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

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.

Fight Poverty, Not the Poor; “White Genocide”

America is something we do, not something we are. It is an idea that can be shared by anyone who is inspired to share it.

poor people's campaignRev. Liz Theoharis from the The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, came to my church this past weekend. It was a very meaningful event on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Part of the scripture reading was the beginning of Isaiah 10 (NIV): “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people.”

But beyond the message was the relational connections. I knew a LOT of people there, and not just my fellow parishioners. There’s a colleague from the North Country, way above Albany, who attended. He’d heard Liz speak on videos and wanted to see her in person. I sent him this Faith in Public Life webinar on Census 2020, trying to include everyone.

One friend shocked another – they had never met each other – in discussing John Calvin, the progenitor of Presbyterianism and his role in the burning of Michael Servetus. As the Calvinist said, “We never learned about THAT in my confirmation class.”

Still another buddy was stunned by the assertion, by me and another, that the National Rifle Association, founded 1871, was actually a largely non-partisan group in its first century. It’s only been since the 1970s that it became radically politicized.

Even someone breaking into our church at 4 a.m. on Sunday – a broken door window, but nothing of value apparently taken – did not cancel out the meaningfulness of the weekend.

The talk Saturday night, of course, began with more than a moment of silence for those massacred in New Zealand. I really have no words that aren’t better expressed by Arthur the AmeriNZ.

He too is incredibly impressed by the Kiwi Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who offered “the strongest possible condemnation of the ideology of the people who did this. You may have chosen us, but we utterly reject and condemn you.”

I was likewise taken by the Weekly Sift guy, Doug Muder, who managed to read the whole 70+-page “manifesto” of the gunman, something I was not able to stomach. Muder wrote Fear of White Genocide: the underground stream feeding right-wing causes.

A key paragraph of the Weekly Sift rebuttal: “In my view, America (or Western culture, for that matter) isn’t something that arises from the essential nature of the White race. America is something we do, not something we are. It is an idea that can be shared by anyone who is inspired to share it.”

I suppose it’s important to understand the hate mentality, though I’m not convinced that comprehension will be enough to stem the tide of bigotry. But I do see a linkage between the attack on the poor and attacks on racial/ethnic/religious “others.” It’s driven by fear.

It’s sometimes difficult to remember that most people are good and kind and just trying to get through life like the rest of us.

Reverend Bob Lamar (1922-2019)

Bob Lamar had become the senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Albany in 1958, and served in that capacity until 1992.

Bob LamarLong before I started attending First Presbyterian Church in Albany in 2000, I knew Bob Lamar. My previous church, Trinity United Methodist, only two blocks away, was part of something called the FOCUS churches. FOCUS was where faith communities of different backgrounds (initially Baptist, Presbyterian and Methodist) worked together to create a food pantry and other needed functions. Bob Lamar was instrumental in bring that about.

Periodically, there would be joint FOCUS services, so I got to sing at First Presbyterian, my current church, and see the then-current pastor, Reverend Lamar. I wouldn’t know for another decade and a half why he was so interested in the folks in the other choirs. It was that he himself had a beautiful singing voice – I saw him perform with his old quartet when he was in his eighties, and he sounded quite good – and had other musical talents as well.

His oldest son Paul is quoted in a news article that his father “knew from when he was a teenager he wanted to go into the ministry.” Robert Clayton Lamar graduated from Yale University (1943) and Yale Divinity School (1946).

After a stint in a Connecticut church, Bob had become the senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Albany in 1958, and served in that capacity until 1992. He was instrumental in developing an interfaith community in the Capital District with then-Bishop Howard Hubbard of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany and the late Rabbi Martin Silverman. After leaving the first Pres pulpit, Bob became executive director of the Capital Area Council of Churches. He was a lion in the ecumenical movement, not just locally but nationwide.

A bit of his history I only discovered recently is that Bob Lamar rose to become moderator of the United Presbyterian Church in 1974. He was co-chair of of the Joint Committee on Presbyterian Reunion from 1969-83 that resulted in the unification of the southern and northern branches of the church. Being a Methodist, I knew that denomination had its own racial and geographic skeletons before the United Methodist Church was created in 1968.

He was always very active in social justice concerns, both locally and nationally. He served as an officer and/or board member for a slew of organizations way too numerous to mention here. So he had a lot of amount of gravitas by the time I was attending First Pres.

But I never found pompous or self-absorbed. He was genuinely interested in what others had to say, even this former Methodist. As his obituary read, he had “lived a life of faith, gratitude and grace.” I’m pleased to be part of the choir honoring him on January 25 at 11 a.m. at FPC.