Farnham & St. John's
The Weekly Message

“I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come?” (from Psalm 121)

Here in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina I am sheltering in place waiting for a little nucleus of my family to gather to share Thanksgiving. In all there will be nine. A much smaller number than in past Thanksgivings but less than the number ten that seems to be a safe essential core number in this strange time.
Sitting on the back deck with Wally, my furry grand-dog, I watch the afternoon sun drop below a horizon ridged by the closest mountain range. Stripped down tree branches are etched against the light. Sparse, stripped down seems to be the best way to describe this holiday in which we are called to give thanks. This holiday is happening during a time in which we are learning what is essential to life. 

On the kitchen counter in the home that will shelter us on Thanksgiving hosted by daughter Torre and her husband, sweet potatoes, cranberries, nuts, oranges, fruit breads, green beans wait. There is a very “petite” Edwards Virginia ham resting in the refrigerator, also one relatively small turkey. Someone is picking up some rolls, there will be a pie or two, gravy, of course, some stuffing, and the essential canned French-fried onions to be sprinkled on top of the green bean casserole. This year I am making only one medium dish of my scalloped oysters. And even with such a reduced in size feast, there will be ample leftovers for the next day. 
As stripped-down-to-the-basic-essentials this Thanksgiving presents, every moment will be savored. And we will pause perhaps a little longer over the blessing, to include silently in our hearts or aloud for sharing the names of those we love whose physical presence is interrupted by COVID.

Earlier today I visited a small art gallery which I have come to include on my essential rounds when I visit here. It features paintings by local artists who love the mountains which embrace their life, season after season. The artwork was breathtaking, reminding me of the abundance of place and the cycle of life creation offers humankind in which to live, move and have being, no matter the “worldly” landscape. Leafing through a beautifully designed book highlighting the work and words of a featured artist named Jason Drake, I paused over his words: “Looking up at the mountains is a reminder that a grand designer is guiding your life and future.”

I was reminded of Psalm 121. Portions frame this Thanksgiving reflection, reminding us of our ultimate shelter and the essential safe keeper of our lives. Give thanks for this vision of abundant love and care.

“My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth. He will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” (from Psalm 121)
This is the Lord’s promise . . . give thanks . . . savor it . . . live into it that it may be so!

A Special Memory

We began this new section last week. Do you have a special memory to share? If so, please send it to torrence.harman@aol.com

Thanksgiving on the Northern Neck
I think most of you know that my father was the rector of Farnham & St. John’s when I was born. We left when I was two, but as a child living in Richmond’s Fan District, for several years we came to St. John’s for Thanksgiving dinner prepared by the church ladies. My paternal grandparents drove down from Alexandria to join us; my brothers’ and my godparents and their families were there ~ it was a huge church family gathering. The parish hall was packed and the ECW ladies were busy, busy, busy. We got to go outside and run around the graveyard with children from the churches (to keep us from being underfoot, I’m sure.)

The menu from those dinners became my family’s Thanksgiving menu. Turkey, Smithfield ham, mashed potatoes, creamed onions, green beans -my mother was from the north, and green beans at home were cooked very differently-, stuffing, scalloped oysters, cranberry sauce, and I think there was watermelon rind pickle, too. For dessert there was Miss Liza Bland Lamb’s plum pudding with hard sauce, which my family replaced on the menu with pies.

I am conjuring up all that warmth and nostalgia to share with you all on this small, socially distanced, 2020-style Thanksgiving.

In case you didn't catch Torrence's homily for last Sunday or had trouble hearing it due to the echo when it was videotaped, here is the full homily.
“A Time to Give Thanks”
Sermon for the Last Sunday after Pentecost – November 22, 2020
N. Farnham & St. John’s Episcopal Churches – The Rev. Torrence Harman

The fields on either side of the country road leading to my river home are bare – except for the stubble left after the harvest. Mid-November around here the summer/fall harvest has been gathered in. What has been harvested is now passed forward to close or far flung destinations. The tiny seeds planted months ago have grown to maturity. They are now onward bound to fulfill the purposes they were intended to nourish. It is time to give thanks.

This Sunday is our last Sunday of what we call “ordinary time” in the church calendar. The last Sunday before a new year in our faith tradition cycles us forward, to begin yet again to live into, to experience the ancient story, repeated over and over again, in its organic cycle: birth, death, resurrection. It is a life giving, death defying cycle. We see it in nature all around us. And if we look hard enough, we see it and trace this cycle in our own lives.

In this week following this last Sunday of ordinary time we will be celebrating Thanksgiving. It will be different this year from past years as so much during COVID makes things this year different from past years.

This year’s Thanksgiving. Limited. Probably the number of folks, family and friends, limited. The amount of preparation, limited. Travel to be together, limited. Our favorite Thanksgiving dishes, limited in size and scope. No tag football backyard skirmishes, no extended family swapping favorite family stories over dessert or gathered in a tight circle cheering on their favorite sports teams. Will there even be a Thanksgiving parade? Most likely not. Because parades draw too many crowds. No church service where we open our hearts and raise our voices to the familiar hymns. Come, ye thankful people come! We plow the fields and scatter.  We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing. Remember singing them?

