The Spire - December 2020

A monthly column by Senior
Minister J. Douglas Patterson
From the Office of 
the Associate Minister
by Rev. Susan Cherian
From the President's Pen
Holiday Spirit
by Jon Colburn

Dear Friends,


You don’t need another letter reminding you of how tired we all are of this pandemic. And I don’t need to write another. However, in spite of our weariness, we all need to be vigilant in doing our parts (masks, distancing, avoidance of groups, hand washing) until the day comes when we can all be together again. Let’s all pray for effective vaccines, health workers, constructive government leadership, those infected with the virus, and grieving families. As I write this letter we are in the midst of Advent, a time of waiting, anticipation and spiritual reflection. Sadly, most Christians neglect this time, using it instead to buy and wrap presents, decorate, bake, send cards, put up trees, and make travel plans (which, hopefully, will be quite limited this year). Make no mistake, I do all of these things, as well. But they do not dominate my interior life. Churches rush through this important part of the church calendar by singing Christmas carols early and acting as if the joyous season had already begun. It’s important to remember that the liturgical year only recognizes the season of Christmas as beginning on Christmas Day and lasting for just twelve days. At Smithfield we try to honor that schedule. This Christmas will surely be different for all of us. My hope is that Advent will be different, as well. Set aside some time each day to reflect and pray for your family and friends, our nation and the world in which we live, and yourself. Consider how the life and teachings of a man named Jesus can impact each in fresh ways. And remember, he came as a baby. Use this time of Advent waiting to ponder these things. Take good care of yourselves in every way. And may the blessings of this season be made real in your lives!




J. Douglas Patterson

Happy Holidays to all! We are greeting another holiday season with traditional excitement and fond memories, yet fully aware of our limitations and fears during this long drawn out pandemic and shut down. When I come across people who are trapped in their fears of COVID-19, I can see that it has paralyzed them with anxiety and depression. On the other hand, the introverts that I talk with are ecstatic about the privacy they enjoy now that they are in a class by themselves. Let us leave them alone for a while. Meanwhile, other people think that this whole pandemic issue is a hoax and they do not want any part of believing it or doing anything about it.

I would guess that we can all agree that we are widely polarized, and that each group has little chance of connecting with the other. Each camp has its own assumptions and values, well-articulated into an intact belief system. We clean out our guest lists and friends’ pages so we can maintain peace and harmony with the hope of not getting into political or religious arguments. We can watch the same debate and same election    returns, but  arrive at very different conclusions. We point the finger, accuse one another of denial of reality or laugh at others who settle comfortably into their alternate reality. Exasperated we cry out, "Why can't they get it?" or "Why can't they accept what seems so obvious?" 

But what do we do as Christians? What is our response as we take our identity as followers of Jesus of Nazareth? We seem to believe what we want to believe whether it is right or wrong, we seem stuck in our positions. Unless we have emptied ourselves and managed to clean inwardly, we judge others and our judgments may be mere projections or reactions from our own thoughts. But is there room in our spirituality to explore the origins of our values and beliefs this holiday, and check our spiritual cleanliness and alignment with Christ as our head? Can we manage to trust one more time and put our faith in the one who empowers us to transform our lives and transform the lives of people around us?

So this holiday I pray for us to witness a rise in consciousness; healing the world from lovelessness; healing the world from a lack of decency and civility; healing the world from a lack of respect and dignity; healing the world from a lack of compassion and kindness; healing the world from a lack of seeing the truth and recognizing what is real; Let heartfelt prayers of thanksgiving rise from our hearts for simple things to greater things. 

I’ll admit it, I waited ‘til the last minute for this column. An email from Sean reminded me of the deadline he had given me two weeks ago. I’ll try not to ramble too much.

I have had a hard time getting into the Holiday Spirit so far this year. I thought a Thanksgiving dinner for two would somehow be lacking: No extended family, as there would be if we were able to travel. No supping with friends, as in years where work duties had us stay in Pittsburgh. I was wrong! I found an 8 pound turkey. I made mashed potatoes and gravy, dressing, green beans (sautéed, not al la casserole). I even made a pumpkin pie from fresh pumpkin with a real lard crust. David and I sat down to eat at 4 pm. We ate, we talked, we laughed. We stood up about two hours later. It was a gift!

Since Thanksgiving, Holidays have been making their way into my world. I have decorated the big Christmas tree at LaRoche University. I have put candles in our windows and hung a wreath at the front. I have hung the leaded glass Nativity scene my father made for me.

I am realizing the importance of just doing familiar and comfortable things. And then as often happens, the words of a hymn have come to mind. This time it is People, Look East: “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…”

Make your house fair, as you are able… Go through the motions, redd up the house. I sure felt better, I hope it helps you. “...Love, through Christ, is on the way.”

Smithfield United Church of Christ I 620 Smithfield St. I Pittsburgh, PA 15222 I 412-281-1811

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