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A Cure for Thirst

It’s back!  The infamous DC summer heat is here for its annual visit.  Public service announcements remind us to drink plenty of water, but our bodies usually give us all the reminders we need.  In one of our psalms from this week (Psalm 63), we hear a cry from the psalmist: 

O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

The church needs its own public service announcement to remind us to nourish both body and soul.  We have an inner need for meaning, for community, and for God.  We thirst for these things.  We faint without them.  Jesus said, “Those who believe in me will never be thirsty again.”  May we be reminded of the need to care for our inner lives, trust in God, and find rest for our souls in Christ Jesus.

So here’s my PSA for you: Stay cool. Drink water. And go to church.  



This Independence Day

Last Sunday, after attending an organ concert in Southeast, DC, the friend I was walking with pointed to an unassuming grey house on G Street. “That was where John Philip Sousa was born,” he said. It makes sense that someone whose music is so indelibly etched in the national identity of America, would be born in its capital city. He led “The President’s Own” under five presidents from Rutherford B. Hayes to Benjamin Harrison. Then organized his own group “The Sousa Band,” and toured around the world, performing over 15 thousand concerts.

This week, it’s highly likely you’ve heard one of his many marches, probably “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” which Congress named as the national march of the United States. It is music that somehow evokes the positive, welcoming enthusiasm that is the best part of the American dream. Music can speak through time in a way that a thousand political stump speeches never can. Playing it requires cooperation, not debate, and that every player set aside their differences and play together, at the same tempo, on the same beats, hitting their notes, rather than making promises they don’t keep. It’s a metaphor for the best way to live, in our homes, our communities, our churches and in our world.


God Provides

This year, Katie and I bought a share in CSA “Community Supported Agriculture.” Once a week we get a box of fruits, vegetables, and eggs grown directly in the Maryland and Virginia regions. We’re very happy to be supporting local farmers, eating things produced with fewer chemicals, and lowering our carbon footprint.

One of the interesting challenges of having a CSA is that you don’t always get exactly what you want. Sometimes it’s delicious strawberries, cherries, and summer squash, and other times it’s kohlrabi and garlic scapes (no offense if you happen to love those as well!). It means we’ve had embrace that “what we get, is what we get,” get creative with how we cook, expand the “comfort zone” of what we eat, and perhaps share with neighbors what we’re just not going to get around to eating.

Of course, in life, we don’t always get exactly what we want either. We all know that. But sometimes, perhaps even oftentimes, we also have the opportunity to get creative, expand our comfort zones, and share the load with our neighbors. And so perhaps the way that God provides is less like an all-things-year-round grocery store, and more like a CSA: To everything there is a season, and the gifts we are given will sustain us, challenge us, and draw us into community with one another.

Thanks be to God!


Transporting on A Sunday Morning

This week I had the pleasure of seeing Hello Dolly at the Kennedy Center. It was a wonderful production and sheer entertainment bliss. The dancing and the costumes were remarkable. The actors were thoroughly enjoying their roles. The musicians led the whole show with aplomb. We sang under our breath and were transported to another era of haberdashery, matchmaking, and millinery. One of my favorite lines was, “We don’t dance, we’re Presbyterian!”

I thought about the ability for these performers to entertain, uplift, and transport the audience from their busy days, their personal woes, and their professional endeavors into a different space altogether. In worship on Sunday mornings, on a different scale, we try to do a similar thing – lifting thoughts, turning hearts, and instilling connection with the divine.

It is the most important hour of the week – when we can transport ourselves, in the company of the faithful, to worship God alone. It is a huge blessing and a gift when worship allows us to do so. You leave with new perspective, reconnections with God, and the inspiration to seek faithfulness in the coming week. Yet strangely, unlike the Kennedy Center, the front rows are always available!

See you at church, 


Rebuilt Through God’s Grace and Mercy

In the Spring of 1989, on a choir tour to Paris, with just a couple of minutes before I had to be back on the bus, I ran into the Notre Dame Cathedral and purchased a recording of the organ symphonies of Louis Vierne, played on the great organ of the cathedral by Olivier Latry, still the organist to this day. That night traveling on the bus, my headphones on, the music, recorded in the very room where Vierne had served as organist, changed my life as a musician. I hadn’t heard anything like it in the dry American churches in which I’d grown up. It was brooding, mysterious, exultant, passionate, and resonated with emotion, and the history of that great room and organ.

