“90’s Club”

We have a “90’s Club” at Forest Hill: a select group of wise, spirited, and sometimes feisty women and one man who have reached the incredible age of 90+ years. There’s six all together, five of whom show up just about every Sunday to worship, fellowship and keep us on our toes. I jokingly say that Forest Hill has discovered the fountain of youth – they’re just not sharing its location with me – because I have to say they are some of the youngest people I know. They are full of life and spirit and energy and they love to worship. And not just in the old “we’ve always done it this way” kind of way. They take their faith seriously but not so much their own personal agendas. They seem to have arrived at a place where they’re willing and able to be open to the new and different while honoring and giving thanks for the ways that have shaped and formed their lives. I know they love the old hymns that they grew up with but I’ve also seen them tapping their feet to a new beat or lifting their hands in prayer and praise just about every time Brandon introduces a new style of music in worship. This last week it was the Blues and every body, most especially our 90’s Club, loved it!

Last summer we had a big party for these special people. Members of our congregation volunteered to interview each of our “90’s Club” members and we made a video of them sharing their wisdom, a bit about their faith journey and how and why the church has been important in their lives. They also got to share what they would most like us to know from the wisdom of their lived experience and we were truly blown away by their responses. We laughed and cried, ate a great meal, listened to wonderful stories of faith and family and the changing world in which we live and gave thanks to God for this special group of “saints” among us. We were all a little richer, and hopefully wiser, as the day grew to a close. They reminded us that day, and every day since, to be faithful to our God and to the Way of Jesus, to appreciate our lives, to value our family and the friends that walk with us, to commit our lives to something bigger than ourselves, to live with integrity and to value work – almost every one of them told us “hard work never hurt any one!” And they should know, they’re some of the hardest workers I have ever known.

In Jeremiah 6:16 we hear: “Thus says the Lord: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” As our congregation stands at the crossroads and seeks the way God would have us walk, we know we are blessed by the presence, the wisdom and the faithfulness of our “90’s Club.” Their spiritual depth and faithful living challenges and encourages us to grow in faith and spiritual maturity. Their openness to life and worship and new perspectives is not only a breath of fresh air in a world that sometimes insists there’s only one “right” way but an invitation to each of us to experience God’s creativity and diversity with appreciation and wonder as we journey together. And did I mention, they’re a lot of fun to be around?!

Blessings, Susan

“Ah, the Blues”

Our first, but hopefully not last, Blues Sunday Worship finally happened this last week and was it worth the wait! I’ve always loved the Blues, especially when there’s a harmonica, and boy did we have one! There’s something about its sound – soulful and haunting, dark and yet filled with energy, sultry and sensual – that just sort of grabs you deep down, and lingers long after the music has ended. I realized something on Sunday, the Blues aren’t just something musicians play but something they feel; all the technical prowess in the world won’t really make a Blues song stir your soul if the feeling’s not there. Perhaps it’s that way with all music, but it really came home to me on Sunday. Our musicians gave us the gift of their music from the depths of their souls and the love in their hearts – from the highs and lows, the joys and the sorrows of their lives. There was no faking the soulfulness of their music – it was not only passionate but it was truthful – it had integrity – and it called forth a response from us.

How like our life of faith! We’ve all witnessed the disconnect in the words of faith and the actions of faith, not only in the lives of public figures and “other” people of faith, but especially in our own lives. How much easier it is to talk a good talk than to really walk what we talk – “walk the walk” as they say. We have to ask:  Does our faith live in our lives like the blues live in the souls of musicians who have experienced the depths as well as the heights that life has to offer and offer their music in response? Can others “feel, see, know” our faith in our choices and our actions as well as in our words? Is there integrity, honesty, passion in how we live out the call of Christ in our lives? Or do we just have the “technical prowess” to look good, sound good, even act good without Love at the center of all we are and do?

1 Corinthians 13 talks about actions without Love: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (NRSV)

Our Blues Sunday reminded me that as important as technical prowess may be to musicians, and words are to people of faith, without heart and soul it’s just not the blues and without Love, it’s just not the good news.

