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First News of Dickinson and Belfield - April 2006

March marked the beginning of Lent, the season of the church year that begins and ends by reminding us of death. The traditional saying with which Christians are marked with ashes on Ash Wednesday is “remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.” We are asked to imagine what life (and death) would be like if the resurrection had not occurred, if death, indeed, had had the final say. Lent ends with Holy Week, with the Last Supper and Good Friday and the sun going down on Holy Saturday and darkness filling the world around us.

Christ does not leave us in darkness. It is quite fitting to celebrate the Easter Sunrise Service, with the sun coming up, filling the sky, and painting it with rainbow colors reminding us of the beauty of life. Especially the beauty of that life given to us in the gift of the resurrection. A gift that did not come without cost - the cost being the life of our Lord, Jesus.

And we are called to respond with thanksgiving. The cross is empty. Christ is risen. It stands there as token of the promise of our own resurrection.

For some reason, Easter is my favorite day of the whole year. And not just because I get to say, “He is RISEN!” I find it especially fitting that, for us, Easter comes at that time of year when spring takes hold on the world around us. We celebrate the gift of new life in the midst of new life.

This is a much greater gift than all the gifts which we have received at all the Christmas’s we have lived put together. Yes, a child comes and lives among us, and shares our life, at Christmas. But at Easter, we get to share in the life of that same child, of that child grown up, to share in the life of our Savior. At Easter we are given the gift of the resurrection.

To celebrate this, I like to do something new, something which helps me to grow into a better follower of Christ than I had been before. So that, each year, I experience new life and transformation.

We do not need to wait until the moment of death to experience this gift which Christ has given to us. As we accept the love which God has for us, we are transformed, we become more than what we were before. We share that love, becoming the Body of Christ, the Church, a servant people - called to share what we have with others. Called to love as we have been loved.

And we have yet more to look forward to - as we do not experience the fullness of this life until the moment of death, when we come into the presence of our resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ.

This is the promise we have been given, a promise given at great cost, a promise given in great love. A promise truer than any other we have been given.

Pastor Kathleen

Copyright © 2006 M. Kathleen Chesnut

First News of Dickinson and Belfield - May 2006

The past ten days have been challenging. While I was preparing for the wedding of Delanee and. Danny Dillinger, I heard about the stroke that sent Patti Syminow to the hospital. Saturday, I performed my first North Dakota wedding. As I was doing my normal preaching “dance” I remembered the previous wedding I had performed in New York. It was on the top of Bald Mountain; it had taken 45 minutes to climb up there. I had to stand still during this wedding; 2 feet from where I was standing, the mountain dropped off very steeply. I felt much freer during this wedding.

Then first thing Sunday, I heard of Patti’s death. The sermon I had prepared made no sense, and so I wrote a new one while preaching. By the time I got to Dickinson, neither sermon made sense. I have no idea what I preached, but someone told me that they appreciated it, so maybe it wasn’t all that bad. Monday I met with Patti’s family. We planned the funeral as well as an informal prayer service for the family on Wednesday evening.

Wednesday evening began with the Women’s Tea of the Dickinson church. I wore my favorite hat that I only wear on special occasions – such as teas and birthday parties. I said grace, ate some food, and ran off to the funeral parlor for the informal family prayer service. Once I saw the 250 people who comprised Patti’s immediate “family”, I changed my plans and added short meditations on the scriptures I had chosen. As this took a little longer than I had planned, most of the dessert was gone by the time I returned to the Tea. Fortunately, Jo Tavis had saved some of her petti fours for me, and I thought they tasted good.

Thursday afternoon, I headed for the funeral in Fryburg at 1:45, feeling a bit of culture shock leftover from the night before due to the North Dakota definition of family. The traffic jam of 12 cars that I came across as soon as I got on the interstate actually felt good, although I had really WANTED to travel at the construction speed limit of 65. Once we got out of construction, I got to pass three slower cars; I hadn’t realized that I had missed the New York State traffic jams. I was worrying about finding the funeral as I only knew what town it was in. No need to worry; all except one of the cars were going to the school for the funeral, so I followed them. I then preached to the largest congregation in my career as a pastor – around 600 people.

