Were you there?

It’s Easter Tuesday 2023, and for the life of me, I cannot get this one African-American spiritual out of my head… “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” This powerful tune started its work on me last week right around Good Friday (appropriate enough, one would think), and it continued its course with me as I planned an Easter Sunday sunrise service. Yep, two days ago, my son and I hauled ourselves out of bed at 4:30am, and drove to the beach with other early-rising disciples who wanted to greet the dawn on Easter morning. It was a calm and restorative service with the gentle wind and waves lapping on the shore.

Were you there?

Yeah, so even after a calm, restorative Easer Sunday sunrise service on the beach … that hymn just won’t stop in my head; it’s like it’s on continual repeat. I mean, c’mon! It’s Easter Tuesday, already!

Jesus walked to the cross. CHECK!

Jesus was crucified. CHECK!

Jesus was resurrected and the freedom is ours for the taking. CHECK!

We walked through Lent; we told our story; we said the “Alleluia’s!” CHECK! CHECK! and CHECK!


Except, I guess … we aren’t done. Or at least, I’m not done because that hymn just won’t stop with me. And, I guess I get it. We aren’t done because our story doesn’t end with the resurrection even though sometimes we act like it does. Yeah, I think the reason that hymn won’t stop its repeat in my head is because the story — our story — is really just starting. You know, that story when close friends and family were … there … when they crucified their friend, son, teacher, Jesus …. that story that seems so distant – so out of reach – so beyond … that even as a pastor, I struggle to comprehend it. Yeah, that story.

It’s just beginning. At this point, I think it’s time that you hear this hymn too.

If you need to watch a powerful verse of it … check out Mahalia Jackson going FOR IT on YouTube.

If you want to hear the whole thing check out Mahalia Jackson’s full rendition.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh, were you there when they crucified my Lord?
(Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble) tremble

Were You There?, An African American spiritual that probably predates the Civil War, “Were You There” was first published in
William Barton’s Old Plantation Hymns
(1899)- from Hymnary.org

So, as I enter into my second week with this hymn running its course through my head and heart, I find that its haunting melody and slow, methodical tempo is accompanying me at every step. It is making me ponder and visualize and ask again and again:

Were you there, Melinda?

Like Mary, were you there? Like Jesus’ loved ones and followers, were you there?

Were you there?

This hymn has been making me ask this question again and again … to the point where on one morning drive to work, I found myself spontaneously singing some new words to this old, old cry from the heart:

Were you there when they ‘xpelled them from the house?

Oh, were you there when they ‘xpelled them from the house?

Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble) tremble

After as I sang these “new” lyrics, the hymn took a new turn for me. I found myself returning to the verses of John, and considering deeply about what it means to be there; what it means to be a witness.

25 Jesus’ mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene stood near the cross. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.”

John 19: 25-36 (CEB)

What does it mean to be a witness to the horrific things that we (yes, we = me + you) do as God’s people?

And I guess, more pointedly, what is God calling us to do with our witness?

In recent weeks, we have all been witness to the expulsion of two young black elected representatives, Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, from the Tennessee state legislature for “violating the decorum of the chamber.” There are lots of news sources to read about the events, if you haven’t been following. Here’s a solid one to check out from the LA Times:

Tennessee’s House expels two of three Democrats involved in gun control protest

As I process this and ensuing events, I can’t help but wonder: what does it mean to witness to this (and countless others) events of racial injustice and misuse of power?

Now, I wasn’t there in Tennessee; I’m not going to be anytime soon. But, nonetheless, I am … we are all witnesses to this and countless other acts of overarching misuses of power. I am, we are witness to racist, harmful acts that work to keep in place the multitude of power imbalances in our institutions and systems.

And as disciples of Christ … who were ALL there when they crucified our Lord … what does it mean for us today to witness?

And by that question, yes, I am really asking: how do we not just standby?

How are we engaging our faith?

How are we lifting our voices (in whispers and over the bullhorn both) to upend the systems that are more focused on a chamber’s decorum than putting an end to gun violence that permeates in and through our communities — particularly our underserved, impoverished and vulnerable, communities at the margins?

Were you there?

From my open heart to yours on this Easter Tuesday,

Pastor Melinda


"Little children were being brought to [Jesus] in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs."  ~ Matthew 19: 13-14

Throughout the pandemic, I was led by John Wesley’s (founder of the 1700’s Methodist Movement) spiritual life pattern that some of us know as the “Three Simple Rules.”

