Schedule of offerings at Central during social distancing
Each week a Zoom discussion group follows the Livestream. Zoom link to join: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89030282058?pwd=UkdTbTYxM1ptR05kY1VpQ2VCYjlPdz09
September 24, 2020
What is the Church during a pandemic?
When we can’t worship in person, linger over coffee hour conversation, baptize babies surrounded by loving families and church family, hold a hand and whisper a prayer before surgery, sing praise to God with full-throated voices, and embrace one another in Christian love at occasions both sad and joyful, what are we?
We’re still “the body of Christ” but right now that body feels remote and isolated. At the first Zoom fellowship time following our online worship service, as your faces began to appear, my eyes filled with pent-up tears–both from missing you and from the joy of seeing you. Not the same as being in person, but so much better than staring into an unblinking camera lens!
In an online course I took about leadership in a pandemic, we were invited to “see” our congregation and then show it through images we gathered and glued in collage. I’ve included mine, so you could see some of the things I value and miss about Central; things I know are still “here” and will re-emerge as we begin to recover.
For now, I invite you to do the same. From magazines, online pictures, photos, newspapers collect images and words that express the essence of Central for you. Gather the family and work together. Or work alone as an act of devotion and prayer. Arrange the images and words on a single sheet of typing or construction paper, and glue them in place. Consider what Central is from your collage. If you can, please send it (or a copy) to me at the church.
Maybe the question isn’t so much WHAT but WHO is the Church? And that’s you and me. All of us. And not just us, but the great, invisible “cloud of witnesses” from every time and place who strive to follow Jesus and love as he loved.
I miss you, and I’ll rejoice when we can be together in person, but I know we’re connected by the Spirit of God. As I look at my collage, I remember the words of the apostle:
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. [Philippians 1:3-5]
Pastor Louise Westfall
September 10, 2020
Recently I spent an enjoyable evening playing Code Names via zoom with members of Central Connections, people in their 20s and 30s (they graciously extended an invitation to this *somewhat* older pastor!). In between competitive rounds, we chatted about how everyone is thriving through the pandemic. And they are! Working from home, attending graduate school in person, taking online classes–one person even started a new job, and several have moved since the pandemic struck. Technology brought us together from Denver, Littleton, Fort Collins, and even Cedar Falls, Iowa!
They named some of the losses they’ve experienced during this time: yearning to be “in person” with family and friends, the fragility of life and how quickly things can deteriorate, feelings of helplessness as one balances “what I want to do versus what I can do responsibly,” and disappointment at some anti-science attitudes around safe pandemic practices. But they also spoke up about how they’ve adapted to new work-at-home schedules, the way technology has connected them, and an emerging confidence to “seize the moment,” by wearing the clothes desired, not the ones expected. And at the end of the evening, everyone promised to gather again in a month.
Fact is, fewer than half these individuals are actually members of Central, but each of them feels part of this faith community. They participate in mission projects, have sung in choir, contribute financially, and tune in to online worship. They are part of the millennial cohort that statistically has moved away from traditional church. At Central we’ve been thinking deeply about how to reach out to millennials with the good news of God’s love and connecting to a community that cares for them. We’ve talked with those who have found their way to Central and have learned some of the values and commitments important to them. An article by writer, style editor, and Christian (and millennial) Isaac Breese highlights some things millennials say would bring them back to church:
Of course, it’s impossible (and unfair) to categorize an entire group of people with a single list. Like all of us, millennials bring their wonderfully unique selves to the community. Still, I find this list and the comments and practices of millennials I know to suggest ways Central can craft its message more effectively. We can employ technology (and savvier use of social media platforms) to invite engagement in classes and mission projects, as well as worship. We can be intentional about seeking the perspectives, hopes and fears of younger people and reflect them in our life together.
Despite generational differences, there are longings and needs common to everyone: to experience love, both given and received, to build a life of purpose, and to belong to a community of caring. It’s an old, old story, but must be sung anew in every generation. And we all have a part in the choir!
With you on the journey,
Pastor Louise Westfall
August 27, 2020
I’m writing to share important insights about a significant election happening this fall.
Got your attention? 😊
No, I’m not speaking about the national election, but instead the election of new elders and deacons to serve God through the ministry and mission of Central. One of the great privileges of being Presbyterian is that the people elect their leaders. The Representative Nominating Committee (Elders Steve Davis and Celeste Habiger, Deacon Bruce Heagstedt, and at-large members Paul Linton and Patrick Malone) is seeking YOUR nominations for members to be elected to serve as elders and deacons.
Following this letter is a description from the Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order of elders and deacons. Please read them, prayerfully consider potential members, and make your nominations by returning the completed form to the church office, or by emailing Elder Celeste Habiger (email@example.com). Confirmed youth are eligible to serve one-year terms. It is absolutely appropriate to self-nominate, should you feel the Spirit’s nudge to serve.
The pandemic has been with us for six months, and the end is not yet in sight. This election is important, as these new elders and deacons will help us adapt our ministries and mission to its new realities. They’ll help us discover new ways to show care and create Beloved Community even when socially distanced. Thank you for helping us discern the individuals God has called for this work at this time.
