Blog Space of Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D, pastor at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, Ellicott City, MD

Monday, July 31, 2017

Away Days

 
It's summer time. A lot of us are traveling. During worship this past Sunday we had a number of folk away while a number others were visitors to our area who joined us for worship. Our sermon from the day, about “Jacob's Wives” can be found here.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Francisco recently researched “The Vacation Effect.” Using a large sample group of everyday folk, measurements were taken before and immediately after a one-week vacation, as well as one month and ten months afterwards. Results showed that after a week away from their daily grind, everyone reported lower stress, better mood, and greater awareness and vitality.

The “vacation effect” was strong, immediate, and even lasted for up to one month. Participants also showed changes in gene activity related to decreased stress response and better immune function. Their verdict was that days spent away from our usual routine help us both mentally and physically to function better and enrich our lives in unexpected ways.

As a pastor I'm also aware that time out of our normal routine is an important part of our spiritual health. Many times in the gospel accounts we observe Jesus taking time out to be alone and find moments of refreshment in the midst of doing ministry. The earliest church was strong on the idea of pilgrimage... of taking time out to travel and explore sites that were of significance to faith.

It is a good thing to take time to connect with our wider families, to seek refreshment, and in the midst of doing that, often reconnect with ourselves. As Christian people we do so in the context of our life in Christ. One of the few stories we have of the early life of Jesus is that of His family making their annual trip to Jerusalem.

It seems to have been very much a family occasion, which functioned as a vacation as much as it did a pilgrimage. It appears Jesus was able to escape to the temple without anybody missing Him for a while, such was the casual and relaxed nature of the journey. The story reminds me of trips I have taken with extended family and close friends where the kids go off and do their own things, the younger adults find their own space and the older folk spend a lot of time just catching up and sharing stories!

All of which is a precursor to saying that I am personally going to be taking a few days away to reconnect with immediate family this month... so there won't be a pastors blog for a couple of weeks. I hope that in your situation there will be moments when you can find refreshment, either by welcoming visitors or traveling to be with others.

Some suggest that if we are not in a position to physically get away we create our own our own “mini-vacations.” That we, for a few days, totally change our routine. Turn off the TV and other electronic devices. Eat food we don't normally have on our menu. Don't set the alarm clock (or set it to a different time). Lose our self in a book, or in painting a picture or by doing some project that we would otherwise never attempt. Such changes in our routine can have a similar effect to actually getting away!

Wherever the next weeks find you, and whatever you may be doing, I'd encourage you to allow your faith to be a part of it. We may well need a break from our work, our routine, (or even our local church) but we don't need a vacation from the love of God!

For some music, an oldie from British singer Cliff Richard “Summer Holiday.

Rev. Adrian J. Pratt.

Monday, July 17, 2017

T.Y.C.

This week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we are holding our Vacation Bible School program. We are having a lot of crazy fun! A preparatory sermon as we headed into the week, all about a lady called Abigail, can be found here.

Next week I'm leaving town. A number of our youth and myself are traveling to Schellsburg, PA, to participate in the Trinity Youth Conference. The mission of “T.Y.C.” as it is usually known, is to provide a Christian conference experience for senior high youth and college-age young adults.

The conference seeks to provide leadership training, as well as to help the participants grow in faith and in service to Jesus Christ by focusing on spiritual and leadership development, discipleship, and evangelism. The mission of T.Y.C. is accomplished through daily worship, small group activities, and numerous workshops with a range of topics that are centered on a different theme each year. This years theme is “Do Not Be Afraid!”

A typical day at T.Y.C. begins with morning watch, a devotional time for thought and prayer before breakfast. After breakfast some warm up songs are usually shared before folk head off to participate in two morning workshops. I have a particular responsibility in leading one of the workshops. An important role will also be played by one of our own youth, who is a member of the planning team for the conference.

Much of the afternoon is spent in small groups known as 'Heads Together' (or just H.T.) where people get a chance to know each other and discuss how the week is going. The groups are led by youth from the planning team. Whilst the groups follow a pre-prepared syllabus there is also a lot of flexibility so each H.T. takes on a life of it's own! Afternoon free time offers a chance to participate in games, hang out or take a nap.

Each evening an all-camp activity takes place. An all-over-camp game, a song night, and Talent show feature as part of the week. Central to the evenings is a time of worship, the preacher this year being K.J. Bee, a former workshop leader and all round awesome lady from a Native American background. Much singing, under the leadership of Erin Adams, contemporary worship leader at Chambersburg Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania, will also be an important part of worship.

Wednesday afternoon we'll all head out to Shawnee Lake where swimming and volley ball are among the attractions to enjoy. A picnic is followed by an outdoor worship service among some beautiful scenery. (see the picture at the top of this post!)

After attending for a number of years one of the participants wrote the following. “T.Y.C. is a place where God can be felt, and where for the first time in my life I had the justified feeling that He is "real." This feeling has carried on with me for seven years, getting me through some tough times that I never could have made it through alone. I give full credit to T.Y.C. for who I am today and where I am today, because it opened up my heart, strengthened my relationship with God, and showed me how to allow myself to feel ALL of His love.