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich on Pexels.com
  1. Do No Harm.
  2. Do Good.
  3. Stay in Love with God.

I have appreciated these simple rules of life as long as I have known them. In ministry, I have shared; taught; discussed; and pursued them.  But during the COVID-19 pandemic, these “simple rules” took on an entirely new meaning. They became a deeply ingrained spiritual life pattern.  I worked hard to follow the rules daily as I led the church, and as I parented two school-aged children.

This Thanksgiving season, I am drawn to them again because they pinpoint for me why I am called to lift my voice in support of the COVID-19 vaccine for all persons, especially for the littles ones.

It’s as simple as Wesley’s simple rules. As I follow Jesus and as I minister to a community that remains daily still under threat of this awful virus, I must do my part and support others to:

  1. Do No Harm.
  2. Do Good.
  3. Stay in Love with God.

And in this very moment? This work … these simple rules look like speaking up and speaking out to say that the faith community supports the COVID-19 vaccine for all persons. 

Because right now? The faith narrative being shared … or the one being heard? says otherwise.  Sadly, the faith community voice that is the loudest … the most present … the most reported and the most heard … that voice …. presents itself as anti-vaccine, and anti-mask.  And this loudly present, reported, and heard voice often comes across more as a political power player than it does as a spiritual framework to the most precious gift of all: life itself.

Across the United States and up and down the state of California, we are seeing a heightened and vitriolic politicization of public health and preventative measures in school districts, and in the media.  But the reality is … that  …. nearly one million children in the United States have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of this school year. The now-approved vaccines for children age 5-12 will finally bring relief to many schools and families, communities everywhere, but only if school boards and other officials, faith communities and neighborhoods stand up to the peddlers of misinformation who are angrily seeking to block mask use and vaccine access.

So, I must speak out and speak up; we must speak out and speak up. The broad, diverse and grounded faith community must speak OUT and speak UP in favor of the COVID-19 vaccine for all persons. We must speak out and speak up first and foremost for the youngest, most vulnerable among us … the children.

The Little Ones.

We must together endeavor to speak clearly and broadly that we support the COVID-19 vaccine for all persons who are medically approved for it.  That we support masks and public health guidance to fight this horrific illness and bring our communities — one and all — to a place of health and wellness.  

We must together speak up for all persons, especially those who can’t speak up right now … so that someday – together — ALL of us will live in a world … FREE of COVID-19.

For the Little Ones.

We must.


A Prayer for Election Day 2020

I came across this prayer from one of my go-to resources. I’ve shared it already on the Instagram account for followers of the “Being the Church Movement, Long Beach.” But, it is so needed, so here it is on my blog as well. We all need this prayer. We all need a whole lotta prayer right now.

Gracious God, our holy and life-giving Spirit, today on this Election Day 2020 and the close of this election season, we pray that you would move upon every human heart of this nation to remove barriers that divide us, that walls of separation and suspicions may disappear, and all hatred and prejudice, which blocks us from the light of your love, would cease.

O God, we confess that this election season in our history has not brought out the best in so many of us. Forgive us when we were less than truthful with one another, and forgive us when we were less than loving toward our neighbors.

O loving God, we pray for your healing hand upon our divisions, such that we may seek your peace and reconciliation that is tied to a greater commitment to justice and truth. We pray against every evil spirit and force that would seek to intimidate and suppress voters or instigate violence against any citizen seeking to exercise their precious and sacred right to vote.

We pray that your hedge of protection will cover every poll worker, every election official, and every voter.

Help our elected leaders, O God, to promote love, and not fear, to act out of mercy, and not malice, to work for justice, rather than partiality and privilege. Help us all, Lord, to truly walk alongside and show care and solidarity to our neighbors through our vote in this season.

Almighty God, guide us as a country to guard the rights of one another, to protect the integrity of the election, and to fulfill your purposes for our lives, as we truly strive “to form a more perfect union”; and to together build a more radically just and loving nation. 

Through Jesus Christ, our loving Lord and reigning Redeemer.