I took Friday off, but Saturday I prepared for my installation as well as the Sunday service. I got to sleep late as Belfield canceled service in favor of the installation. I enjoyed sitting and listening to other people preach during the installation. Wade Schemmel, the UCC Conference Minister, preached an inspiring sermon, which was matched by the Charge given by Ralph Sjursen. I ate more than I should have at the dinner afterward. The installation was the high point of the ten days.

One reason that it was the high point was the journey it took to get there. We can only fully appreciate light when we travel through darkness. If we constantly live in the daylight, it begins to lose its value. The significance of Easter would be lost on us, if we didn’t travel through Holy Week and Good Friday to get there. I find that my most fulfilling role as a pastor is to perform funerals, when I get to remind people who are experiencing a current darkness that the light will come. This fact is hard to remember when the darkness is unbroken. Having traveled through darkness myself, I know that the light DOES return. Funerals are NOT my favorite thing to do though – I really prefer the weddings.

The other reason that my installation was the high point is that now I OFFICIALLY belong to both congregations. We have promised to do God’s work together. We need each other to accomplish what God’s intends in this time and place. I probably will still continue to experience culture shock now and then; I expect to experience “reverse” culture shock as I drive back to New York for my vacation in August. By the time I return, I KNOW that I will not be missing traffic jams!

I ask God to bless us all as we work together discerning God’s calling for us all.

Pastor Kathleen

Copyright © 2006 M. Kathleen Chesnut

First News of Dickinson and Belfield - June 2006 

Most churches I know follow the cycle of the school year, rather than that of the calendar.September is the time for gearing up, fall for getting things done, deep winter for taking a break, spring another time of high energy - and then summer time comes.Some churches even close down for a month in the summer.(This cycle is one reason why the two months that we DO NOT have a newsletter are January and July.)

I would assume that Dickinson, being a University town, slows down.In this area, outside work takes up some of everyone's time.(I already KNOW that I won't tame my vegetable garden this year, but maybe next year . . . Uh, why did God make dandelions?)Medora gears up and takes some of our attention, if only to go over there and play.Belfield has its own cycle.

During the summer, we tend to travel.I have to admit that I don't ALWAYS make it to church on Sunday while on vacation.In the two weeks that I have off this month, one Sunday will be a traveling day.Hopefully, I will make it to church that Sunday, but . . . But when this happens and we do miss church, we need to make sure that we don't miss our time spent with God.

God doesn't go on vacation.Or, to be precise, God DOES go on vacation, traveling with us.God just doesn't take time off.If I can't get to church that Sunday that I will be traveling, I WILL take some time to be in God's presence.There is something meditative about driving a car on an Interstate, though not the Interstates around Chicago.I remember reading that people in North Dakota read while driving.I haven’t become enough of a North Dakotan to do that yet (and may never will if I keep driving by Chicago once a year), but I DO meditate while driving over to Bismarck.And I expect I will do some meditating that Sunday while on vacation.

We need to take care of and water our relationship with God just as we need to take care of and water our gardens.If we don't, our relationship with God might start looking like my vegetable garden, filled with dandelions and other things that I DID NOT PLANT, instead of that which gives nourishment.The lettuce gets crowded out, and so does that peace that Christ gives to us.We need both.If we don't care for our relationship with God, all the wonderful seeds that we planted the rest of the year get crowded out - and we have to start over again in September - just as I plan to do a better job tilling my vegetable garden next year BEFORE planting my vegetables.

So slow down for the summer, but remember that God is there with you - and say hello!

May Christ travel with you this summer,

Pastor Kathleen

Copyright © 2006 M. Kathleen Chesnut

First News of Dickinson and Belfield - August 2006

It has been HOT. My problem is that I am NOT used to the low humidity here in North Dakota. Don't laugh - back in the Albany, NY, area, when it was only 90 degrees, the heat index would be over 100 degrees due to the humidity. It was rarely REALLY over 100, unlike here. My brain calculates the heat according to how the humidity feels, so I overdo and don't realize that it is TOO HOT until it is TOO LATE.