It is truly a privilege to be involved in a conference that is profoundly impacting the lives of young people today. I'm certainly hoping that this years conference will be as equally inspiring and encouraging as it has on previous occasions!

For some music... a recording from T.Y.C worship from a few years back. “Hallelujah!”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Vacation Bible School - Hero Central


Last week we took a look at the providential story of Isaac finding a wife. Our sermon can be found here. But now... it's that time of year again! Churches throughout the area are hosting their annual Vacation Bible School programs and Mount Hebron is no exception. This years program is titled “Hero Central.”

Alongside Jesus, we'll be taking a look at well known biblical characters such as David, Peter and Paul. One lesser known heroic figure who makes an appearance will be “Abigail.” As most of us are not as familiar with the story of Abigail as some of the others, our pre-VBS service will be taking a look at her life.

Abigail is the wife of a wealthy land owner called Nabal. When working away from home, some of Nabal's workers are protected by a “soon-to-be king” guy called David. However, when David's men end up in Nabal's backyard, he is not so keen to offer them any hospitality, an action that makes young David extremely angry and he is about to attack Nabal's lands and wreak havoc upon the people.

And so that might have been... were it not for the wisdom and intervention of Abigail, who flouts custom, goes against the wishes of her mean minded husband Nabal, and intervenes in a way that saves her people. Things also turn out pretty well for her in the end. You can read the story for yourself in 1 Samuel 2:2-42.

As I consider Abigail's story I think about how my own life has been surrounded by many “Heroes” of faith. I recall friends, who, when as a teenager I was rebelling against just about anything I could think of rebelling against, never gave up on trying to persuade me to try church instead. I remember those who were a shining example of common sense and faith, and proved to be influential mentors for my personal journey.

I recall those teachers and pastors, who when I felt a call to ministry, not only encouraged me, but also cautioned me, to consider what I was taking on. Their personal stories and many prayers led me to a place where I could be sure that this was something I was being called to pursue.

I think of those who throughout my ministry have offered gifts of hospitality, generosity, and prayer that have kept me moving forward. I have a special place in my heart for those who recognized times I was truly struggling and have been there to listen and offer support. (Not least my wonderful wife!)

I'm sure as you look back on your own life you can find many “Heroes” who have helped you become who you are today. They may not be biblical characters. They are more likely to be families and friends. But heroes they are, nevertheless. So thank God for them!

And as faith communities around the globe engage in vacation education events, be they mission trips, V.B.S. or summer camp, so many of us have the opportunity to be a role model and mentor to others. We may not be heroes... but we can be faithful. May God help us to be channels of God's love to those we seek to serve. As our V.B.S. theme declares..“Hero Central – Discover your Strength in God!”

For some music, a song we'll be learning both in our upcoming pre-VBS service and during the week... Everlasting God, by Chris Tomlin.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, July 3, 2017

A Wife for Isaac

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we continued our series of “Patriarchal Ponderings” and considered the account of Abraham being prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac. Our sermon from the day can be found here.

We move into less threatening territory this week … with an account of a search for a wife for Isaac. It's a long passage, that takes up the whole of Genesis chapter 24.

While there are many different aspects to the account, one thing that always strikes me, is that so much is dependent on the faith of a servant of Abraham who is never named. Throughout the whole chapter he is simply called “the servant.

We discover a lot about the character of “the servant.” Early on in the chapter he is described as being a “senior servant in Abraham's household, the one in charge of all that he had.” (Genesis 24:2) In sending him off on his task to find a wife for Isaac, Abraham is committing his future into the hands of a man who was already taking good care of his everyday affairs.

The task begins with a solemn moment when Abraham takes the servant entirely into his confidence and has him swear an oath that he will do the right thing. The servant has many questions. “What if I find someone and they won't come back with me? What will I do with Isaac if no wife can be found?”
Abraham appears to suggest that such questions were irrelevant. He ensures the servant that God is with them and that they needed to trust God to fulfill God's purposes.

It can be quite a scary thing to have people place their trust in you. I do not envy this servants position nor would I like to have to take on his task. Where did he start? Where should he go? How would he know he had found the right person to be a wonderful wife for his masters son?

It quickly becomes clear that this servant is a man of prayer. Throughout the story, the servant is constantly seeking God as his guide. Indeed, you have the impression that without God's guidance, he hasn't got a hope of completing the task.

As the incidents unfold we see that God is guiding him in specific ways. Always there is room for things to go wrong, but … as the servant keeps on trusting... the unexpected keeps occurring. I recall one person telling me that, when they prayed about their life journey, coincidences kept happening. Such seems to mirror the experience of this servant.

And the outcome is that a wife is found for Isaac. A wife who fills him with delight and is delighted to be his partner. But what about the servant?

We never do find out his name or know what his future holds. His life is a testament to the many faithful people who surround our lives. Unnamed folk, who by their prayers and diligence to duty and commitment to doing the right thing ensure that life keeps moving in positive directions.

For some music, a gentle song called “Lead Me Lord” (by Aiza Seguerra). I imagine that prayerful words, such as these, were in the mind of the unnamed servant of Abraham.

Let us take some time today to thank God for all the unnamed people who have blessed our lives!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.