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Pastor’s Page


RUSSELL CHUR HStarting Over Redux

About this time last year, the Rev. Dr. Lew Parks wrote in these pages about the challenge of either “dawdling in a memory or heading out for a new experience.” His ruminations were prompted by a re-reading of Ezra and Nehemiah, which told of the return of the Jews to Jerusalem from their Babylonian exile. Pastor Lew mused about the choices the returnees had when they found that their city and temple, destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s army, remained in ruins after so many years: they could break down and cry; grumble and wish they didn’t have to deal with the difficult task of rebuilding, or ask their enemies for help. None of the options were palatable. Instead, they prayed to the God whom they had once turned their backs on and set about starting over.

The story of the returning Israelites is our story today, Pastor Lew wrote. Over and over we must find a way to begin anew in life because life is not static but evolving. Change, pleasant or otherwise, is constant, and we must adapt. And we at Calvary find ourselves in that position today: we are changing shepherds of the flock once again. I say “we” because I feel blessed to be part of the Calvary family, but I’m acutely aware that the change is difficult for some. Let’s set about starting over, together.

As it happens, there’s a similarity between Pastor Lew’s comments and my first sermon at Calvary, “We’re Doing a New Thing”, which also deals in part with the exiles’ liberation from Babylonian captivity and return to their homeland. My take, however, deals not with the daunting task of rebuilding a city but with the comforting news that God goes with us and prepares our way.

The Israelites were leaving a terrible setback, and protected by God, they were proceeding to a bright future. Our story today, Calvary, is not one of calamity but of uncertainty due to attrition in recent years in our numbers. If I can steal a line from Sam Cooke, a change is gonna come. But it’s a bright one, church, because we’re doing a new thing.

One final word about Pastor Lew: I am indebted to him for his graciousness. He has helped and advised me tremendously during this transition. Somebody once said folks don’t have to be nice, and when they are, they don’t have to be nice to you. Pastor Lew has been unbelievably nice to me, and I will be forever grateful.

Pastor Russell

Summer 2019

JW’s Best and Why We Need Them Now More than Ever

An institution that has nourished many of us is shaking at the foundations these days: The United Methodist Church. As institutions go it is not exceptionally old, fifty-one years to be exact. Most of the senior members of Calvary are in their third iteration of a Wesleyan denomination: United Brethren, Evangelical United Brethren (1946), United Methodist (1968).

The shaking of the foundations has two main sources: the debates surrounding the interpretation of scripture on human sexuality and the changing climate of religious belief, specifically the increase in numbers of persons who identify themselves as having no religious belief, at least “none” as it relates to a religious institution. We talk regularly about these two subjects in the adult Sunday School class and you are welcome to join the conversation any time.

In these uncertain days I find it helpful to remember that there is a Wesleyan tradition, spirit, and character, a Wesleyan Way of being a Christian if you will, that transcends the ups and downs of the institutions that lay claim to the name Methodist. The Wesleyan Way is captured best in the sermons of John Wesley which were intended to be the basic teaching and formation tool of the people called Methodist. The sermons of JW amplified by stories from his long life (1703-1791), the wonderful poetry of his brother Charles, and a little help from Methodist scholars, past and present, remain a very effective tool. They spell out a unique path of salvation, separate the essentials from the nonessentials, and provide next steps for growth in love of God and neighbor.

Please join me in the worship this June as we listen together to the wisdom of three of my favorite John Wesley sermons. There will be more scattered across the coming year. In July our seminary intern, Kayla Shaffer, will share her call story and start our series on the The Gospel in Baseball. (Spoiler alert: she is a Yankee fan). Kayla’s last Sunday with us is the first Sunday in August. On that Sunday she will start the month long Listening for God on Broadway series with the musical, Beauty and the Beast. The summer’s worship projections follow below. See you at the sanctuary/ballpark/theatre!

Pastor Lew


April 2019

Hope Lands

One of my favorite theologians talks about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead as the dent in the ground left when a giant meteor struck. We missed the action of the fiery rock falling from heaven, but we can see the evidence that it struck. There is no YouTube of Jesus tearing off or bursting out of his burial clothes but there they are lying neatly folding on the slab in the tomb (John 20:6-7), as if the former occupant says, “no thanks; I won’t be needing these.” The tomb is empty. Grieving friends and family suddenly act joyful; frightened persons make audacious claims about the reversal of Jesus’ fate. A church of believers, not in Late Jesus but, in Lord Jesus is born. The world is changed forever on that “third day”.

