This online edition of our newsletter is text only, without pictures.
NOT GOING HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS
It’s the holiday season again, and this Vine article is coming to you a week or so after the first of the holidays, Thanksgiving. As I am writing this, it is the day after Thanksgiving, and I am still recovering from the overload of calories yesterday. While yesterday for many of us was likely filled with some familiar aspects of the Thanksgiving celebration, there was also perhaps some notable things missing-- in particular some of those people who are normally with us may not have been gathered with us this time around due to the ongoing pandemic. All over the news these last few days, there have been reports of people who did not take their usual trip home for the holidays.
Throughout the outbreak of Covid-19, various levels of social distancing and limitation of gatherings have been suggested as a way to curb the spread of the virus. In some cases, laws and executive orders have taken those suggestions and turned them into a requirement. This has affected our lives in many ways; but with the prominence of large gatherings for holidays, it is likely that we felt it most potently during this time. Perhaps you made a decision yourself not to gather, or your extended family did not plan its typical festivities. Perhaps you gathered, but many people chose not to come due to everything going on. It may even have been the case that some were unable to gather because they had been exposed to the virus, forcing them into two weeks of quarantine. With Christmas still to come, it is likely we will experience some of these effects on-going, as various events, even if they still take place, are missing some of the usual attendees.
Being able to gather is an important part of how we celebrate, and so it is fair that this has been a difficult time for us. We cherish these times, and having to go even one year with them significantly altered is hard. But in this article, I wanted to share one thing I have come back to time and time again during the various degrees of shutdown and limitation that we have gone through. In the book of Exodus, God tells his people in chapter 12 to prepare for an upcoming plague which will take the lives of many. To protect themselves, God tells them to stay in their own households or, perhaps, to only gather in small gatherings. With the typical size of a house at that time, large families would have often been separated into several different houses, and not gathered together in one. During this scary night, with no cell phones to call each other, I can only imagine how difficult it must have felt.
And yet Passover, with the separation and restrictions, was not viewed with scorn by the Israelites, but celebrated with great joy. That separation and isolation was part of how God protected his people that night, and God’s people were able to recognize the important role that it played. As God’s people today, is it possible that God has moved us in this season to recognize that restrictions and limitations this holiday may be part of his protection and guidance? Are we going to allow our inability to gather with all of those we wish keep us from worshiping our God, who may in fact be trying to keep us safe? This is not meant to be an article that criticizes those who choose to gather, but rather an opportunity to suggest that maybe in this current season, not gathering together in large groups is just as much of an acknowledgement of Jesus’ Lordship as gathering to celebrate can be.
Blessings to you all in these coming weeks, and may the Holy Spirit lead, give you wisdom, and protect you this holiday season.
- Pastor Matthew
Be near me, Lord Jesus
I have been thinking a lot about Advent. Advent is about waiting for the Messiah, the Redeemer. The people of God were used to waiting. They waited to be rescued from Egypt, waited to return to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon, waited for someone to overthrow the Romans and were still waiting for the Messiah when Christ was born.
We are waiting this year ourselves, aren’t we? We are waiting for the virus to be over, waiting for a vaccine, waiting to feel normal again.
I am not a singer, but I love to sing. And I wait every year to sing Christmas songs. Many Christmas songs are special and fun to sing. But ever since I was a little girl, I have loved to sing “Away in a Manger,” especially verse three:
Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask You to stay
close by me forever and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in your tender care.
Prepare us for heaven to live with you there.
The second sentence, “Bless all the dear children . . .” always made me cry when I taught preschool. But it is the first sentence that has held me captive since I was first able to sing it. It too brings tears to my eyes because it is such a personal, from-the-heart prayer. It's what all of us want and what all of us need. Even in a normal year with its ups and downs, we would still sing this prayer, because without Jesus “close by us” the lows are harder and the ups not as good. Without Jesus close by us forever and loving us, nothing is as it should be.
This last year felt like it has been three years long. And although we may be getting good at making the best of it, and there have been several silver linings, it still isn’t right, is it?
Like you, I too have had an eventful year. And in spite of Covid, I have a lot to be thankful for. Yet my heart cries for those lost to this virus and those still struggling with it. I think about those living in fear of it. My heart is aching for the light and hope of a peaceful, virus-contained future. And I sing once again the prayer from my heart: “Be near me, Lord Jesus . . .”