“Prayer, Please: This Way to Prayer on Election Day and Beyond” — Click to see this prayer and a bevy of online Christian and interfaith prayer vigils across our country happening today and throughout the week here:

The Role of the Church


There probably isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t ask myself:  

is this really all worth it?  

And similarly, I ask: is there a better way to be the people of God than the church today?  For me, as an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, these questions are intertwined, enmeshed, forever fused.  For most folks, these are two different questions.  But for me, these thoughts will never be untangled, and every day, I ask them quietly, to myself:

  1. Is this work, my leadership in the human-institution called the church … worth it?; and 
  2. Is there a better way to be the people of God than the church today?

Well, obviously … yes and yes … are the answers to both of those questions.   Every day. Every single day.

I do need to share that framing my answers is the reality that every human institution is fraught with a history somewhere of evil and abuse.  Every human institution has some past or present story of deep pain, poor choice, dysfunction or corruption.  And?  The church is no innocent in this.  No, even worse, the church enacts such abuse in the very name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  So, I think to myself again and again and again:  why am I part of this work, this mess of an institution called the church?  why?

But, each day I ask these questions, the same answer arises in my heart: these are the people of God, Melinda.  The church is human (institutionally formed or no).  And we humans (make no mistake that I own my own flawed, broken part in the church), we are broken and wounded and hurting.  And we often (consciously and unconsciously both) act from that terrified small space of woundedness — and — of brokenness.

We form the church + We are broken = The church is formed by, of and with God’s broken people.  … ergo … we act from that place of broken …

So, if the church … if this human gathering of the wounded is marred from the outset, if we are destined to get it wrong, to injure one another and those we will never know, if we inherit a far too long and far too painful history of harm, then why bother … because there must be a better way.

Well, of course, there is a better way.  But, here we find ourselves in the conundrum of the ages: the better way is the way of Christ, and we gather as the church to be about the way of Christ.  The way of Christ is the way that bears the “fruits of the Spirit” that we learn about in Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  (Gal. 5:22-23)

The better way is to be the church and follow Christ together.  It is as simple and complex, as clear and difficult as that.  But, this is the work that we must be about; we must be the church and follow Christ together even, despite and IN our brokenness.  We must be the church — in the COVID-19 pandemic — in the ever-growing secularization of our cultures — in the deepening political polarity of our country — in our racist, anti-black structures — in our ageist and ableist ways —

And still, yet, ever more … yearn to follow Christ together on his path.

There is an endless list (now that I have started it) to why we should not be the church, to why we should walk away or just go seek God in the sunset and leave it all at that.  But all of those reasons and that sunset won’t stop the hurt or the pain being inflicted now or to come.  In the name of anyone’s Lord or Savior.

The church today.  This is the work that we must be about; we must be the church and follow Christ together even, despite and IN our brokenness.

Because Church:  we have been given a clear mission from God.  And I learned this all. over.again.this.summer.  There is nothing like running a church daycamp in a global pandemic to teach me this lesson … again and again.

At our best?  We are the world’s best tool for community.  The church.

At our best?  We are the healthy way to bring people together. The church.

At our best?  We teach the tools of compassion, empathy, patience.  The church.

At our best?  We teach grace, and we live grace.  We teach and we live and we practice forgiveness.

At our best?  We live in joy and hope.

We teach, preach and put into daily practice: every soul has its worth.


At our best?  We bring people together (or at least we should be), and we teach both the value of and the tools to …. build community.

And that? This?  This building up of community; the teaching of how to do it and the valuing of it? … It is this … healthy community … that changes the world because it is in this coming together, this forming the heart of God, as God’s people that hearts are changed, that lives are transformed.

We must be about this work.  We are born to it, and called to it.

Join me, please.  Teach me about you.  Allow me to make a mistake in your presence, and give me the change to ask for your grace.  Together, let us walk a path of less pain and hurt than our ancestors of the faith.

Let us be about the work of Christ – let us be the church and be the beloved community.


Pastor Melinda

Pastor of Community & Connection

Being the Church Movement, Long Beach

E: Melinda@BeingtheChurchLB.org


It is me. It is you. It is us.

Want to be a part of lasting and real change?

— Read about and consider a real contribution to this local initiative —

Fund race, equity and justice resources in our local libraries


And now?  Allow me to introduce myself.