In February of this year, while visiting my wife Joy, in Paris on a Fulbright Scholarship, we attended one of the weekly organ recitals and marveled at the sound of that incredible organ and room. Then, on April 15 of this year, I watched an online video stream as a horrific fire tore through the roof of that great cathedral. It looked certain that that amazing historic organ would be lost to the ravages of flame and heat, but when the smoke cleared the next morning the organ stood, covered in soot, but mostly undamaged. Thanks to the technological marvel of the vaulted stone ceiling and the physics of heat exchange, the temperature inside the organ hadn’t risen above 62 degrees Fahrenheit.

Last month, I strolled around the cathedral and saw workers already hard at the tasks of cleanup and eventual restoration of the great cathedral – a reminder of resilience of the human spirit. I will sit in that beautiful nave one day and hear that great organ sing again. Buildings burn and are rebuilt. Fires happen in our own lives through loss, hardship, and tragedy, yet strengthened by God’s mercy and grace, we rebuild and continue.



Pastor Rachel’s Sabbatical Farewell

Almost exactly eight years ago I sat in the Washington Room—away from my 7-month old baby Mae for the first time—facing a panel of the most intimidating people I had ever met. “Rachel, you work at a grocery store, and you have some education experience, but no formal education background, only an M.Div. Will you have Sunday school during church, or before worship? What sort of educational programming expertise will you bring to our congregation? What is your vision for our future?” It was hot in that room, or maybe it was just me. Either way, I was sweating.

What could I add to a congregation whose kids spoke Mandarin, and whose elders were the movers and shakers of the capital of the free world? I took a deep breath, and said, “I don’t have answers to your questions. How could I? I don’t know the congregation, and it would be foolish to come in with a ready-made package to force the congregation into. So if that is who you want, I can’t be that for you. But I can offer you dedication, creativity, caring, and partnership. I would be honored to learn alongside you what God is calling us to do.”

Eight years, another daughter, and an ordination later, I hope that I have made my search committee proud. This congregation has certainly made me proud. Growing in outreach and service, deepening our educational and leadership programs, re-establishing officer training and more. This church—while it will always maintain its core identity of legacy, harmony, and action—has continued to answer God’s call of faith.

Now, as I take some time away on my sabbatical, I leave you with some pretty hefty projects to continue while I’m gone. The first is to continue to support the total renovation of the Children’s Sunday school and worship spaces on the 3rd floor, through our GrowingUP campaign. This is not just a side project for a select few, but a congregation-wide commitment to the education and formation of our youngest members. Please give, pray, or volunteer.

The second, you may have heard rumors about in the past few weeks. This summer, GPC will be looking into developing a new worshipping community in Glover Park at the underutilized St. Luke’s Mission Center. [Dinner Church] as it has been dubbed, is an experiment meant to bring new folks into Christian community through intentional gathering around dinner on Wednesday nights. (What? I didn’t want you to get BORED while I was gone.)  This project unites what makes GPC unique and sends us out into the world to test our resources, our leadership training, and our faith. While not all of you will be directly involved in this new venture, please offer your prayers and support to those in our midst who do feel the call. This is something GPC hasn’t tried for a while (a few centuries?), so we may be rusty, but we’re never ones to shy away from a challenge.

And so, along with these twin challenges, I leave you with this prayer:

Holy Lord, we thank you for the many ways that you sustain us and send us into the world. I thank you for this community of faith in Georgetown, and the many ways we reflect your gracious love and power into this world. This summer may we continue to be faithful servants of Christ, living lives of abundant love and forgiveness, remembering with joy the promise that in Jesus we are free to live lives fully and without fear. Help us to put you and put others at the center of our lives, just as you have placed us at the center of your care. As we care for our youngest and reach out into new communities, may your Spirit be our ever-present inspiration.

And now, keep alert! Be courageous, be strong. And let all you do be done in love.



Pastor Rachel 

Memorial Day Reflection

Earlier this year I was able to attend a wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider led by the Presiding Bishop of the Lutheran Church, Elizabeth Eaton. Present were also a number of military chaplains who have served for many years, an important reminder of the many chaplains of many faiths who minister during some of the most difficult times in the life of the military – comforting bereaved families, praying with fellow soldiers, and proclaiming hope in the midst of sorrow.

On this Memorial Day, as we remember and give thanks for those who have served and died over the generations, we also remember and give thanks for those who have the unique privilege of ministering to those in uniform and their families. And for those of you remembering loved ones who served in uniform, a special blessing for you this weekend. May we be a people who strive and hope for peace.
God’s Peace,

Extra! Extra! It’s Bible Sunday!