Because we know the love of Jesus, we can see that this very difficult year has brought us closer to Him— closer because we have had to rely on Him so. All in all, the struggles and sadness of 2020 have helped “prepare us for heaven,” because it makes us more and more like Christ—like him in his compassion, like him in his mercy, and like him in his suffering.
When Christ was born, the time of waiting for the Messiah was over, although many Jews did not know it yet. We know it, and at Christmastime we sing all about it as we celebrate it.
I pray that our time of waiting for the virus to be contained and the vaccine to be available is over soon. All things happen in God’s timing, of course, and while I wait I will sing verse three of “Away in a Manger,” And I will sing it after the virus is over. I will sing it until I don’t have to say “be near me” because I will be before him in heaven.
- Julie Vander Slik
Our church kitchen is getting an upgrade!
This past August, our church received an anonymous donation that was dedicated to upgrading our church kitchen. These upgrades are now in progress! While we are not having in-person worship services during December, the kitchen will be in a bit of disarray. Ceiling tiles will be replaced, LED lighting will be installed and appliances also are being reviewed for upgrades. Already installed is a freestanding food warmer that will be very useful once we are together again for activities.
We are very thankful for this generous donation and thankful for those who are facilitating this project.
- the Properties Committe
December 20 Lois Hoonhorst (85)
January 27 Merrie Lou DeBoer (87)
December 28 Joe & Mary Polonowski (32)
January 13 Jere & Carol Ann Keyes (31)
January 17 Rich & Sharon Pastars (45)
January 20 Merle & Kay Veenstra (60)
December 10 Scott Geurink
December 15 Chris Van Weerdhuizen
December 20 Mike VanDerDyke
January 8 John Hoekwater
January 23 Dave Smith
As many of you might have assumed, the anonymous author of these regular “Ponder Points” in the newsletter was Ralph Koll.
Since Ralph recently left this earth for his heavenly home, Ponder Points will sadly be discontinued.
Bob Hengeveld honored by Senior Neighbors Organization
For the past several years, the local Senior Neighbors organization has highlighted the work of 16 different individuals per year who have had a positive impact on their neighborhoods and communities, especially in regard to their work with Seniors. Bob was one of the 16 individuals who was recognized this year. Congratulations, Bob! And thank you for the good work you have done in your profession and here at West Leonard Church.
This article about Bob was printed in the program for this year’s virtual gala that honored these “16 Over 60.” It is reprinted here with the permission of Senior Neighbors.
Housing Advocate, Mentor, Volunteer
Bob has come to believe people are not meant to ever retire from sharing God’s love and compassion. He came to this belief unexpectedly after taking a stop-gap job with Home Repair Services in 1980. Inspired by the strength of an older co-worker’s Christian faith, he shifted the focus of his own goals to that of serving others through daily work. Within ten years, he was managing all the organization’s repair programs. Since then, his team of plumbers, carpenters, roofers, subcontractors and volunteers has completed more than 50,000 repairs for low income homeowners. Though he mainly manages projects, he still makes time to work hands-on in client homes. He advocates for those in need and believes interacting with clients and developing lasting relationships can be as important as actual repair work. With a strong sense of who is vulnerable and how to triage urgent needs, he is a master at stretching precious resources and juggling funding sources, always adhering to his hallmarks of Efficiency and Compassion. Bob also is active through his church, coordinating work days to help neighbors in need, and mentoring and inspiring young men, just as he was inspired early on in his own career.
Tales from the Hood
BATS AND RATS AND CATS – OH MY!
I admit to being just a touch jealous of little dogs, only because they can confidently be “lap dogs.” However, I used to be a lap dog. My grandpa let me snuggle on his lap a lot, and I sat on Amanda’s lap too. Why, I even stayed on her lap and held onto to her when she would be shaking really hard (grandma called these “seizures”). Since grandpa and Amanda went to heaven, I was disappointed to realize that my lap-dog days were probably over. I am nearly 50 pounds (of sheer muscle, of course) and grandma isn’t an especially large person, so me begging for lap time is nearly useless, unless she feels sorry for me, and sometimes that happens. 😊 There’s this shiny screen in the room with my couch, and one of my favorite times (aside from any time that involves food, of course) is when grandma lets me plop on her lap on a Saturday night to watch this long-haired vet in jeans who lives where there are mountains. He fixes up dogs and all kinds of animals (even cats, go figure!). But grandma also sometimes watches another guy with short hair. He wears a flowy robe. There isn’t much to interest me then, but one night she said, “Listen up, Nova. This pastor is talking about animals in church!” As you know, I myself have been to church—not just in grandma’s office, but even in the sanctuary. (Not to worry; I am reliably housebroken!) In fact, it was in the sanctuary that I first met Pastor Matthew. It took me all of 10 seconds to like the guy. Turns out his dog Luna has been to church as well, but we’ve never met.