I am the Rev. Melinda Teter Dodge.  I use the pronouns she/her/hers.  I am white, cis-gendered, and I was born into a rebellious, anti-institutional group called Generation X.  My mom taught me three important things (among many):

  1. to question almost everything;
  2. to not waste your time memorizing anything that you could just look up; and
  3. that – if I was ever bored?  that was on me.  Our world is far from boring.

But my mom?  She didn’t teach me to be racist or anti-black.

I was born into and I am a product of white privilege and a systemically racist culture that has infiltrated and impacted my world, my schooling, my housing, my choices, my life.   I was born white and I have inherited a privilege in this country like none other. Anti-blackness and racism are woven throughout us all in the U.S.

And that includes me and my life.

It is me.  It is you.  It is us.

Anti-blackness and systemic racism is so insidiously interwoven into who and how we are and who and how we become that most whites  (including myself) do not have an awareness of its existence in the vast majority of our hours on Earth.

What a privilege that is, in and of itself.

Our nation’s inherent anti-blackness and our broad systemic racism is something that I have been aware of since my college years.  But awareness and action are far from the same.  I will confess that a deep feeling of hopelessness to affect real change has had me in its grips for years.  And?  My very own privilege and complacency has stopped me from acting as fully as I could or I should.

But?  As an ordained elder in the church, as a leader of younger generations and a a few suburban Southern California churches, I trust that this era that we are in — is different.  I want to – and I need to – trust that the Holy Spirit … she is moving amongst us all right now and change is here.


Earlier in June,  I had a particularly impactful week that further deepened my own awareness of systemic racism and its all-too-human impact on life itself.  On Monday, June 8, the morning of George Floyd’s memorial service in his hometown of Houston, Texas, I participated in an organized, multi-pronged funeral procession that covered all points of Los Angeles County.  Our procession began at CSULB, where we prepared our vehicles, and then symbolically processed into DTLA, meeting up with the other three processions.  Then, together, the 1000’s of us converged upon downtown Los Angeles to hear from Los Angeles Black Lives Matters leaders and speakers who had organized us all.

White clergy were asked to stand in the back, and hold the line with the LA County Sheriffs patrol … who was there for reasons unknown.  So, I stood in the back, toe to toe with other white clergy; I stayed for a number of hours in the hot sun (mask included/safely distanced), holding the line with the Sheriff’s force.  Holding the line while listening to stories of deeply personal, painfully raw interactions with LAPD.  Holding the line while listening to persons tell of brutal abuse and killings at the hands of the very people – that we entrust to protect us.  Holding the line with some of those very people that I was hearing were agents in a diabolical, anti-black system that perpetuates the abuse of black lives and has since its inception.


But then, four days later, on Friday, June 12,  I was invited into a zoom conversation with Long Beach Police Chief, Robert Luna.  Here, I found myself toeing a very different line.  This was a line of listening to narratives of officers who have dedicated their lives and hearts to protecting our city and streets.  I heard narratives of persons who are feel immense shame for the actions of others who “wear the badge,” and many of whom are fearful everyday on the job.  I heard from officers who are asked to/expected to do far, far too much in a system that has (again and again) underfunded, under-resourced deeper needs of our communities.  Indeed, I heard tales of a massive system that underfunds the need, and then leaves the aftermath to the police to manage.  (houselessness, mental illness, gangs, addiction, domestic abuse, child abandonment, human trafficking, hunger … to name a few)


I cannot claim to know the intricacies of police work, training and funding nor the abuses of these servants that has happened and continues to occur throughout our nation and communities.

I cannot claim to know the centuries of demeaning and abuse and generations of lives gone underfulfilled of our black brothers and sisters nor their pain, loss, despondency, or despair.

I cannot claim to know what it is to not have my experience of being born white in an anti-black nation.

But, I can claim an awareness.  And I must.  I can and I must claim an awareness of my own implicit bias, and that I sit in a place of white privilege that I was born into and as a child of God in the United States.

Even more than that?

I must claim to be a disciple of Christ who knows with her entire heart and soul that this is not the kingdom for which Jesus lived and died so that we would know a better way.

I must claim a way that professes my awareness of the world in which we live as well as  the narratives, the his- and her- and their-stories of persons that have far different experiences than I do.  I must claim a way that opens my own ears and heart and eyes to that which must be told and heard and I must make way (as best I can and should) for  new paths that must be forged and opened before us all.