Perhaps this year we even wonder what we have to be thankful for!

I love the vision of the first worship service of weary arrivals on our Virginia shores in the early 1600’s. The description? Men simply stringing up a weathered sail. Those people who had arrived here after a long treacherous passage simply giving thanks. For what? For safe passage to that moment of standing on firm ground. For at least some basic shelter hastily put together. For whatever food they had foraged to nourish them. For a sense that in some way this might be a land of promise, a time for new beginnings. Thankful from the ground of their being; thankful for life itself in a strange uncertain time.

It was not an ordinary time. Their passage through to the then and there was frought with uncertainty and danger. However, I wonder if the gratitude they felt for a providential God as they stood in worship was perhaps the most powerful time of thanks-giving in their lives.

For a time such as that, for a time such as this we are sharing, this time, this Thanksgiving, if we are very still, very thoughtful, could be one of the most powerful times of Thanksgiving we have experienced or will experience during our earthly life. 

We have shelter, we have food, we have life. And the seeds which were planted in us by the One who created all life and who offers us the shelter of love, and the spiritual food that nourishes our souls and our spirits waits for the harvest. What is the yield our God hopes for? Our profoundly grateful hearts for his sourcing and re-sourcing and sheltering our lives in the strange territory of these times.

The fields around us may be empty, having done their work and having been the ground from which the harvest came. Gratefully, the fields wait to receive the next round of seeds for their yet to come. They are waiting patiently for the next planting so that they may again be part of the cycle for which they were formed. 

Do the fields give thanks as they wait to receive the gifts which will produce new life? I do not know. But what I do know is that they gratefully continue to receive the rain, the star light, and the sun. They know what they can do with it all, as basic as it is. And I believe they give silent receptive thanks for these essential but simple gifts which enable them to be part of their ongoing cycle of life. Stripped to the bare essentials now this November they are filled with that knowing and are thankful. So, may it be for us.


From the Diocese -
When the Thanksgiving Turkey and Life Explode 
Jennifer Brooke-Davidson
Maybe they won't be the worst holidays ever.

That's what I intended to write about, before we realized that our younger daughter should not join us for Thanksgiving, given the state of the COVID pandemic and our assorted health vulnerabilities. Before it hit me hard how much our elder daughter misses her friends and her boyfriend, all of whom were planning to visit in late fall but all of whom are grounded now, and her fabulous cat, Kilgore Trout, who succumbed to very rapid onset feline leukemia just before Halloween. It was before a niece unfriended and blocked another aunt over national politics. It was before Greenberg Smoked Turkeys in Tyler, Texas, intended source of our Feast, burned to the ground (Dallas and Austin newspapers broke the terrible news: "87,000 Turkeys Explode in Fire: Orders Cancelled." Texas Monthly called it the Thanksgiving Tragedy). And there were a few other things in recent weeks. . .. 

I mean. This is one of those years when you dare not ask, "what next???"
So now it's time for me to pull myself together and ask: what's Thanksgiving going to be, without Kate and the Greenberg turkey? Advent, without the chancel wreaths and Jesse trees and chrismons and pageant dramas and holiday parties? Christmas -- lordy, I don't even know what we'll be coping with a whole month from now!
I know this, though. On Thanksgiving I will give thanks to the Lord for the lives of the people I love, and for this life, uncertain and -- let's say, adventurous -- as it is. I have prayed "give us this day our daily bread" all my life, knowing that it's a metaphorical blessing of abundance in my life, but a literal plea for many people. This Thanksgiving, my prayers will be for the "us" to be the expansive, inclusive, global "us" -- for the spirit of the Lord to remove the hardness and greed of hearts that prevent the distribution of the enough-ness of God's provision in the world so that all might have bread, every day. And I will give thanks upon thanks for those who make it so -- the many food pantries and vegetable gardens and meal providers and cooking instructors and environmentalists and justice advocates that are the ways the disciples of Jesus in the Diocese of Virginia bring this prayer to fulfillment. I wish I had the whole Norman Rockwell scene at my own table, yes -- but I will not die of hunger before next Thanksgiving, and there will be another chance. For now, I am thankful for all who work to make sure that there is a table set for all our siblings in the human family, the family of God.
Advent comes on the heels of Thanksgiving, and I will offer thanks that it may be the year I really actually "unplug the Christmas machine" and have some spiritual space -- space that in other years would be filled with driving around after work trying to find all the perfect everythings for everybody, every gathering, every room in the house. That would be foolish now, if even possible. Advent and Christmas will be at home, and this year instead of errands maybe there will be time -- time to savor memories: each decoration and ornament that has a story, books we read to the children so many years ago, photos of Christmas past. Time to center myself in the moment, to gaze into a candle or a fire, to listen deeply on the phone with my parents. Time to dream, to imagine, to gather courage for the future that is coming on the other side of our present troubles.
Maybe if the world can breathe a bit, rest a bit, wait and watch a bit, we can lower our collective anxiety and pay attention to what a Savior really looks like.  You know, the world has always wanted a powerful king who would fix everything. What the world got was a baby born to nobodies in somebody's garage, who grew up to say, "You are asking all the wrong questions! Stop worrying about money and power and politics! Just treat everybody with the love you'd like to receive. That's all. Simple."  It sounds naïve, doesn't it? But it turns out to have been the most powerful force the world has ever known. It defeated death itself. Maybe there will be a moment, a gift of isolation and cancellation, to remember. Eternal life has been offered to us. It's here for the taking, and ours to share.
I'm not sure that I yet believe in my heart that these could be the best holidays ever. There's too much sickness and death, too much anger and hatred, too much anxiety roiling even the normally relatively peaceful waters of the church. So they're probably not going to be the jolliest holidays of our lifetime.
But they may be the holiday we never forget -- because wonderful things happen in the middle of the mess, if we'll just allow the possibility of grace, and yes, even joy. Joy, as you've probably learned by now, isn't the same as giddy happiness. Joy comes even -- especially -- in times of pain and grief. It's deeper; it's richer; it's rarer. And it's more precious. Did you ever take a family camping trip that was miserable and rainy and full of flat tires and leaky tents and wet matches, and now it's the story that everybody competes to tell at every gathering? Did you ever have an event so important to you that people who swore they'd never be in the same room together came, and behaved themselves, because they loved you? Do you remember the message of the painful death of Jesus, the three sad days, and eternal life bursting out of a sealed tomb? That's joy. And joy is most certainly possible, even now.St. John's Anglican Cathedral prayer candles. Wikimedia Commons.