So, of course, my grandma had to tell me stories about other animals in our church. When she was a little girl, she said that a lot of dogs roamed my neighborhood pretty freely (not on patrol, like me), and the doors to the church were left open sometimes during hot weather. Once a curious dog sauntered very nicely (nicely is a word I know, especially when doing down stairs) down the center aisle during a Sunday morning service. He didn’t run or get excited. Grandma said he seemed almost respectful. She said another church visitor was a bat. It was cruising around one night when grandma was working extra, and then the thing hanged upside down (crazy creature!) above the library door. Grandma called grandpa, who came with a paper bag and a stick, flopped this rather ugly thing into the bag and set it free outside. But somehow the bat found his way back into the church, and he was found dead on a church pew on a Sunday morning, thankfully before anyone had come for worship and would have probably screamed!
Now bats are related to rats, and, of course, grandma had a rat story. I guess rats are the larger cousins of mice, and I’ve chased a few of those out of my backyard. Grandma said that church mice are pretty common. She had one who liked to leave his trail (whatever that is) across her desk and munch on paper in the copy room. Then one day he was hopping down the stairs ahead of grandma. He was so very scared that she just watched him and let him go. But not so with the rat! Grandma had run an errand and was coming back into the front door of church when a sizeable rat ran out of the bushes and into the open door. Only thinking of what might happen with a rat loose in church the coming Sunday and not thinking of what might happen to her hand, grandma grabbed the thing by the base of his tail. Before she could throw him outside, he turned around and bit her hand through her glove! A call to one of grandma’s nurse sisters assured her that she should wash the hand and keep watch of it, and everything turned out okay.
But back to the guy in the flowy robe on the shiny screen. He was sitting on the steps in his church and was talking to the little kids who came to church that day. He said that they had a chipmunk and a raccoon come into their downtown church. Of course I feel that grandma’s church animal stories top that, but this pastor had a point to make. He said that God’s Word (I’m now pretty sure that is the big black book that grandma reads) talks about birds who came to church, and he talked about Psalm 84. I don’t know what numbers mean (except that I get exactly 3 small cookies every day, 6 when then are broken in half and I do a few more of my well-rehearsed tricks), but, as I’ve mentioned before, Psalm is a word I do know. Number 84 says that a bird called a sparrow (they come to the feeder outside my window when it snows and entertain me) finds a home in the courts of God, and another bird called a swallow finds a place for her nest at God’s altar. I think the point is that God’s creatures want to be close to Him, even in His house, and people who love God want that too!
I don’t come to church on Sunday mornings, but grandma said there are a lot of people who came to worship for quite a while these past months, and because of this pandemic thing, they wore masks and sat far apart and never shook hands or hugged each other, but they really wanted to be in God’s house to worship Him. And she said that there are lots more people who really wished they could be there but could not because it would be unsafe for them to come. And now the church is closed again, because everyone is trying to stay healthy and protect other people from getting sick. Sigh… I was thinking how sad everyone must feel. Grandma said that you can feel close to God no matter where you are, but yet there is something special about coming to church to worship together and that this time of year is really special. I kind of got the “special” feeling when grandma hauled out these tiny animals (strangely no dogs involved) and people and set them out in the room where I am not allowed to hang out very much. None of them looked at me. Grandma made sure that they were all looking at a baby. (Personally I too love babies but generally get cautiously steered around them while on patrol.) “Nova,” grandma finally said (it sometimes takes her a while to get to the point!), “I think I should contact some of the dear people from church and see how they are doing!” So should you be reading this because you got it in the mail or you are reading it online (I have no idea what that means, but I get the feeling it’s a going thing), and when you get a call or a note from someone from church, remember that I helped people think about other people!
P.S. - I only put “cats” in the title to this article because it rhymed. I’ve never seen a cat in church and never hope to see one.
P.P.S. – The guy in the flowy robe also shows up sometimes in regular clothes and gives what grandma calls a “devotional,” and he always ends with this: “Now may the peace of Christ go with you wherever you may be. May He guide you through the wilderness and protect you in the storm. May He fill you with thanksgiving for the wonders He has shown you, and may He bring us all together – face to face again - once more.”
Can I get an AMEN?!