I don't pay enough attention to the signs around me and just go ahead and do my thing, whatever it is. And then I pay the price and don't accomplish anything near what I had planned.

Paying attention - most of us don't do that often enough. We get too busy and don't pay attention to our loved ones (my dogs, Dewey and Spirit, have been complaining that I haven't played enough with them - but I don't seem to think of it during the COOL part of the day). Dewey comes and helps me get creative with my typing until I give in and pet him - Spirit is learning to do that too. But not everyone who needs our attention knows how to get it.

We have our own agendas and don't like changing them. And sometimes we don't even focus enough on ourselves due to our tight focus on what we want to get done.

We don't really live this way. We proceed. We accomplish, but we don't live and play and celebrate. To do those things, we need to pay attention to the moment in which we are living. We need to appreciate the unexpected - to laugh when the sprinkler gets carried away and waters us, instead of saying those words that are not found in Pastor's Letters.

When we pay attention, God surprises us with a sense of accomplishment that our own agendas cannot provide. We find ourselves doing the unexpected, with unexpected results. Doorways open up that were not on our blueprint. Our life changes.

When we pay attention, God surprises us with wonder. Back in Albany, there was this weed that insisted on growing in the basement. Many times, I just walked over it. But I never pulled it out, because on other days I needed encouragement. I always felt that if that weed could keep coming up in a dark basement, then whatever darkness I felt in my life had no true power over me. Here, I find myself wondering at the tenacity of the dandelions. They ALWAYS grow.

When we pay attention, God surprises us with grace. The stranger smiles, and our day changes its tune (or in North Dakota is it the neighbor in the supermarket?). We find the opportunity to connect with those we love on a deeper level. Grace enters our life more easily when there is room for the unknown.

May you find wonder and grace during these hot days.

Pastor Kathleen

Copyright © 2006 M. Kathleen Chesnut


NOT the - First News of Dickinson and Belfield - September 2006

Not the Pastor's Letter

I remember as an English major reading all these classics and "not quite getting it" until I learned the whole background of the book and what was going on when it was written.  Context means a lot.  Which is the long way of saying that my September Pastor's Letter really WAS for my congregations and not the wider audience encompassed by this website.  So, from time to time, you will be getting your very own "letter."

Twice a year, we hear talk about "new year" - in January when the calendar flips over to another year, and in August/September when the school year begins.  Having been a high school teacher and now with one of my churches in a university town, this second "new year" comes more naturally to me.  A summer slow-down and then the coming of new energy and opportunity seems more "new."  "New" right after the high point of Christmas doesn't do it for me.  We just had "new" with the birth of the child that will bring Isaiah's vision to birth.

However it works for us, we do get a chance to do things "new"; we do get a chance to regroup and then surge forward.  Lying fallow is just as important a time for us as it is for a farmer's field.I  t is then that seeds of new growth have a chance to overcome the weeds that fill our lives.  This is why we have the Sabbath time.  The cycle of slow-down and then bursting forth with the "new" is a natural part of life - if we let it be.If we don’t slow down, we often keep just going the same old wrong direction.

You may have guessed that the Pastor's Letter dealt with "new" - you are correct.

My September Pastor's Letter ends "A new year. . . we need to remember to bring what God wants into all this planning.  If we don't, we are limited to that which we can imagine ourselves, to that which WE think we can accomplish.  When we add God to our planning committee, the circle widens to include creation and ideas we never would have thought of on our own.  When we add God, we rely on our faith and faith has been known to work wonders."

Faith has been known to work wonders.  But not if we don't take that moment to stop - be with God - and follow in that direction in which God points us.  Not if we don't make use of that "new year" that comes along to challenge us once again. May you take the time needed to add wonder to your life.


Copyright © 2006 M. Kathleen Chesnut

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