With Love and gratitude,
Pastor Louise Westfall
What the Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order says about Elders: As there were in Old Testament times elders for the government of the people, so the New Testament church provided persons with particular gifts to share in discernment of God’s Spirit and governance of God’s people. Congregations should elect persons of wisdom and maturity of faith, having demonstrated skills in leadership and being compassion in spirit. They are not to “lord it over” the congregation (Matthew 20:25), but are chosen by the congregation to discern and measure its fidelity to the Word of God, and to strengthen and nurture its faith and life. With ministers, elders exercise leadership, government, spiritual discernment, and discipline, and have responsibilities for the life of a congregation as well as the whole church. [G-2.0301]
I nominate the following person(s) as an elder:
What the Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order says about Deacons: The ministry of deacon is set forth in Scripture as one of compassion, witness, and service, sharing in the redeeming love of Jesus Christ for the poor, the hungry, the sick, the lost, the friendless, the oppressed, those burdened by unjust policies or structures, or anyone in distress. Persons of spiritual character, honest repute, exemplary lives, brotherly and sisterly love, sincere compassion, and sound judgment should be chosen for this ministry. [G-2.0201]
I nominate the following person(s) as a deacon:
August 13, 2020
How does a church speak to those outside its walls? How do we testify to the great good news of God’s unconditional love and life-giving grace to people who aren’t within ear shot? How can we invite and welcome others into the beloved community known as Central Presbyterian Church?
Your session and staff are continually considering these questions as we carry out Central’s mission. We want to grow–both numerically and spiritually–as a vital congregation loving and serving God. We’ve made these concerns a high priority for the year ahead, particularly in this strange time, when traditional ways of being church are askew. I’m writing today not to report on successful ways we’ve accomplished this, but instead to spark creativity, seek your thoughts and ideas, and highlight our calling to proclaim and demonstrate God’s love broadly, widely, and deeply.
The exterior of our building has become more important as a reflection of our interior concerns. You can’t walk or drive by Central without noticing.
• New Genesis gentlemen, sitting in groups or alone near the entrance sign to their temporary home;
• the large, colorful poster spanning our front doors with a Bible verse of hope: The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never extinguished it. [John 1:5]
• the prayer wall, inviting anyone to express their needs, longings, fears, and hopes on the mailing tags affixed there, which are gathered weekly for prayer.
• the new sign recently installed with Session approval, Black Lives Matter to God and us.
During a time when we’re not regularly meeting inside the building, we can still witness to our church’s values and priorities, forward-facing into the neighborhood.
A vibrant online presence is essential. Social media, website, online engagement opportunities and ease of navigation provide “doors of access” into our congregation’s life together. This is currently the number one way newcomers find us.
Actions speak louder than words. People are hungry for real community: acceptance—not judgment, caring relationships, and meaningful work that makes a difference. The truth of our witness lies primarily in what we do, not what we say.
You are the best advertising for Central. The most important and effective communication comes from a church’s members. Cultivate practices of invitation to those in your friendship circles. Share how your church serves, and why this is important to you.
What ideas do you have? Please know I’d love to discuss them with you. A continuing education class I’m taking (on line of course) is entitled “How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going.” Fact is, nobody has all the answers because this is a new road. In many ways, we’re making the road by walking. There’s not another congregation I’d rather have as companions than you.
Thanks be to God!,
Pastor Louise Westfall
August 6, 2020
Our 2019-20 theme was chosen before the pandemic struck, but it seems even more important now: Creating Beloved Community…with Everyone. It reflects God’s call to love one another without exception. It communicates our inclusive welcome, and our commitment to care for one another and for neighbors near and far. I’m writing today to let you know how we’ve been carrying out that calling with beloved church members, visitors and guests, strangers and people in need. We’re doing that in some new ways–FaceTime hospital calls, for example, and zoom gatherings. We’re texting and emailing and hand-writing notes. Though the weekly newsletter is emailed, we send a paper copy (including the announcements and the pastoral letter) to those who don’t use computers, or who request it. We’ve spent time helping those who struggle with Internet use to access our weekly worship service.
Every staff person takes responsibility for congregational care. Even better, every member is a minister. Many of you are intentional about reaching out to others, especially those who live alone and for whom the restrictions of COVID-19 make in-person visits impossible. Central cares! And we’re grateful for all the ways you show that caring to one another regularly.
The Deacons have created a systematic way to communicate the caring of this church to every member, by dividing everyone into smaller groups called “parishes,” each led by a Deacon. The Deacon takes responsibility for contacting each member of her/his parish on a quarterly basis–through a phone call, letter, or email–to let them know they are prayed for and thought about, and to receive any concerns, prayer requests, or questions they may have. The Deacon communicates any pastoral concerns to Tim or Pastor Louise for follow-up. Following this letter is a listing of each of the parishes, and the Deacon leader. If you don’t find your name there, please let us know. And don’t hesitate to respond to your Deacon’s quarterly outreach, even if it’s just to say hello.
Not long ago, we received a phone call from a nursing home, requesting a pastoral contact for a resident who was lonely and afraid and wanted a minister to pray with her (over the phone–no in person visits are allowed). I was happy to respond, but sad that the person had no “community”–neither family nor church nor friends–with whom she could share the burdens of isolation and ill health. At the dawn of time, God declared It is not good that the people be alone, and created another as a companion and helpmate. Baked into our very essence is the need for connection, for community, for family. We were meant to be together.
Sometimes people divide the church’s work into two parts: ministry with members and ministry to those outside its walls. Perhaps a blessing of this time may be found by erasing that distinction. For now we’re all “on the outside,” and have a common need for a sense of belonging and caring.
Not sure how to start? Here are some ideas:
And here’s the thing: as we reach out to one another, we find our own hunger for connection met. We understand ourselves and others as part of the family. We make a new friend. We feel burdens lifted as they’re shared with others. The monotony of quarantined days is refreshed by a larger, more joyful purpose. We experience anew the Divine love that holds us all securely…and holds us all together. One beloved community. Even though we are socially distanced for the most part, we are not alone. God is with us. And so are God’s people.