Hope lands. The resurrection of Jesus is the most important event in history. It introduces a new possibility, the unheard-of possibility that the “last enemy” itself is subject to almighty God’s overriding might. “Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55), Paul gloats. And we can gloat right along with him. Please join me in the worship this Easter season as we unfold the ways resurrection hope animates believers, makes them serious players in God’s mission, and compelling witnesses in a culture hungry for authenticity. See you in church!   Pastor Lew

April 28 (Easter 2): Hope Lands, Part 1: Boldness (Acts 5:27-32)

May 05 (Easter 3): Hope Lands, Part 2: Change Sides (Acts 9:1-20)

May 12 (Easter 4): Hope Lands, Part 3: Summon Life (Acts 9:36-43)

May 19 (Easter 5): Hope Lands, Part 4: Puncture Preconceptions (Acts 11:1-18)

May 26 (Easter 6): Hope Lands, Part 5: Contagious (Acts 16:9-15)

June 02 (Easter 7): Hope Lands, Part 6: Perseverance (Acts 16:16-34)


February 2019

No Matter What Happens in St. Louis

Permit me to rework a wise observation from another religion. The great Buddha once observed something like this: “before my great awakening under the Bodhi tree, I awoke from sleep, slurped my coffee, walked the dog, took a shower, got the kids off to school, and headed out for work. But after my great awakening under the Bodhi tree … I awoke from sleep, slurped my coffee, walked the dog, took a shower, got the kids off to school, and headed out for work.”

For several months now we have been studying the special session of General Conference to be held in St. Louis on February 23-26. Along with our conversations in Sunday school, church, and meetings we have been blasted with media and social media news and comment. We have talked to friends in the connection. We have stoked one another’s anxiety level as we indulged in worst case scenario thinking.

I personally hope the One Church Plan passes. It will allow conferences the choice to ordain clergy who are in committed monogamous homosexual relations or not to ordain them. It will offer local congregations the option of receiving such clergy as their pastor —or not. And it will allow pastors and congregations the choice of hosting the unions of such persons — or not. The One Church Plan offers the possibility of welcoming a constituency that has always been there but kept in the shadows. It also offers those who are adamantly opposed to any positive recognition of homosexuals the possibility of voicing and voting their conscience.

But whether One Church or one of the other plans (Traditional Revised, Connectional Conferences, Simple) passes, there will certainly be a period of shake-up following the General Conference in St. Louis. Even if there are no changes to The Book of Discipline the frustration level has reached a critical level. I anticipate expressions of anger and separation from the right and left.

I am helped at the connectional level by remembering that the Church is of God and transcends any one historical expression of it. The church goes on; the church of our memory often does not. And I am helped at the local level by the hint from my friend the Buddha. Before General Conference 2019 Calvary Church gathered to worship God, read the Bible together, fed the hungry and clothed the naked at Manna, laughed and cried together in Christ, and kept the saving station red L-E-D ten-foot cross lit high on the Market Street bell tower. But after General Conference 2019 Calvary Church will … gather to worship God, read the Bible together, feed the hungry and cloth the naked at Manna, laugh and cry together in Christ, and keep the saving station red L-E-D ten-foot cross lit high on the Market Street bell tower.

With you in the journey, Pastor Lew


December 2018

Love Came Down at Christmas – Please!

I want to write poetry like Christina Rosetti (1830-1894) when I grow up. I want to stare down the harsh environment of people hurting people, of Machiavellian politics, of cruelty to children, of cold indifference to the earth’s balance, of the addictions that pass from generation to generation. I want to name the bareness of a world without love.

In the bleak midwinter,

frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron,

water like a stone;

Snow had fallen,

snow on snow, snow on snow,

In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Because if I were a poet like Christina Rosetti, I also would be capable of lifting my eyes from “bleak midwinter” to the hope that comes from above: God’s sending into the world a man who would personify God’s character as a love that overcomes obstacles.

Love came down at Christmas,

Love all lovely, Love divine;

Love was born at Christmas;

Stars and angels gave the sign.

