~ North Winds, South Winds ~
“ The wind [Spirit] blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
~ John 3:8
Dear Members and Friends,
Happy Easter season to you! Though Easter Day—like all days—lasts only twenty-four hours, the season of Easter stretches on for seven lovely weeks. “Eastertide” in the Northern Hemisphere is designed to coincide with the growing light of spring, and the greening earth and the blooming gardens. It’s nice when the living world all around echoes the message of new life. I did spend five Easters on the equator, in a land of endless summer. Easter was good there, too—though admittedly less dramatic. But I do wonder what Easter is like in the Southern Hemisphere, where it comes with the first chilly breath of autumn. Would we celebrate Easter with quite the same joy if it was accompanied by a misty nip in the morning air, if the green leaves of summer were newly touched with just a tint of fading yellow? I hope we would. The joy of Easter defies all props, and it depends not on daffodils and tender buds. It’s a mysterious truth that we have all sometimes encountered deep in the quiet of our souls: Death is strong, but life is stronger. In God’s wise and wondrous economy, nothing good is finally lost, and even death is not forever. No matter how old, or tired, or bored, or uninspired we may feel, the God we know in Christ makes all things new. The winds of new life blow where they will.
I’ll be spending the second and third Sundays of Easter (April 8 & 15) on the equator once again, in the African nation of Malawi. Pittsburgh Presbytery has a longstanding relationship with the Blantyre Synod of a denomination called “The Church of Central Africa Presbyterian.” I’ll be one of two pastors representing our presbytery at talks with Malawian and Sudanese church leaders. Most Americans just assume that our African friends are the “junior partners” in this relationship, but pause to compare the numbers. Bower Hill belongs to the Synod of the Trinity, which covers a large geographic area: all of Pennsylvania, most of West Virginia, and a small part of Ohio. Ever since colonial times, this has been the venerable old homeland of American Presbyterianism, with a current church membership of about 225,000. Blantyre Synod in Malawi—which is one of three synods in that country—is about the size of New Jersey, and it has 1.2 million church members! Pittsburgh Presbytery is partnered with an African synod that’s almost as big as our entire American denomination. Of course, African countries have three factors contributing to the growth of their churches, one of which we share: 1) high birthrates, 2) social prestige attached to church membership, and 3) the unpredictable movement of the Spirit, which John calls describes as a wind. That Spirit of new life blows where it will. When the flame of faith burned brighter in our part of the world, it was dim in Malawi. The flame of faith burns less bright in our materialistic society today, but it burns brighter there. That’s fine, and as it should be. The Spirit comes unexpected, usually uninvited. It meets us where we are—as Anne Lamott says—but never leaves us where it finds us. In this season of Easter, pause to consider it. How are the winds of the Spirit stirring in your life and in the life of Bower Hill?
In Christ’s Peace,
TALKING ABOUT TOMORROW: Whenever a month has five Sundays, we gather during second hour on that day for an intergenerational potluck and to talk about our vision for Bower Hill Church. We call these events “Talking about Tomorrow.” At past events, we’ve discussed our unique identity as a congregation and the values that drive us. Please bring a dish to share and join us on April 29, as we discuss the ways that our identity and values ought to shape our worship, education, and mission. This is always a fun event, and children are welcome!