With love and gratitude,
Pastor Louise Westfall
CENTRAL PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH PARISHES
Deacon: Jacque Howard
Chris and Liz Becze
Jo and Steve Culbertson
Joyce and Rick Coville
Meg and Casey Daker
John and Bobbye Detterick
Carol Farnsworth and Larry Armstrong
Bruce and Judy Heagstedt
Laurie and Scott Hergenrader
Jen and Mike Hofmann
Patrick and Stacy Malone
Deacon: Kristin George
George and Ann Bryans
Timi and David Davenport
Bo Dillon and Delaine Rodriguez Dillon
Jon Dreux and Jennifer Kalas Dreux
James and Sara Eklund
Mark and Julie Ernest
Kirt and Carrie Knox
Jake and Lisa Matter
Eric and Carey Nyberg
Don and Nadine Ross
Kristen and Stephen Schatz
Chuck and Debbie Stevenson
Ron and Marni Hudson
Deacon: Laurie Hergenrader
Chris and Carrie Aron
Eric and Pam Barczak
Anne and Brooks Bond
Hugh and Lynne Brown
Celeste and Rob Habiger
Jim and Nileen Hart
Larry and Lyn Hicks
Dana and Michael Kapler
Timothy and Carolyn Nelson
Sarah and Charlie Baldwin
Hugh and Nan Williamson
Chris and Pam Wineman
Deacon: Billie Lusk
Chris Adams and Cheryl Fleetwood
Nick and Marie Bode
Adam and Molly Brown
Penny Burke and Joe Peters
Matt and Rachel Dempsey
Andy and Sherry Kenny
Atu Lawson and Vivian Akli Lawson
Jo Anne McBride
Stephen and Julie Zweck-Bronner
Deacon: Sara and Charlie Baldwin
Bryan Brooks and Gina-Batali-Brooks
Jean and Stephen Davis
Jennifer Gilroy and Alfredo Kemm
Beth Groff and David Skema
Derek and Stefanie Jones
Chris Leh and Natalie Hanlon-Leh
Bruce and Sally Leibbrandt
Chris Primus and Lisa Schmidt
Matt and Marcy McCarty
Don and Emily Nease
Pete and Cathy Davenport
Katie and Michael Owen
Deacon: Dave Ramsey
Betsy and Vince Clark
Ron and Phyllis Covey
BJ and Sarah Eaton
Kevin and Julie Haughey
Rachel Hutson and Tim Habib
Zach and Beth Kreider
Jeffery Matthias and Amy Rasberry -Matthias
Tom and Dianne McCallister
Betty Lou Ray
Jessica and Zach Warren
John and Andi Ferguson
Deacon: Bruce Heagstedt
Nancy Ackelson and Jim Van Arsdel
Addi and Berhane Aimero
Tom and Bonnie Clarke
Tom and Teresa Crane
David and Lisa Daniel
Chris and Helen Gibson & Alfredo and Francisco Cortez
Robert and Anne Pearson
Gene and Yvonne Ross
Hall and Andrea Skeen
Milo and Lee Tedstrom
Margaret and Ernie Cubbon
Ron Larocque and Ed Kester
Deacon: Elin Towler
Stan and Ardys Anderson & Suzanne Anderson
Lauren and Alex Berv
Melissa and Elaine Griggs
Fritz and Clarice Hill
Pat and Tom Jonsrud
Bob and Pat Johnson
Bernie and Martha Malson
Deacon: Marty Jewell
Chris and Debra Colias
Bill and Judy Jones
Dave and Debbie Ramsey
James Wellenstein and Jerry Otte
Mark and Leslie Williams
Edith and Steve Zemanick
Freddy and Kent Groff
July 30, 2020
Elder Sherry Kenney’s wonderful sermon of July 19 noted how frequently Jesus spoke about money—as much as one-third of his teachings concern very practical matters about the use and power of financial resources. Jesus warned about the spiritual peril of wealth, if it becomes the god we worship and serve. Money can become a barrier to true community in the increasing disparity between rich and poor. Yet money can also bless, and generous giving—especially to vulnerable ones–is a mark of Christian faith.
I’m writing today to talk about money: specifically, about Central’s financial position, and how we have addressed the particular concerns emerging from the pandemic. We’ve said often that though Central is a spiritual entity, it is also a financial enterprise. Decisions about money are guided by faith and the conviction that God has called us to engage in a life-transforming mission. Yet we also utilize good business practices, and take seriously the fiduciary responsibilities with which you have entrusted us.
The Session–through its Budget and Finance Committee–develops and approves an annual budget, based on ministry expenses (personnel, building costs, programs) and revenue from pledges and contributions, concerts and building rentals, and a sustainable 4% draw from endowment funds. For perhaps the last 20 years, we’ve also taken an additional draw from the endowment to close the gap between expenses and revenue–a practice that may hurt the long-term success of an organization. Budget and Finance Committee members have worked hard to develop a “10-year Financial Plan” that reduces unsustainable endowment draw to $0 through membership growth and increased rent from outside groups. For the third year in a row, we were on track to meet this graduated decline.
Then the pandemic struck. Very quickly, Session responded by applying for one of the Payroll Protection Program loans from the Small Business Administration, designed to assist with personnel, utility, and other expenses. If correct procedures are documented, the loan converts to a grant. We received $80,000, and Kathy Henkelman, our accountant, has monitored these funds since they were awarded back in April to insure that they will qualify as a grant.
