In the year of the masks

do I want to know a secret?

Unity MaskIn some way, there was no date more 2020 for me than December 7. I received three packages. All contained masks.

One was a package of 50 disposable items I had ordered about a week earlier. The second was a mask featuring the mustache of John Green, which I had ordered about a month and a half earlier. It was a Pizzamas thing; don’t worry about understanding that, because I don’t either.

The third, though, I had ordered so long before that I had forgotten about it altogether. Ten black masks with the letters UNITY in white silhouette. Within each letter, a message. all in caps.

Healthcare for all. Back Lives Matter. Save the Planet. Protect Dreamers. Ensure voting rights. The image description from Democracy for America: “We believe there is more that unites us than divides us. These issues are not just for the few, they are for all of us.” I hope so.

In my Christmas stocking, Santa brought two more masks. One was a woodsy scene. The other was a black mask with Day-Glo musical notes. I like these.

One more

Finally, in the mail on New Year’s Eve, came a mask with a card, sent ostensibly from my church’s address. The lettering was intentionally designed to obscure the handwriting of the sender. The white mask had a pinkish rectangle that featured a white cross. In red letters:
FIRST PRES CHOIR
2020

For the last few years, an anonymous benefactor had left the choir t-shirts and pens, both emblazed with messages about the church, left near the choir loft. Since we haven’t sung since March 2020 – haven’t even been in the building – I was particularly surprised by this largesse. I have a theory about who it might be; my wife thinks it’s someone else. Thanks to the choir Secret Santa once again, whoever you are.

Football!

I went to the local grocery store on Tuesday, moving through as quickly as possible. The cashier wore a Pittsburgh Steelers mask. I asked her if her team was going to win this weekend. She said, “I hope so. They only lost by two last week, and they rested some of their players.” I added, “And the Cleveland Browns needed that game. But what about that three-game losing streak?” She sighed, “I don’t know WHAT that was about.”

I mention this because, too often, the mask is a sign of less sharing. You can’t see people’s facial expressions. But at that moment, the mask facilitated a human connection that I too often miss.

Here’s hoping that in 2022, I won’t need the masks anymore. But I keep seeing those newspaper headlines. LA Times, Jan 1.: Spiraling COVID-19 deaths leave morgues overflowing and funeral homes turning away grieving families. And even around here. Times Union, Jan. 1: In Albany County, the mark of 346 new infections in one day is 77 more than the prior record. So know I’ll still have those masks available in 2021. It’s good to have a variety…

At least I don’t have to deal with these folks.

Unbridled joy at church, as it were

readings, prayers, and conversation

First Presbyterian Church. windowMy church had been working toward resuming in-person worship beginning Sunday, November 29. However, based on the upswing of COVID 19 virus cases in the area, the Session (correctly, IMO) doesn’t feel it is safe to restart.

Since we’re talking about Presbyterians, naturally there is an ad hoc group known as the Reopening Coordinating Committee. The group voted to put in-person worship on hold at least until mid-January. I suspect it’ll be later than that.

Now, we have had worship live-streamed on Facebook every Sunday at 10 a.m. since way back on March 22, after the services were canceled on March 15. It is actually a quite decent production, thanks to the technological prowess of a number of folks. But of course, it’s not the same.

There is a team in the church to check-in and connect with every member via phone or email. I’m one of those team members. But it ain’t the same either.

We did a new thing

On November 22, we had an all-church meeting to discuss the nominations for the new Session members. So it was on the church’s ZOOM account. I had seen most of the people present, from meetings of the choir and adult Sunday school and the Bible guys.

But it occurred to me that some of the members had viewed few or none of the rest of us. What I saw were, in some cases, experiences of unbridled joy. It was very exciting.

Then on Thanksgiving at 11 am, we had a Zoom gathering time of readings, prayers, and conversation. ESPECIALLY conversation.

Now, our church is working on trying to do a carol sing close to Christmas. Of course, we’d all be muted save for the performers. It’d be cacophony otherwise. Still, we could at least SEE each other making a joyful noise.

As our pastors like to say, “We may not gather at the church, but we still gather as the church.”

20 years at the new church

water under the bridge

new churchIt suddenly occurred to me that I have now been attending my new church for 20 years. I suppose “new church” might not be quite how I should label it.

As I may have mentioned, the Troubles were taking place at my old church. I need not dwell upon them presently. One element, though, was that the choir was not allowed to sing.

I called Laura, a woman who had left my old church. I was wondering if I could sing at her church until The Troubles were resolved. After all, it WAS Lent. Two minutes later, Victor, the choir director, said “stay as long as you want.”

As it turned out, the Troubles were not really resolved. A couple from my old church joined me at the “new” church that fall. And it’s been fine.

What’s interesting, though, is my evolution in dealing with the old church. Both churches belong to the FOCUS churches. This means that there would be joint services rotating among them once a month during the summer and also the first Sunday in February. For the first five years, when the service was at the old church, I just didn’t go there.