I invite you to join us in the worship this advent and Christmas season which begins Sunday, December 2nd. We’ll remember the love that came down at Christmas as named in the prophets and the gospels. We’ll search for Best Practices and Next Steps in the Love Chapter of the Bible, First Corinthians 13.

Perhaps you are like me these days. I find it easier to sing “frosty wind made moan” than “Love all lovely”. All the more reason why we should gather, and in the strength of our company, search the Scriptures for words of hope from the Lord for us and for our neighbors.

Advent & Christmas Blessings!

Pastor Lew


October 2018

A World Without Saints

At the end of October after the leaves have fallen, the harvest of the crops has been gathered in, and the air is crisp with the hint of the coming winter, we pause to “remember the saints” in our worship. Recently I was standing at the burial place of one of my “saints” remembering an arresting line from a hymn by Fred Pratt Green, “a world without saints forgets how to praise.” That rings true to my experience. The “saints” in my life remind me of some of life’s most important lessons.

My generation is not the only one that matters to God. It is a hard pill to swallow for members of the baby boomer generation (born 1946-1964). We saw our generation as the movers and shakers of history. We overturned everything from classroom size and music to politics and religion. We are still causing a “boom” in the area of medical care and we are rewriting retirement. And yet, we are not the ones Tom Brokaw called to universal acclaim and for very good reasons, “the greatest generation” (born 1928-1945). How disconcerting! But also, ultimately, how therapeutic to locate ourselves as but one of the generations God has loved and will love. What a relief to play a significant but not exclusive part in God’s story worked out across many generations (Genesis 10; Matthew 1).

I was carried on the shoulders of others before I could stand and walk on my own two feet. Scratch hard enough beneath the surface of the “self-made” man or woman and you will find a sponsoring angel, an active godparent, a special mentor, someone who went before and opened doors. There are two kinds of persons in the world. Those who forget their saints and tend toward arrogance in demeanor and callousness in behavior. In biblical terms they are those who declare incessantly, “by my own hand I have gotten it!” And then there are those who remember their saints, maintain a lifelong and deep gratitude toward them, and contribute humbly to the good of their communities.

So much of what I have inside me as models of behavior, mental dispositions, antennae, passions, and contours of soul are not original with me but are hand-me-downs. A certain relative gave me a feel for the changing of seasons. I could hear and see him as I wrote the first line of this article. A certain theologian helped me to appreciate the subtle accumulations of providence that need more than one lifetime to occur. A certain bishop helped ignite in me a hunger to “have done with lesser things” (Harry Emerson Fosdick) and to participate in the larger works of God in society and history. I can hear and see both the theologian and the bishop objecting vehemently to my canonizing them as saints. The saints are often the last to recognize themselves as such. But where would we be without them?

This year All Saints Sunday falls on November 4th. If you have lost someone dear to you since last All Saints Sunday (November 5, 2017) and would like to have them named in prayer in the worship service, please phone or email their name and date of birth and death to Rayna at the church office by October 31st: 717-737-6921 or

Pastor Lew

August 2018

Starting Over

Most times we go looking for a text from Scripture. Isn’t there something about a “threefold cord” somewhere? (There is: Ecclesiastes 4:12) But sometimes a text seems to seek us out. That happened to me recently. Two Old Testament books I had not visited for some time showed up on my doorstep. Ezra and Nehemiah tell about the Jews who were taken into exile under a Babylonian king. They are encouraged to return to their homeland under a Persian king who conquered the Babylonians. When I think of those persons coming back to the wreck and ruin of their homeland after an absence of decades, scenes like those of the victims of the Oklahoma hurricanes or the California wildfires come to mind: ashes, partial foundations, the occasional lucky find of a family keepsake.

What else could the people do but rebuild? Well I suppose there were options. They could sit down in the ruins, weep, and waste away. They could make a lazy compromise with the people who occupied nearby territory, giving up their core values to secure help. They could grumble and wish they had never returned to face the ominous task before them. But instead, under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, the people buckled down and rebuilt, first the Temple and then the Wall around the city.

In their story, we can find the stuff of our story. The drama of our individual, family, and congregational stories is that we must constantly find a way to start over again and make the most of it. We find ourselves (by sickness, by change in work, by the collapse of an institution) faced with the challenge of dawdling in a memory or heading out for a new experience. It’s always late August and we should be getting back to school. But will we?