The Budget and Finance Committee also began to work on some financial modeling based on reduced revenue and expenses, continuing throughout 2020 and the first half of 2021. They analyzed giving through the second quarter, eliminated concert revenue through the end of 2020, and adjusted expenses reflecting some savings because of limited building use. They also noted increased giving to Central’s mission partners responding to expanded needs due to COVID-19. The report to the Session last week indicated the following:
I wanted to get into the weeds a little this week to let you know that your leadership is responsive and pro-active to the changing financial landscape. We’re monitoring expenses and income even more carefully than usual. We know much remains uncertain. But we are poised to weather the pandemic storm and emerge stronger and sounder. We plan to do so through strategic spending and saving, without diminishing Central’s historic commitment to strengthening the heart of Denver. In the final analysis, Central’s budget is a faith document, a statement of our trust in God’s provision; our sense of being called to join in God’s life-saving work; and our thanksgiving for the gifts we have been given so generously. We will continue to shine the light of Christ for one another and our neighbors in need.
Central’s leadership is committed to financial transparency. Members of the Budget and Finance Committee: Adam Brown, Bill Jones, Bruce Heagstedt, Dave Ramsey, Milo Tedstrom, Carl Duncan, Fritz Hill, Kathleen Eckert, and I are happy to share spread sheets and discuss Central’s financial position and mission priorities. Please don’t hesitate to ask!
Yours on the journey,
Pastor Louise Westfall
I’m returning to Denver on Friday, July 31, and look forward to being in the same time zone with you! Thanks to elders, staff, and so many of you who have stepped up and served with extraordinary grace in this remarkable time.
July 23, 2020
Why would a predominantly white church put a Black Lives Matter poster in its window? Isn’t that “too political”? Might it not link us to the organization of the same name that embraces a variety of causes and methodologies? And don’t “all lives matter”?
Central’s Sessions recently approved the recommendation of the Mission Committee to post this message at Central, facing out into the community. The poster will also include the biblical mandate to Do justice….love kindness…walk humbly with God [Micah 6:8]. The recent General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voiced strong support for such action, as a commitment to lament the racism and white supremacy of church and nation and to advocate for racial equality and systemic justice. It’s a way of following Jesus whose actions were deemed a political threat to the oppressive Roman government and heresy to the religious establishment. When Jesus saw injustice, he acted to change it–from the way he described the kin-dom of God as a Table open to all, to the way he overturned tables in the temple to protest economic injustices to the poor.
Of course a sign can’t do all that. But it is an honest acknowledgment of the realities of ingrained racial injustice. And it’s a visible expression that we are not in denial about our complicity and responsibility to make it right. Former PC(USA) co-moderator Jan Edmiston said it well in a recent blog post: The worst thing we can do is pretend our history never happened. It will literally kill our ministry because it will kill our credibility and honesty. We must face the truth and address the truth in the name of love.
…in the name of love…that is, in God’s name because God is love. Working for racial reconciliation and justice is part of the church’s calling. Black Lives Matter in our window is as potent a symbol in our place and time as is the cross on our steeple, the New Genesis door, or the prayer wall on the front of the 1957 building. We’re declaring on which side of history we stand, and that as followers of Jesus we have responsibility beyond regretting the sins of the past.
More than one person has asked me, “But don’t all lives matter?” Yes, absolutely. But the fact is, until Black lives matter, reciting the generic statement sounds empty. Someone compared it to commenting after a hurricane hits Mobile, Alabama, that all victims of hurricanes everywhere matter. Of course it’s true, but not very helpful in the urgent moment when the affected community is seeking relief, recovery, and repair.
Though not everyone agrees with this action, there were widespread requests for it from across the congregation. My hope is that we can unite in a common commitment to learning about our history, listening to Black voices, lamenting and confessing our part, and then acting.
There are a number of ways you can engage with each of these steps. The Racial Healing Life Group is organizing voter registration in urban areas in which a significant amount of disenfranchisement has occurred. These will be carried out in safe, socially distanced ways at several different locations and dates in the Fall. More volunteers are needed. Contact Dr. Jacque Howard or the Rev. Tim Mooney for information.
Other learning and listening actions, worship elements, and community collaboration events are being planned for Central and the community. As part of my challenge to Central following the egregious omission of concern for Black women and girls by the recent General Assembly, I’m in conversations with the Rev. Kerri Allen, a Chicago pastor who is part of the PC(USA) Task Force as a potential visiting theologian in 2021.
Stay tuned for more details. But don’t wait–please contact any of the staff or me if you have ideas or simply a burden for these concerns and would like to engage in some significant ways.
Right now I’m reading How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibrahm X. Kendi, in which he weaves parts of his personal story with the dawning realization of his own racism. Each chapter begins by defining terms such as “racist” “white privilege” “prejudice and implicit bias” clearly, through contrasting racist and anti-racist lenses. Though he doesn’t side-step the terrible, enduring destructive effects of racism, the book casts a hopeful vision of a society inhabited by anti-racists promoting justice, healing, and peace. It’s challenged me personally to move beyond my familiar comfort zone (ie. “I’m a nice person of Christian faith; I want everyone to thrive; I believe all people are equally loved by God) towards deeper understanding of my white privilege and the benefits I’ve realized simply because I’m white. I know I need to listen carefully to contemporary Black voices about their lived experience, and then choose actions that will disrupt the underlying structures of church and society that say implicitly that Black people are less than white people: less capable, less valued, less worthy of the American Dream; second-class citizens of the Beloved Community. Only then can we begin to rebuild–together–truly just and equitable communities, both civic and religious.
No one imagines that posting a sign in our building can accomplish this. But my hope is that it will move someone. Wake someone up. Motivate us to take another step on this journey. We all have some learning to do. And then roll up our sleeves and attend to work long neglected. Do justice… love kindness…walk humbly with God [Micah 6:8].
You are the companions that make me glad to be part of Central at this momentous time. With God as our guide, I know we will find the courage, wisdom, imagination, and great love to advance the Kin-dom of God here and now.