Blessings, Susan

Hide and Seek

Remember hide and seek? Oh how I loved that game when I was young. Every evening before supper the kids in my neighborhood would gather in our big corner yard to play games of tag and dodge ball and my favorite, hide and seek. I always felt rather special and important, knowing that someone was out there looking for me. I can still remember the anticipation I felt when I was hiding, waiting anxiously to see if someone would be able to find me, worrying just a bit that they would forget to look and I would be left hiding forever. And then, they’d move back the bush or look under the bench or around the corner and they’d find me and the chase was on. I’d run my heart out hoping to reach home safely so that I would be free, and not the dreaded “it” – you know, the one who had to do all the looking in the next round if you tagged.

Sometimes it seems the life of faith is like a game of hide and seek. We keep hiding ourselves away in the bushes or under the bed or in the closet, hoping against hope that we’re not lost…that God really is out there looking for us…that we’re really worth seeking. We wait, and we wonder, and we worry. But the good news is our God is always shouting “Ready or not, here I come.” And then, God peaks around the corner of our heart or moves back the veil we’ve been hiding behind and we’re blessed with that wonderful, surprising moment of experiencing God’s grace anew – the sun breaks through the fog, there’s a lull in the pounding waves, a stranger smiles, a friend lifts us up in prayer, the glow of a candle dispels the darkness, a word is spoken with tenderness and conviction. . . and we know, we just know in that moment, that we aren’t really lost at all, only hiding.

I have to admit, my favorite moment in the game was when the person who was “it” called out: “Olly olly outs in free, free, free.” We all knew in that moment, that no matter where we were hiding, whether we had felt lost and forsaken or giddy that no one could find us, we got to go home; we were free; we were safe.

Let this good news wash over you: our God is always seeking, looking, searching out all the broken places and dark corners in our world and our hearts because we are God’s beloved and God’s grace is always calling and welcoming us home. And if we still feel lost, as we sometimes will, God calls out “olly olly outs in free, free, free! For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” ~Luke 19:10 NRSV

Want to play sometime? Susan


Bruce and I love to walk at Chrissy Field. After more than 15 years in this City by the Bay the views still astound us and cause us to stop, look and give thanks.  We especially love the old pier just to the east of the Golden Gate – the view of the bridge is magnificent from there and the hot chocolate in the Warming Hut quite yummy after a brisk walk!  We love to walk along the water’s edge, listen to the waves pound against the rocks, watch the children and dogs run and play, and feel the freshness of the air cold against our cheeks. Tucker loves to come along but since dogs aren’t allowed on the pier I have to carry him bundled up inside my jacket.  On one particularly windy and foggy day I really didn’t think I had time to go walking but Bruce insisted and so along I went, rather grudgingly I must admit.  Oh am I glad that I did, for we were graced with a bit of serendipity. Don’t you just love that word?  Serendipity: the gift of fortunate discovery by accident of things one is not really looking for.  Serendipity, definitely one of my favorite words!  I even used have it on my vanity license plate until I decided I really didn’t need to spend extra money every year to be reminded that all of life is a gift, not of my doing or my making, and always there for me to discover anew and then, like a child on Christmas morning, to relish and delight in.  I believe our spiritual journeys are about waking up to Life and being present to the Holy in each moment, in each breath, in each experience… Serendipity:  discovering sometimes quite by accident all the surprising places where God abides.

But back to my story.  On this very cold and rather dreary day, the last thing I expected to find was a friendly, quiet large and a bit-full-of-himself pelican. If I were to write a song about “My Favorite Things” pelicans would be pretty near the top, so you can imagine how delighted I was.  This silly, fearless pelican preened and poised for the camera as Bruce snapped photo after photo, getting so close he could have reached out and touched him.  I stood transfixed for I don’t know how long, until finally I was so cold I had to move.

What a gift!  we were graced with a timeless moment of sheer delight and utter joy that we weren’t looking for or even really prepared to experience – my jacket was much too thin for such a cold day and I really thought I needed to be elsewhere!  I wonder, how many such serendipitous moments do I miss because I’m in such a hurry or so distracted or so full of myself?  How many grace-filled moments do I overlook because the eyes of my heart are closed?  How many blessings do I turn away because my heart is just too full of other things?