I invite you to join me the Sundays in September and October. We will be worshipping in a renovated sanctuary; the clutter and dust of the last few months will be gone. There in that consecrated holy space we will ask the God who orchestrated the reform and renewal under Ezra and Nehemiah to orchestrate reform and renewal among us too.

– Pastor Lew

June 2018

This Summer at Calvary will be Hectic

As I write this, there are three men up on scaffolding working on the masonry around the towers of the church. I am waiting for an electrician to come by and check on the installation of new emergency exit lights for the ground level. Behind the scenes, crews are preparing to reupholster the pews and replace the carpet in the sanctuary.

It’s going to be a little chaotic at Calvary this summer. It is likely that we will have to hold worship in Fellowship Hall (ground floor) on July 15th. It is possible that it may be necessary another Sunday or so in June or July. We will keep you posted by emails and postcards.

Even with the chaos, life goes on. We will hold three special activities: the Jubilate Concert (June 13th); the Senators Ballgame (July 13th), and an Acolyte’s Field Trip to the National Cathedral (August TBA).  Our main ministry to the children of the community, the Arts Camp, The Story Tellin’ Man, will go on as scheduled (July 22-26; 6:00 – 7:45p). Manna will continue as usual this summer except that we are expecting some visitors from a local church that has had to close its dinner ministry for kitchen renovation.

Sunday school and Worship should carry on as usual except for the possible change of location for worship on a given Sunday or two. This summer I will add some new pieces to the sermon series, The Gospel in Baseball (July), and to the series, Listening for God on Broadway (August).

Try to imagine with me life on the other side of the dust and noise! This September we should have a beautified sanctuary, a renewed exterior, and several unspectacular but crucial safety features. We will hold a Sunday afternoon celebration to which we will bring the very important persons to Calvary’s history who are not normally able to attend. And the Council will hold a retreat as we begin to take steps to find new uses for the building God has entrusted to us for a season.

It is good (and fun!) to be your companion for this stage of the journey.

Pastor Lew

April 2018

The Problem with sui generis

It’s easy enough to pronounce: “soo-i-generes”. It sounds something like a hog call followed by the word “generous”. It means unique, radically different, singular, or “constituting a class alone”. The problem with sui generis is you can point to things that are sort of like it, but never quite finish the job. It is easier to say what sui generis isn’t than to say what it is.

Sui generis messes with what you hold to be true about the way things really are. It threatens to undo your view of the world. It is untidy, like a sloppy teenager who cannot be coaxed, bribed or threatened to clean up their room. Sui generis confuses by its otherness. We keep wanting to reduce it to something else with which we are more familiar, more comfortable.

I’ve never been one to throw around Latin terms. First, every foreign language I speak still comes out with a Pennsylvania Dutch accent. And second, the day when you could assume a common education in Latin is over. But occasionally, I can’t help myself, and that is the case here. Sui generis is exactly the word I need to talk about the resurrection of Jesus. It is an event without parallel and therefore difficult to pin down.

Every Easter it is the same thing. I want to speak about the greatest event in history, the miracle of all miracles, the decisive act by God that changes everything. I want to show people its relevance and urgency. But it never comes out like it should. I fuss and fume, aim, fire, and miss, set traps only to find the creature has escaped. In the end, I shut-up and point. I can only hope they see resurrection hope for themselves.

I am back this Easter trying again. Maybe this year I can be a better witness to God’s unique, one-time, singular victory over sin and death by raising his Son. Where do I get the audacity to keep trying? From two places. First from the New Testament stories themselves. I notice how uncomfortable, how unprepared, how unhinged are those first witnesses of the risen Jesus. If you think I look bad, check out Mary Magdalene or the disciples on the Road to Emmaus when they first encounter the risen Lord!

And second, from that wonderful Latin word that reminds me: if this is the greatest event in the history of humankind, then I should expect some stammering. I am living in the echo of this event, trying to make sense of what I pick up. Sui generis, baby! Deal with it! Over the next month of Sundays or so I will preach the implications if Jesus is risen. It is hard work wrestling with a sui generis and your sympathetic company would be much appreciated.

Pastor Lew

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