Dear Friends and Members of First Reformed Church of Bethlehem:
Has the pace of summer slowed for you, even just a little bit? Even if it has slowed down, often more is going on than meets the eye. In April and May our famous parsonage gardening team was busy pounding in stakes, setting wire cages, scattering mulch, and checking for any signs the fragile tomato plants would grow … but “things” were at work. We had no idea. Finally small plants did come to life and we took our ease, confident of an August harvest. The problem was, other “things” were going on, quietly and effectively. We had no idea, but clearly “things” were happening. Blight entered the lower leaves of the plants and climbed up the vines, outpacing even the fastest growing tomato vines.
The result is that while we set eighty plants, we did not grow enough tomatoes to fill one pail. Even our resident groundhog is depressed. It was a wild and sad tomato summer for us. Brian, Petra, Ellen and I stood by helplessly. Thanks to friends who did not have this unwanted outcome, we have received some really ripe and tasty tomatoes. We are also hearing that the current tomato patch may need to be rotated out of production for a few years. We take small comfort in hearing that many gardeners had the same problem. Our misery is not comforted by more tomato blight stories.
Some parts of the garden thrived, the most spectacular being the cosmos, cleome, and zinnias, not to mention sunflowers, marigolds, and more seasonal flowers. So we did not harvest as many vegetables, food for the body, as we had hoped; but certainly we have an abundance of food for the soul. Thanks to Ellen, the garden is, nevertheless, stunning! Her generous sowing of flower seeds caused the garden to grow, even though it has devastating wounds.
I suppose there is a lesson in all this. I invite you to gather round and let the garden speak. She is a wise professor and will bless our living if we have the patience to listen and respond. What do we excel (bloom) at? What are our blights? What “things” interrupt and crush our well-planned lives? What or who sustains us when “things” happen? Our vulnerabilities may inhibit our plans; but still, as wounded healers we may thrive if only we have the patience to adjust.
It is in that spirit I look to September and to our planning. On Sunday, September 10, we begin the Sunday School year by welcoming our children and their parents. A picnic is planned and other events are being added in. Will it work? Will something good come out of it or will “things” happen that will challenge us to make changes? Do we have to lay aside what is unworkable and some time during the year go to plan B? I think of the garden prep and the preparations we are making to nurture the spiritual life of our congregation. How will it turn out?
In the meantime, we are continuing to work with the Albany Synod Fellowship Program. The Synod has offered to bring four newly ordained (or about to be ordained) graduates from seminary to the Regional Synod of Albany and place them in congregations for two years. As anyone who has been around here for many years will remember, the asset of our 90 plus acres of woods has blessed us in different ways. At first when donated by Stephen Van Rensselaer, the land was cleared and the pastor was expedited to farm it as part of his salary. Then in the 1950-1960 period, members spent Sunday afternoons planting trees, reforesting the lands. A few years ago we developed a plan centered on a Pavilion, even having drawings of what it could look like. Classis (probably wisely) suggested we needed to begin with a plan and people, and let the pavilion idea not be the focus.
Upon hearing of these four Fellowships, we applied for one of the pastors, to guide us in a step back into the forest and to assist us in developing a ministry celebrating creation and encouraging a reverence for God’s creation. As it is, across the globe, it appears that we have lost our reverence for the creation. Significant destructive global changes are happening. Humankind seems intent on squeezing every last drop of life out of the earth. The human race behaves generally like the landlord’s tenant from hell, trashing the space that could have housed others, making it unfit for a human dwelling.
As we meet a candidate this month, we will be planning and planting. Certainly “things” will happen! I pray that with patience and curiosity, and with an abiding faith, we are called to this ministry. I take hope in reflecting on the eclipse this last week. By the millions, people traveled to get a glimpse. What if we found a way to convey that such “miracles” are happening in our backyard, in our garden soil and in our bodies every day?
Pray! Stay tuned! Go Gently!
Pastor Harlan E. Ratmeyer