It is this that I have been praying over.   I have been praying for the knowledge, the steps and the courage to participate in meaningful, respectful, effective systemic change that will contribute to the dismantling of anti-blackness, racism and white privilege in our homes, communities, institutions, nations and world.

One step that I have taken is to engage in conversation with other parents about “raising race conscious children.”  I am practicing this work, and I highly recommend it to you and yours.

Raising Race Conscious Children


And I have been collaborating with other faith and community leaders in Long Beach on an initiative to fund race, equity and justice resources in our local libraries.  This is the fund that I mention earlier in this post.

Click here to learn more!

Continuing a walk with Christ and with you, I remain your sister in Christ,

Pastor Melinda



Beginning with a question. For justice.

The work of the church that seeks justice, the work of a single disciple of Christ who seeks to be about the works of justice … begins with two things: a humble question + an open heart.

The question: how do your dreams become mine also?

pink clouds
Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

It is asking this one question and in seeking its answer, we begin to know the other.  We begin to see, hear, feel, sense another person’s inner world, their passion, their inspiration;  we begin to understand what makes someone other than ourselves … “tick.”

Most of the time, we won’t ever get to the place of knowing another’s dream.  Most of the time, we have the learnings and abuses of life that stop us from asking this one question or sharing our answer when someone asks us.  We rarely get the invitation to enter into another’s dream, or get asked to share ours.


The rarity of the desired experience doesn’t stop the disciple from the journey.  I think of the early disciples who left their nets to follow Jesus, who sought to know God’s dream for all God’s people of grace, love, healing, peace … of justice … for all of God’s people.  I’m pretty sure that the journey was not at all what they were expecting or hoping for — at all.  I’m not even sure if they ever felt that they had truly engaged in Christ’s dream for them and us … but I do know that they were deep, abiding, transformed disciples who experience a love and grace that knew no bounds.  And they were about the work of justice.  Again and again.  Justice for the leper.  Justice for the tax collector.  Justice for the child.  Justice for the poor widow.  Justice for the hungry.  Justice for the immigrant.  Justice for the houseless.

As we engage with those around us today, as we seek to know people’s longings, as we inquire about their dreams, as we live life and grow to understand their dreams, and maybe … as we share our dreams, and maybe as we walk side-by-side to live into another person’s dreams for themselves … we might become more like Christ.

We might become more like Christ as we work to hear other’s people dreams, to bring those dreams into our hearts, and to seek a world that would engender their dreams as reality.

That takes heart.

That takes commitment to enacting (often) systemic change and works of justice.

Because maybe a small child dreams of a full belly, or a parent dreams of a having a full pantry for family meals?  These dreams?  They take systemic change in Los Angeles County where the California Housing Partnership Corporation found that L.A. County rents have increased by nearly one-third (32 percent) since 2000:

“Families have to make very difficult choices about whether to pay for food or the rent,” says Cynthia Harding, interim director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health. “These are hard and awful decisions.”

So, first the question: how do your dreams become mine also?  remembering …. 

  • We don’t attempt to change anyone’s dreams, or to place our dreams atop or onto or in place of anyone else’s.
  • We don’t assume that we know anything of another’s experience in the world.
  • We do ask from a place of humility.
  • We do listen with open hearts.
  • And then we do listen some more.

But, first the question: how do your dreams become mine also?


Pastor Melinda

A prayer for this day.

the pain is so immense.  so deep.  so rooted.  so ingrained in the fabric, the DNA of our existence as a people, a culture, a city, a community, a system, a nation … that it seems to be (for some of us) tearing us apart from the very inside of ourselves.  for others of us, this pain is simply being brought forth, out into the open … and in that … there is a freedom to its expression, a liberation to its sounding, and a relief to its airing out that i cannot speak to from my experience.

but i do feel the pain; i hear the cries; i see the wounds.

all i have this day is a prayer.  tomorrow, perhaps, i will have something else.

but, now, i offer this prayer for this day.