One of my spiritual practices during this season of Lent is to slow down and pay attention, to stop multi-tasking and truly be open to Life, right here, right now.  It isn’t nearly as easy as I might hope, but my preening pelican reminds me that serendipity abounds and if I’m not present, I’ll miss out on all the beauty, and the fun!  Ann Lamott says that “Grace is a ribbon of mountain air that gets in through the cracks.”  Thanks be to God for serendipity, and for the chinks in my armor that allow God’s grace to get in and do it’s amazing, transforming work.

“Where God Calls Us”

Shannon has been with us now about a year and a half. She came to me one summer afternoon looking for a place to do her field education. Shannon is in seminary, studying for the ministry, but she wasn’t quite sure back then where God might be calling her. A bit to her surprise, she thought she might want to give parish ministry a try and came to talk with me about it. Surely it was the Spirit who led her to Forest Hill for her presence has been such a blessing and gift for us.  I know it has been for her as well.  She would tell you she has discovered her calling in a passion for ministry in this special place. She found, in Frederich Buechner’s words, her deep gladness in the midst of the need and hunger of our developmentally challenged members and friends. Every Sunday before worship she sits with John Murphy and patiently listens as he asks the same questions over and over again or writes out endless math problems for him to solve during fellowship time. She watches and listens intently to discover just what Joe is trying to communicate, asking lots of questions until she gets it right. She’s learned how to “contain” Howard without stifling or demeaning him, using simply  a quiet shush, a loving glance or a gentle touch. It’s fun to watch the shuffle on Sunday mornings as they figure out who gets to sit by her!

This last month she began an outreach ministry to our special needs folk and their friends and families with a Community Dinner.  A simple concept really – Joe and John and Howard are the hosts and we invite their friends to join us for food, fun and fellowship.  Our youth spent the afternoon helping our cooks prepare the meal and set the tables and goof around – they are teenagers you know. – and I’m guessing the workers had as much fun as the guests.  We’ve all been dying to meet Valerie, Joe’s girlfriend. And what a joy it was!  To see Joe’s face light up when Valerie arrived, to watch them communicate without speaking a word, to see them dance together as Joe slowly pushed Valerie’s wheelchair – such love and tenderness.  We were all touched.

Brandon provided music; Howard strummed along and sang his own words; we all danced and ate and laughed. I think we all had a taste of the beloved community that night and I for one can’t wait until we do it again. There’s always plenty to eat so you’d be welcome to join us too, on the last Sunday of every month at 5:00, for food for the body and the soul. Thanks be to God for meeting places of gladness and hunger and for glimpses of heaven here on earth that.

Works of Art

Wednesday evenings at Forest Hill could be called “Practice for Walking in the Way.” Every week we gather for a simple meal, spiritual practice, conversations about our faith, worship and growing in the gifts and graces of God. And to top it off, many of us stay for choir.   We’re learning that laughing, walking, paying attention, creating, being silent, singing, noticing, washing dishes, preparing food can all be ways of praying when our intention is being present and open to the Presence of the Holy.  Whenever we offer ourselves to God, we are in effect praying, seeking a deeper relationship with the Divine. Our congregation has been blessed by this practice in wonderful ways, including our Table of Many Colors, so dubbed by Brandon.

Bruce and I spent a few days at the Heath Pottery factory in Sausalito picking out left over tiles – seconds, thirds, broken pieces, throw-always – and our pray-ers took those remnants and with the Spirit’s leading created a beautiful table in our kitchen.  Around it we gather on Sundays and Wednesday’s and days in-between. At this table we laugh and cry, celebrate and rejoice, study and learn and even in good Disciples’ fashion share wonderful food.  Around our table of many colors I believe we become more and more what God created us to be – reflections of God’s love and grace in the world.  Our table symbolizes this wonderful motley crew of a congregation we know as Forest Hill.  Various colors, shapes and sizes, different textures and heights with a few worn spots and definitely a little rough around the edges, our table and our congregation are one of a kind, unique, created in Christ Jesus for good works. 

I love the way The New Jerusalem Bible says it: “We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life,” ~Ephesians 2:10.

Imagine that, works of art!

Blessings, Susan

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