Then I would generally attend. It could be awkward, with some very nice people asking when I was coming back. The choir folks, only one of whom I knew from my time there, noted that my name still showed up in pencil on some of the music. I DID sing there for about 17 years.

Duane Smith, R.I.P.

Now, it’s mostly water under the bridge, I realized when I sang there in early February. The feeling was codified, I suppose, when I went to the funeral of a young man named Duane Smith, who died of cancer at the age of 45. Among other things, he was an extremely talented artist. His mom was a choir member with me at the old church, and she was a tenant of my wife’s for a time.

Duane’s friends who grew up with him in the church – the kids I saw growing up there – all seemed happy to see me. Jeff and Dan and Jessica and David and Eddie, plus a couple of their moms, who I also used to sing with.

I must say that there was a time at the old church when we had an excellent choir, especially when Eric was our director in the early 1990s. I’m in an excellent choir now, but I’ll own up to some nostalgia, even now.

Some stuff can be rather painful at the time. Yet sometimes, it dissipates. Time has a way of doing that under the right circumstances.

Keith Barber (1941 – 2020)

service Saturday, January 25, at 11 a.m. at First Presbyterian Church, ALB

If you read the comments about Keith Barber on his Facebook page, you’d detect a common theme. He was kind, gentle, friendly, compassionate, gracious, funny, loving – that’s about right.

Keith was a strong supporter of equality and social justice. As an ordained deacon and elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA), he worked for years for full inclusiveness in the church. At our church, First Presbyterian of Albany, he chaired the committee on Social Justice and Peacemaking.

Quite recently he posted on his Facebook ‘The Slaves Dread New Year’s Day the Worst’: The Grim History of January 1. His comment: “A bit of Truth that my own white privilege has previously deprived me of knowing.”

Keith Barber could be a raconteur. He told stories about his time in radio broadcasting, including at WROW in Albany. He shared details with me of stories that took place in the Capital District that took place before I got here. Notably, there was a plane crash in an Albany neighborhood in the early 1970s, which he talked about in astonishing detail more than 30 years later.

Keith was a booster of New York, especially upstate. His Quora page made that quite clear. Although he moved to Florida for a time, he belonged in this region.

The train, the bus

His fondness and support for public transportation was very evident. We shared a love of rail travel, though he did so more than I. Keith became the first public relations officer at Capital District Transit Authority. I’d see him occasionally on the bus, counting people or taking surveys.

The church attempted a Thursday evening Bible study almost a decade ago. Though it started with a half dozen folks, it eventually dwindled down some weeks to just the two of us. Naturally, Keith pulled out his Message Bible written by Eugene Peterson.

Keith LOVED reading from Peterson, because it was “designed to be read by contemporary people in the same way as the original koiné Greek and Hebrew manuscripts were savored by people thousands of years ago.” Genesis 1:1 reads: “First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see.”

If I’m particularly saddened by Keith’s passing, it’s that, less than a month ago, he “graduated” from getting chemotherapy. It’s likely that the chemo helped create the situation that ultimately killed him, if I understand correctly.

There will be a service for Keith Barber on Saturday, January 25, at 11 a.m. in the First Presbyterian Church, 362 State St., Albany. All are welcome to celebrate a life well lived.

Lydster: confirmation class 2019

My daughter decided to draw her statement of faith

Lydster
My daughter is growing up[
My daughter and four other teenagers at church were in confirmation class this spring. It ran seven Sunday mornings starting on March 17, but excluded Easter Sunday. It involved some theological tenets, plus the history of the Presbyterian Church and our church in particular.

The parents, us included, insisted that they must take the class, run by one of the pastors. He helped them deal with big-time issues such as fuzzy concepts (Virgin birth) and the room for doubt. They had the decision whether or not to join the church at the end of the process.

Near the end, they were to work on a “statement of faith” that they would share with the Session as part of becoming members. May 5 was the last class, but by the end of that session, none of the five were finished. this meant working on it during the week.

My daughter, as is her wont, decided to draw her statement of faith, representing God (everywhere), Jesus (lamb of God), the Holy Spirit and the church. By May 11, she’d only finished two of the four, though she decided on the concepts for the other two in the car.

This pattern, which feel like procrastination, makes me a bit anxious. I relate to this article Why People Wait 10 Days to Do Something That Takes 10 Minutes. But it just is her way for now.

She then drew the last two pages on Sunday morning, May 12. Among other things, the Holy Spirit was mysterious, path, and messenger, the latter represented by a drawing of texting.

At 9:30 the class members shared their statement of faith with Session; my daughter represented her group in one of her church panels. They were then received in worship at the 10:45 service. All five of the confirmands decided to become members!

A couple of them were baptized first. After the sermon the confirmation youth were called forward by the Clerk of Session. She called each youth by name and they came up and stood by the baptismal font. That was the part my daughter most disliked, but she was fine.

I, on the other hand, may have gotten a little verklempt. After the service, during Coffee Hour, there was congratulatory cake.