Holy and living God,

  • In you “we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28)
  • In you we find our shelter and strength,
  • In you our hearts are being filled with joy each morning, 
  • In you we sing praises with a new song,
  • In you we trust that your promises are the way.

grayscale photo of a cluster of bell flowers with scratched surface
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Like those early disciples experiencing time in between a life known with Jesus the man and a life in the days of Pentecost with the Risen Christ alive in collected hearts;  

like those early disciples experiencing the time in between the grief of deep loss and the anxiety of the unknown; 

in between the loss of what was and the anticipation of a new way of being God’s people:

    • We wait with hope for you are the source of every hope,
    • We wait with patience for your timing is always perfect,
    • We wait with prayer for you are listening intently,
    • We wait with praise for you take all our anxieties as we cast them on you.

Like those early disciples experiencing time in between a life known with Jesus the man and a life in the days of Pentecost with the Risen Christ alive in collected hearts;  

like those early disciples experiencing the time in between the grief of deep loss and the anxiety of the unknown; 

in between the loss of what was and the anticipation of a new way of being God’s people, we lift to you:

    • Those who graduating with uncertainty hindering their future, 
    • Those who lost their jobs and are finding ways to meet their financial needs,
    • Those who lost their loved ones, and their funeral services are limited or postponed,
    • Those who are fighting against addiction and are unable to meet with their recovery groups,
    • Those who feel fear as hate crimes and incidents rise forth from the very ground.

Like those early disciples experiencing time in between a life known with Jesus the man and a life in the days of Pentecost with the Risen Christ alive in collected hearts;  

like those early disciples experiencing the time in between the grief of deep loss and the anxiety of the unknown; 

in between the loss of what was and the anticipation of a new way of being God’s people:

    • We mourn for the loss of “normal” while we hear the cries and the anger and the pain that what was normal was unjust, hurtful, and murderous to so many of your flock.
    • We pray forgiveness for our own sin of racism, our racist ways, our racist system.
    • We pray for relief from pain and for the safe space to cry — whether silent or aloud in the streets.  
    • We pray for your people, your children — one and all — because as followers of Christ, we know that we are to see all your people as people we too love, because you first loved us. 

During this time, O God,

  • Enter into our sorrows, worries, addictions, financial burdens, fears, and injustices, 
  • Fill us with your grace, hope, and joy abundantly, 
  • Turn each home into a place of peace, unity, and love for each other,
  • Renew our hearts and minds to seek the knowledge of your mercy and love,
  • Help our souls to be united in incessant prayer.

Like those early disciples experiencing time in between a life known with Jesus the man and a life in the days of Pentecost with the Risen Christ alive in collected hearts;  

like those early disciples experiencing the time in between the grief of deep loss and the anxiety of the unknown; 

in between the loss of what was and the anticipation of a new way of being God’s people:

Let us also receive this prayer of Apostle Paul:

“I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make us intelligent and discerning in knowing [God] personally, our eyes focused and clear, so that we can see exactly what it is [God] is calling us to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life [God] has for [us], oh, the utter extravagance of [God’s] work in us who trust [the Lord]—endless energy, boundless strength!”

Let it be so. Amen.

By Rev. Taesung Kang, MSG Translation, edited by the Rev. Melinda Teter Dodge.  

Hope in the form of a text message or two…

My family has an almost daily practice of sharing highs and lows around the dinner table.  Sometimes, it’s more just a rote thing that we do, the benefit being more in the consistency of doing it than in the deep reflections shared.  LOL.

But, then there are those times when something surprising arises.  

This past Tuesday night, I surprised even myself when I didn’t share that my day’s joy was good health.  These days, good health is an increasing and ongoing joy.  Surrounded by startling statistics of the spread and death rate of COVID-19 around the world and locally both, my joy often is good health.  It is a joy.  Now and evermore.

However, the other night, my articulated joy was something different.  I’ve been working on the plans for our summer day camp.  As with many summer events, we aren’t sure what, if, how or when camp will happen.  There are so many, many more questions than answers.  There is so much to sift through, to think over, to read, learn, consider and communicate.

  • Will we be able to hold camp?
    • If so, how?  Will we do some portions virtually?
    • What will group sizes be?
  • How might we manage lunch?
  • What is the best sanitizer and where do we get it?
  • What can we possibly do for recreation??
  • Jeez … the questions never end!

However, in sorting through the bog of questions, it came to me that I needn’t try to answer them all on my own.  I had already assembled a strong staff and volunteer team before the pandemic reared its ugly head.  So, my next step was to have the hard conversation with each of these good folks about whether they wished to continue on staff this summer — given all the unknowns of camp.