As I understand the ever-shifting story of the first Thanksgiving, people held a feast to give thanks to God that they were even alive after the year they had. (Are you paying attention?) They were alive and they had something to eat and they were grateful for neighbors who showed kindness in spite of trouble. Maybe this Thanksgiving is a lot closer to the original than most.
So maybe these won't be the worst holidays ever. They'll be, if we let them, a lot like the actual days that we commemorate -- a prayer to God in gratitude that we lived through the year and we are not starving or dying of exposure (and a pledge to make sure the same is true of everyone). A prayer of gratitude for the safe delivery of the baby who will be our Deliverer. A moment of wonder at the starry hosts of heaven silently singing gloria in excelsis Deo. A wistful, maybe tearful, moment of missing people we love and even traditions that we treasure. But God is here, we are provided for, the Savior's birth will be celebrated and his return anticipated, and as St. Paul said so well, NOTHING -- neither life nor death, nor angels nor rulers (think about that), nor things present nor things to come (think about that, too!), nor powers, nor heights, nor depths -- neither quarantine, nor health restrictions on corporate worship, nor budgetary entanglements, nor half-crazed neighbors and relatives -- nor anything else in all creation -- NOTHING -- can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Savior. Nothing.
Thank you, Jesus, for all our blessings. We can't wait to see you. Show us your face in the faces we love and serve, and open our weary, fearful hearts to your grace and truth. Come, Lord Jesus; we implore you: come.
Our services going forward are e-mailed videos which will be sent on Saturdays.

November 29th
The First Sunday of Advent

December 6th
The Second Sunday of Advent

December 13th
The Third Sunday of Advent
The Parish Prayer List

for those in need of God's comfort and healing
Courtenay Altaffer
John Barber
Martha Berger
Randall Bone
Sue Bowie
Nancy Allin Bush
Mary Claycomb
Constance Edwards
Bob File
David Gallagher
The Clyde Gibson Family Regina Griggs
Barbara & Harry Grander
The Rev. Howard Hanchey
Weir Harman
Billy Hooper
Rebecca Hubert
Marcia Jenkins
Stephanie, Nick & Donovan Kaywork
Jim & Sharon Krider
Mary Douglas Lawton
The Rt. Rev. Peter Lee
Susan Lewis
Frank Lynch
Susannah Marais
Pat Merkel
Tommy Neuman
Judi Newman
Kirsten Palubinski
Ed Rynd
James Rynd
Bennie Shepherd
Debbie Belfield Stacks
Scott Strickler
Waldy Sulik
Billy Tennyson
Roclyn Tennyson
Matthew Yates
Rose Mary Zellner and
the family of Mary Hertling
and for those serving in our armed forces.
Royce Baker
David Berger
Ryan Berger
Allen Crocker
Randy Crocker
Court Garretson
Cameron Heidenreich
Dan Heidenreich
Charles Jones
Daniel Kirk

Mark Lawton
Scott Longar
Luis Loya
Christopher Strickler
Gavin Wade McClung
and Travis Pullen
Please e-mail any updates to the prayer list to parishchurchnews@gmail.com Replying to this e-mail will send it to Torrence.
Upcoming Birthdays & Anniversaries
November 19th – Georges Saison
November 28th – Bill Calvert
November 30th – Mary & Waldy Sulik
December 1st – Brenda Harhai
December 1st – Brenda Harhai
December 3rd –Micheline Conn
December 9th – Vanelia Gallagher
December 9th – Paula Milsted
There are no in-person services this coming Sunday. We will e-mail a video service on Saturday and subsequently post it to our website farnhamwithstjohns.org, youtube and facebook pages.
Farnham Church
St. John's Church