With you on the journey,
Pastor Louise Westfall
I will return to Denver on July 31, and am looking forward to sharing the same time zone with you. As always, I’m available by text or phone (216.403.3781) and email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Please see the summary of results of the recent Worship Survey. 86 surveys were returned, and this information helps the Recovery Team and Session make thoughtful decisions about when and how to return to in-person worship. Thank you for completing a survey.
The Session approved the recommendation of the Central Recovery Team to extend online (recorded and live streamed) worship solely through September 7. The Session also requested the Central Recovery Team to outline safety procedures and practices for limited in-person worship with their next recommendation (August 18). These may include reservations to keep the number of worshipers within safety guidelines; mandatory masks; temperature checks; staggered entrances and exits; socially-distanced pew seating; no singing; no fellowship hour; no nursery care. We will continue to offer online worship as an option for the foreseeable future.
July 16, 2020
Another in a series of pastoral letters about Central’s mission partnerships and how we continue to support them.
The drive on US-285 South to Alamosa may be one of the most beautiful in our state. Snow-covered peaks frame rolling hills and broad flat plains, with sandy soil renowned for potatoes, alfalfa, lettuce, wheat…and the barley used in Coors beer. The stunning landscape masks some of the hard realities of the region: the San Luis Valley has the lowest per capita income in the state. One-third of children under the age of 18 live below the federal poverty line. Opioid use disorder has spiked, through social disconnection and diminished employment opportunities.
Into the breach came La Puente (“The Bridge”), a faith-based community organization committed to providing both emergency and capacity-building services to assist the people of this struggling region. La Puente operates a broad range of programs and services including rent and utilities assistance, free meals and a food pantry, a clothing bank, and outreach to people living “off the grid.” La Puente has developed a social enterprise coffee shop, Milagros (“Miracles”), a self-sufficiency program with employment readiness, and an after-school /summertime program for children (PALS), offering learning, socialization, and enrichment in a safe, loving environment. During the COVID-19 pandemic, programs have been modified to reflect safety practices.
Central has made three summer service/mission trips to La Puente, and had planned a fourth this summer, cancelled due to the pandemic. Under the compassionate and strong leadership of Gina Batali-Brooks, Central families have assisted in the community gardens, meal program, outreach services, done needed construction and repair projects, and interacted with PALS kids. In addition, the PALS program brings 20+ 5-9 year olds to Denver for enrichment activities, spending the night at Central, with meals provided by our Mission Committee and other volunteers. One of the benches constructed with recycled plastic bags Central collects was donated to La Puente, and graces the front porch of the center. Because of the nature of the work, La Puente welcomes families and children of all ages. We’re housed in dormitory-style rooms at First Presbyterian Church, Alamosa. Last year I participated for the first time, and was impressed with the comprehensive programs offered–but not just the programs themselves, but the way in which they are administered: with compassion and the utmost respect for those served. La Puente builds relationships, and listens to the concerns and needs of the community members. We’re trying to embody the love of Jesus, one staffer remarked. Jon Dreux is another enthusiastic Central member who has been serving in the San Luis Valley for years. These are some of our nearest neighbors in a state we share. It’s a privilege to work with them.
Gina commented on some of the reasons she’s so involved: Every time I go on this trip I learn a little more about myself and what it means to serve…which really is more about getting than giving. The smiles on the kids’ faces as they connect with the youth and young adults in our group, and the discussion with the people who live off the grid are the things that really stand out in my mind. Another key aspect is how much the camaraderie with fellow church members grows…the friendship with staff members of La Puente is a gift that Bryan and I cherish. Service together creates and strengthens the Beloved Community of God’s people.
Opportunities continue to support the good work of La Puente.
Shanae Diaz is the Director of Volunteer Services at La Puente. She has spoken several times in worship at Central, sharing the life-giving work God is doing through La Puente. She spoke warmly of the friendship developed with Central (particularly with Gina, Bryan and Bryson Brooks), the collaborative partnership we enjoy, and something more. Shanae wrote recently, When I think about what it means to put one’s faith into action and truly live one’s life as a servant of God, it is Central that comes to mind as the best example of this. Thank you for your service, your mentorship, and your friendship.
Thanks be to God!
With you on the journey,
Pastor Louise Westfall
Please know I am available through phone call or text (216.403.3781) or email or mail sent to the church address. I plan to return to Denver July 31.
July 9, 2020
For the next few weeks, my pastoral letters will focus on some of Central’s mission partnerships and projects and how you can engage them.
Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus demonstrated unwavering commitment to the most vulnerable people: widows, orphans, people trapped in poverty and oppression, and sojourners living away from home. Once he described the essence of discipleship as taking care of “the least of these, who are brothers and sisters” [Matthew 25: 31-46] This text has become the foundation for the church’s “Matthew 25” mission, and guides our decision-making and outreach.
I’m writing today to update you on new efforts to address the needs of migrants in our community, in collaboration with the Presbytery of Denver and Interfaith Immigration Network. Celeste Habiger (an elder who chairs the Serve Council of our Session), Rob Habiger, and Molly Brown (Director of Mission and Faith Formation) have led efforts to respond to the needs of migrant communities (the group prefers the term “migrants” to focus on care for individuals and families, rather than advocacy for immigration policy). Session approved Central’s participation in the Presbytery Mission Partnership, Journey with Migrants, joining Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church and Capitol Heights Presbyterian Church. Presbytery Mission Partnerships are the vehicle for presbytery-wide service, and are eligible to receive funding from the presbytery.