Where do you get your news?  Washington Post, Fox News, theSkimm, WSJ, NPR, Twitter?  The choices are endless and we all have our favorite sources for the events of the day.  In D.C. we tend to be news junkies.  Theologian Karl Barth famously said that Ministers of the Word of God should preach with the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other.   This Sunday, we will hand out Bibles to our 1st5th9th, and 12th graders.  These are age appropriate Bibles to help them learn the stories of God.

At GPC, we hope to send our members, young and old, into the world with the Word of God in their hands and in their hearts.  The world will inundate you with news; the church wants to equip you with God’s holy texts and truths.  Barth again, “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both.  But interpret newspapers from your Bible.”  This is a call for all of us, as we try to understand the hot button issues of the day, to root ourselves in God’s word.  So maybe the question should be: What version of the Bible do you read?  King James Version, New Revised Standard Version, The Message Bible, Story Bible?

In case you are looking for a recommendation – here’s the bible our 12th graders will get on Sunday. 


A Personal Reflection from Mark

Two weeks ago, my father Thomas Joseph Willey died after a long decline at 80 years of age. In November of 2014 I got a call from my step-mother Barbara that my father had been hospitalized with critically low cardiac output and if I wished to see him alive I should get there as soon as possible. When I arrived the heart presser medications they had given him to keep his heart going had killed his kidneys with the resulting blood toxins rendering him mostly unconscious.

I slept on the floor by his bed for the next couple of days. Sometime in the middle of the second night, as dialysis began to clear out the toxins, I heard him say my name. Quickly I got off the ground and leaned over his bed. “Mark” he said, “get my ipad.” He then gave detailed instructions for me to put his headphones on his ears and play four hymns, sung by choirs that he had in a favorite playlist. I don’t remember what all of them were but I know one of them was “Amazing Grace” and that all of them were sturdy sacred hymns of faith. He listened to them all the way through, then fell peacefully to sleep.

The next day the story began to unfold. During the time when it seemed he was unresponsive and unconscious, he was actually in a kind of lucid dream. Elements from the world around him found their way into his dream; snippets of the conversations we were having by his bedside, even the TV that the neighbor in his room had playing. In his dream, he was taken down to hell where Jerry Springer, as the devil, was judging him and his family and friends. Scenes from his life were playing out, in excruciating, slow detail, all to be mocked and condemned by Jerry Springer, the devil. At times he would plead for mercy for one of his sons, or argue to defend one of his grandchildren, but to no avail. He was caught in this dream, and on the occasions when we had seen him wake, a wild, panicked look in his eyes, he was pleading with us to deliver him from the dream but he couldn’t form the words.

On the night when he asked for his iPad, he was beginning to break free from the torture, to rise from the hell of condemnation and Jerry Springer. He needed something to help him complete his journey and that’s when he asked for me to play him the four hymns on his headphones. He told me later they pulled him out of his torture and he slept, dreamless for the first time in several days.

My father died an agnostic, a skeptic about faith and God. But even though my father had long since let go of his faith in God, he turned to hymns to lift him from his hell into the light. There is great power in music. My father knew this, even when he didn’t believe the meaning of the words he was hearing. Those of us who do believe have all the more reason to sing, to celebrate the healing power of our sacred tunes and texts. I will miss my father, but he lives on in me through the personality traits I inherited from him and the many wise life lessons he taught me, including how to appreciate the simple, beautiful power of a great hymn of faith.



Finding Joy

In Wendell Berry’s poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” Berry gives us this counsel: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”

I highly suggest you sit down for a few minutes with this seminal poem of his, and consider how strangely counter-cultural his suggestion is. I find most weeks a plethora of distressing news that’s apt to make many, like myself, feel anxious and discouraged. This is nothing new, although it perhaps can feel more acute with 24-hour news cycles right here in the nation’s capital. Nonetheless, Berry believes that it is our obligation to be joyful, nonetheless.

He ends his poem with two simple words: “Practice resurrection.” In the reality of the resurrection, we do indeed have a hope and a joy that tells us a contrary narrative to the one we often hear. The world isn’t just falling apart, but the world is being mended and made new by God and by God’s people who choose to live joyfully and hopefully.

So friends, indeed, be joyful this week, even though you’ve considered all the facts.