And?  Each one of our camp staff confirmed their participation.  But, their confirmations went much further than that.  Each of them wants to do the hard work of helping to make camp happen.  In whatever way or ways that we can.


I heard things like:

  • “We just have to have camp.  Our campers love it so much, and we ALL need this.”
  • “I am thrilled to hear that you want to continue with camp. I would definitely still be interested!”
  • “Whatever we need to do, I’m in!”
  • “Well, I can tell you right now whatever you decide?  I’m 100% on board with. I think the kids deserve a great summer now more than ever and I want to help make that happen (:”

I felt hope in listening to the passion of our camp staff and volunteers to make Groundlings Camp happen.  And this hope? these messages? reminded me of why God gave us the gift of church and why gathering is so intrinsic to the Christian tradition.

We gather hope from one another.  We gain insight and wisdom; we offer and receive, grace from one another.  What we cannot do alone?  we can often do with the help of others.

These conversations and replies and “we can do this!” spirit kept coming through via texts throughout the day.  As I thought about these replies, I started to understand a different portrait of church in these times … one that is ancient and new … spoken of in the Book of Acts (conveniently enough just read this past Sunday in our lectionary cycle!)


46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”  ~ Acts 2:46-47

While we cannot meet together in person, we can still be and still are … God’s church.  The hope we have in the new day, the resurrection — this hope remains very much intact, and very much alive.

So my joy around the dinner table that evening was “the hope I received in text messages all day about Groundlings Camp this summer!”

The Holy Spirit coming through in those messages continue to give me hope this day.

Blessings and peace to you,

Pastor Melinda

Good Shepherd, indeed!


“Young Shepherd”

By Ed Brambley from Cambridge, UK [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

This week, I have been preparing to lead our church’s Sunday morning “worship dialogue” virtually on Zoom.*  In some ways, it’s difficult to believe that less than two months ago, most of us had never heard of online gathering tools such as Zoom.  And now?  I am using it multiple times daily, and as you know, I do find it tedious as some days I’m zooming for hours on end!

But, I am also deeply thankful for the technology that will allow us to gather in dialogue on Sunday as the church of God.  Thanks be to God.  We will hear live music from Derek Gordon and Dr. Josh Palkki.  We will pray together.  And, we will read and discuss two scriptural texts from the morning’s lectionary:

  • Psalm 23
  • Acts 2: 42-47

Now, I am going to be honest with you.  When I first saw the readings, I wasn’t sure what to do!  I mean …  Psalm 23:  what more can possibly be shared about these particular verses in our tradition?  What more could we possibly learn, discern, or discuss?

But then, as I thought some more and pushed back on my initial reaction (I’ve learned!), I thought: this is the perfect Psalm to read and discuss right now.  It is so deeply meaningful to so many.  It brings memories, images, comfort, and peace.  It recalls ages and stages of life, people, times — to each of us — recent and long-time followers of Christ.  So, I look forward to hearing and sharing together this beautiful song of David.

As you prepare to join me, please take a few minutes to review Psalm 23 with these questions in mind:

  • What does this Psalm mean to you?  What is one memory that you could share about Psalm 23?
  • If you were to share Psalm 23 with someone who had never heard it before, how would you introduce it?

We will also be taking a look at Luke’s depiction of the early church in the Book of Acts 2:42-47. Personally, in my church leadership practice, I have been led by these exact verses for many years.  I have returned to them again and again.  They are as meaningful to me as Psalm 23.   And?  I’ve been utterly stymied by them, too.  I’ve been brought to frustrated tears by them, wondering: where have we fallen short as the church of Christ?  Why aren’t our churches today reflective of this idyllic, early church in the Book of Acts?  If these disciples could do it: why do we fall so short?

But, reading these verses again — through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic — I’ve begun to see this early church not as a litmus test for our successes or failures … but as a vision to live into; as the Rev. Robb McCoy reflects on the Pulpit Fiction podcast:

“These verses depict what it looks like when it all works, when we are all listening to the shepherd’s voice.”

Here’s another pro-tip!

Looking so much to seeing and being church with you all,

Pastor Melinda

  • If you would like to join this Sunday, contact Pastor Mark to receive the Zoom Call login information.  Things start at 10am!
  • E: MSturgess@LosAltosUMC.org