Who are the migrants in our community? Some are Latinx, from Mexico and Central America. Some are native Somalians, Ghanaians, Sudanese. Some are transient, following the rolling harvest seasons for agricultural products. Some have come to the United States because of harsh conditions in their native countries, and personal threats to their safety and well-being. Their stories bring to mind the narratives of my Irish ancestors, who fled starvation and famine to make a new life in southern Ohio. Most of us can relate to the migrant experience (although there are sharp exceptions: First Nation peoples and African-Americans); we have “come” here from somewhere else, in search of a better life.
Decades ago, Central was involved in re-settling Southeast Asian refugees fleeing persecution in that war-torn region. Some of you may remember the tasks associated with resettlement: helping secure housing and basic needs; considering employment options; helping the families adjust to life in Denver, including access to transportation, health care, and social services. But you also know it didn’t stop there: to feel “at home,” bonds of friendship and community were forged through interaction, conversation, and sharing life together.
Similarly, welcoming the migrant today involves helping them obtain practical necessities. But it also invites us to create Beloved Community through relationships and interaction. Once you know Teofilo and Rosa, you can no longer speak of “migrants” as a monolithic entity again. They’re people, and part of God’s family, and our brothers and sisters.
Right now, Molly, Celeste and Rob have been involved in delivering food boxes, cleaning supplies, face masks, furniture, funding and household goods to migrants and a number of organizations serving them: Metro Caring, Casa de Paz, Denver Inner City Parish, Ni Una Mas, Frontera de Cristo). They’ve begun to develop relationships with these folks, and recently represented the Presbytery at a memorial service (via Zoom) for a migrant member of Divino de Salvador Presbyterian Church who had died of COVID-19.
There are a number of ways to engage this ministry:
I remember hearing Central member Carl Duncan tell about beginning his accounting business in Denver many years ago, and how he learned Spanish so he could offer his services more broadly throughout the community. Some of his friendships with migrant clients spanned the decades and enriched his life. It’s a two-way street! The Beloved Community thrives best when members care for one another across human-made barriers of nationality, language, documentation.
One of the oldest commandments given to the people of Israel as they entered the Promised Land concerned humane treatment of migrants out of empathy for their own immigrant story. When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:33-34
May it be so.
Pastor Louise Westfall
I continue to stay temporarily with my son and daughter-in-law in DC, and care for my 5-month grandson Ever. Please be in touch with me through text or phone call (216.403.3781), email or notes mailed to the church. Thanks for your prayers and thoughts; know that you are in mine.
What has the pandemic taught you? Are you seeing or doing things differently? What insights have you gained? How has this time changed you? What are your hopes for the community post-COVID-19? Please send your responses to me, for inclusion in a special presentation I’m preparing for when we can worship together in person.
July 2, 2020
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) just ended was like no other. Conducted entirely via zoom and an online business platform, the 476 commissioners and over 100 advisory delegates tuned in from across the nation and South Korea, Mexico, and several nations from Central America, Africa, and Europe to witness to God’s work in the world, affirm our unity through worship, Bible study, and celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and develop policies and programs to guide effective ministry in a world irrevocably changed by global pandemic and entrenched systems of injustice.
I was a commissioner (voting delegate), along with three others from Denver Presbytery. Immediately following my letter is a link to a summary of Assembly actions and presentations from the Presbyterian Outlook, an independent news outlet, and I encourage you to take a look and see what God is doing through the Presbyterian Church.
The theme of the Assembly, From Lament to Hope, drew from the Old Testament book of Lamentations: Why have you forgotten us completely? Why have you forsaken us these many days? Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored; renew our days as of old. [Lamentations 5:20, 21] and seemed a fitting text for these days of pandemic and the violence of racial injustice. I’ll explore the importance of lament in my sermon July 5 for personal wholeness and community restoration. And I’ll share some of the ways it has led the Presbyterian Church towards acts of solidarity that are sparking hope that things really can be different, and more reflective of God’s kin-dom, a Beloved Community of justice and peace and human flourishing.
At times during the Assembly I was monitoring four screens: two computers (one with Zoom and the other with the docket and electronic voting program), my phone for texting with other commissioners and advisors, and a baby monitor. Yet as I turned everything off following the closing worship service, I felt beyond my weariness a renewed sense of purpose and commitment. We are part of a diverse church where voices of people of color are valued, where young people are engaged in proclaiming uncomfortable truths, and the vision is bigger than institutional maintenance or returning to normal. God is with us; and God is moving us from lament to living hope, so that the sickness and inequities of today may not be the realities of tomorrow. We’re not dying, said Stated Clerk the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, following his election to a second 4-year term. We’re reforming. God is calling us to be prayerful, courageous, and alive.
Together let us tend to our calling.
Yours on the journey,
Pastor Louise Westfall
We are connected even while we’re apart. Phone or text me (216.403.3781), email (email@example.com), or write (Central Presbyterian Church, 1660 Sherman St. Denver 80203)
What has this time of pandemic and social unrest taught you? What new insights or hopes have come alive for you? Please send them to me for inclusion in worship liturgies and sermons. Thank you!
June 18, 2020
I’m writing today to share with you a statement developed by Central’s Recovery Team, appointed by the Session to make recommendations about when and how we will gather in person to worship, hold classes and meetings, serve, and enjoy fellowship. The statement identifies the sources and experts we’ll draw from for guidance. We continue to seek the Spirit’s leading as well, that our decisions might reflect God’s will and good intentions for the church and the wider community. Please know that love is the reason for this thoughtful and deliberate process: the “agape” love of faith that seeks the health and well-being of others.
Please read the statement and don’t hesitate to contact any of the team members or me with questions or concerns. It’s our intention to seek your direct input through a survey being developed you’ll hear more about soon.
I continue to work from DC, where I have the joy of caring for my 5-month old grandson (and being with his parents). Starting this week, I’ll be a commissioner to the Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly–all on Zoom and another internet platform–and will share that experience and significant actions in worship on July 5. Please keep the whole church, Central, its staff and me in your prayers, just as I keep you close in mine.
Together in Spirit,
Pastor Louise Westfall
I was glad when they said to me, Come, let us go to the house of the Lord. Psalm 122:1
We have a deep heartfelt desire to worship with one another.
Pastor Louise Westfall writes:
How long, O God. The desperate cry of the Psalmist speaks for us all. How long before we can be together. How long before we can worship in person? We want to worship in person more than anything. Almost. Not more than keeping you safe. Not more than avoiding a second wave of infections. Not more than saving lives. Right now, the best way to obey God’s command to love one another means to stay home. Congregant Don Nease put it well: “In order to keep the Body of Christ healthy, we all have to do our part”. So for now we’ll continue to worship, gather, and create community with the help of technology.
There is one more Source we’ll rely upon for these decisions: God. We will continually seek the wisdom, imagination, and compassion of the One who leads and guides us all along the way; the One who promises: I will be with you to the end of the age.
The Session of Central Presbyterian Church will prayerfully decide when it is safe to return to in-person worship.
The Session has convened an advisory task force composed of church elders, medical professionals from the congregation, and staff to advise Session on re-instating in-person worship and for establishing protocols for when we do so. As the conditions evolve, the task force will continue to monitor and re-evaluate. The task force is using several references for guidance, including the following among others:
The Session has determined to be cautious, in recognition of several factors:
The Session is recommending online services continue, with frequent monitoring of local conditions by the advisory task force. We are working to determine a process and cadence for reporting to session and to the wider church on the status of the data and information we are tracking.
June 11, 2020
Note: The Session recently constituted the Central Recovery Team to decide WHEN and HOW we would gather in person in our building for worship, learning, and other activities. The Team (Elders Chris Primus and Mark Williams, medical professionals Julie Earnest and Dr. Don Nease, staff Wil Smith and Kathleen Eckert, and I) are continuously monitoring latest medical data, Presbyterian and interfaith resources, and State guidelines. In addition we are developing a statement to be added to our website and other communications describing the criteria we will use to make the determination. For now, online worship will be the sole format for worship.
My focus for the next few weeks will be on Central’s mission and how it is thriving in this time.
Facebook memory from one year ago: a photo of Emma Moore and I at the Denver airport, on our way to Cuba to be joined by nine others (Marty Jewell, Stacy Malone, Grace Malone, Gretchen Sausville, Lisa Schmidt and Chris Primus, Steven Erhart, Ben Greenly, and Amy Mendez) for Central’s third mission trip to the island nation where the Presbyterian Church was established in 1890. While we have cancelled this year’s mission trips due to the pandemic, I’m writing to update you on the vital partnership and to suggest ways we can continue to support it.
One of the meditation guides I read is Su Voz [Your Voice], prepared by members of the Presbyterian Church in Cuba. It is posted online by the Cuba Partners Network, a Presbyterian Church (USA) group that builds relationships between Presbyterian congregations in the United States and Cuba. A recent post shared an entire family’s journey of faith and concluded with this statement about the unity of the church, beyond individual congregations, locations, and denominations.
…despite all these well-traveled paths to come to the Lord, my family and I feel we are members of only one Church, the Church of Christ…we have the same Father, Son and Holy Spirit…we are called day after day to unity and service. May God help us recognize that we are all brothers and sisters, children of the same Heavenly Father
This devotion expresses an important reason why Central sponsors mission trips. We get to hear different voices and different perspectives articulating our shared identity and mission. We experience church across political and social divides. We are strengthened to return to our own context and to celebrate the powerful, transformative work God is doing in the world, in Denver, in Nueva Paz and Havana and everywhere.
Last year, our trip included a number of visits to congregations engaged in senior ministries, youth summer recreation, and Bible studies. We enjoyed conversations (with translation, but also with the wordless communication of smiles) and fellowship over tiny cups of strong, sweetened coffee and tropical fruits. We spent a day at the church’s beautiful and well-appointed summer camp and learned about the faith formation and community-building experiences that draw youth from all over the island. We worshiped, celebrated Communion and sang and danced. We even brought greetings from Central and Denver Presbytery to the Cuban Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly!
One of our host pastors, the Rev. Izett Sama Hernandez, was chosen by the Presbyterian Church (USA) to participate in the Global Peacemaker program, and was scheduled to be with Central last September. Because of the strained relationship between the US and Cuba, Izett was unable to obtain a visa in time to travel here, another sign of the importance of “people to people” exchanges transcending global politics and posturing. Izett coordinates mission trips through the Cuba Partners Network and has confirmed our next trip to Cuba: June 7 – 14, 2021. Lisa Schmidt and Chris Primus are coordinating Central’s partnership and this trip. Molly Brown is Central’s Director of Mission.
Here are some suggestions for ways to support Central’s engagement with our Cuban Presbyterian family:
Prayerfully consider participation in the 2021 trip; all ages; youth are welcome and encouraged to participate.
Watch for updates in the weekly newsletter’s “Cuba Corner” for stories, introductions, and more.
Check out the Cuba Partners Network on Facebook for other suggestions (including access to Your Voice daily devotions).
Finally, a message from the Moderator of the Cuban General Assembly, who was to have attended the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) meeting in Baltimore, but cannot due to pandemic-related travel restrictions (the meeting will now be conducted entirely on internet platforms, and have a much-reduced agenda). Though written in much more grand style, he reflects the same simple faith of the family who wrote the devotion about being part of one church, one in identity and one in mission.
Our [Cuban Presbyterian] Church thanks God for the accompaniment gifted to us by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) through your prayers, presence in our communities, and generous financial support. We are also thankful for your prophetic voice raised committedly during these years of partnership condemning the isolation imposed on our nation by the government of the United States, and the unjust economic and financial blockade to which we have been subjected to… we join in prayer for you now in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, as you pursue justice and equality for all, and as you witness to the One God who reigns over us all…
Receive from this small, blocked, poor, humble and generous island an immense and healing embrace as strong as the breath of the Spirit even in the midst of a pandemic that forces distancing from that which we consider routine, and observing social isolation to preserve our health. That Spirit reminded us in Pentecost that we are one, dispersed, diverse, multiethnic, beautiful people sustained by the powerful love of God which calls us to seek God’s kingdom and its righteousness as the foundation of our mission. [some editing for length and clarity]
Es verdad, somos unos in Jesu Cristo. Truly, we are one in Christ Jesus. Gracias a Dios! Thanks be to God!
Pastor Louise Westfall
As always, please reach out to me with your particular prayer concerns, concerns for others in the Central family, and questions about live-streamed worship and other online opportunities to engage with Central. Call or text 216.403.3781; email firstname.lastname@example.org. Written suggestions or notes may be sent to the church, 1660 Sherman St. Denver, 80203.
REQUEST FOR YOUR HELP: Please watch a video here: https://vimeo.com/418233249. When the biblical patriarch Jacob was exiled and uncertain about the future, he had a visionary encounter with a heavenly messenger from whom he “wrestled a blessing.” I think you are all discovering surprising blessings from this difficult time. I’d love to hear your thoughts and reflections on this prompt: During the pandemic, I’ve learned… Please send these to me (email@example.com) or 1700 Emerson St. Denver CO 80218. I plan to incorporate them in upcoming sermons and prayers. Thank you!
June 4, 2020
On Pentecost God birthed the church through the gift of the Holy Spirit. With life-giving breath, God united people and empowered them to proclaim the Word of love and peace and hope.
But this Pentecost we could not forget the last words of George Floyd: I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. We could not forget Ahmaud Arbery. We could not forget Breonna Taylor. We could not forget so many others who have died unjust deaths because of the systemic racism that repudiates the very faith we profess, and mars the dream of equal rights in this democratic nation.
I’m grateful for Central’s Racial Healing Life Group, chaired by Dr. Jacque Howard, which has worked prophetically and passionately to educate, challenge, and inspire us to act on our sacred mission to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. [Micah 6:8] Through respectful conversations, reading materials, and social witness action, they have helped Central engage with our community to address the sinful and broken systems that hurt our brothers and sisters. Part of that difficult work is to acknowledge our White privilege, the reality that we gain a greater share of opportunity, the benefits of a democratic society, and economic thriving, simply because of our whiteness. Consciously or not, we have benefitted from a system stacked against people of color. It’s not enough to say “I’m not a racist.” In our perceptions, world view, faith perspective, and actions we must become anti-racist.
The protests around the country, including Denver, must be heard. Violence is never the answer, and we repudiate the actions of a few that have injured people and damaged property. [Central was tagged with graffiti, but thanks to the swift alert from New Genesis men to Anthony Martinez, building superintendent, no further damage was done. Anthony spent two nights in the building, with lights on, to discourage vandalism.] Yet a boiling pot will not cool off by clamping a lid down upon it. We must and we can use this moment to double down on work toward a most just and equitable community.
Friends, let us recommit Central and ourselves individually to being allies and partners in the work towards racial justice and racial equity. We don’t pretend this is easy, but we are people of the Pentecost: God’s Spirit will direct this work, and breathe life into our spirits when we grow weary. We have reached out to Peoples Presbyterian Church and Pastor Evan Amo to build on the relationships already established.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) recommends two immediate actions as part of a faithful response. [The full statement can be read on our website: www.centraldenver.com/actionalert/] An excerpt from the statement follows:
Racism is a sin against humanity. Our sacred text tells us that ALL humans are made in God’s image and likeness. As people of faith, we must honor the inherent value and dignity of all people and seek justice when that value and dignity is attacked. We are calling on Presbyterians to take action and “stand against racism in all its myriad forms.” We urge you to:
1. Petition the President of the United States to proclaim a national day of “Mourning Against Racial Injustice” on June 19th, the traditional day of celebration for African Americans over the end of slavery, where flags will be flown at half-mast.
The President — 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington DC 20500
2. Contact your member of Congress demanding legislation that defines racialized police violence as a hate crime.
Diana DeGette — 600 Grant St. Ste 202, Denver, CO 80203
Michael Bennet — Russell Senate Office Building, 261, Washington DC 20510
Cory Gardner — Russell Senate Office Building, 354, Washington DC 20510
While we have to do more than “read a book” to be an effective ally, transformation can begin with learning. Listening to Black voices is key to understanding how to forge a more just and equitable society. For adults, try How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi or White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. Children are never too young to develop an anti-racist perspective and these books for younger children are helpful: The Colors of Us by Karen Katz and Let’s Talk about Race by Julius Lester.
Friends, some are calling the pandemic “The Great Pause” – offering a time for collective consideration of the kind of church, community and world we want to inhabit. My letter this week is written with tears for present realities and with hope that together we can create Beloved Community for all God’s people. Let us immerse this work in prayer, starting with the one offered by Denver Presbytery’s Stated Clerk, Olivia Hudson Smith (reprinted here with Olivia’s permission).
Walking with you,
Pastor Louise Westfall
Impartial God of all creation, we come before you this day with lament in our hearts for your people.
Lord, as we face uncertainty in the world, we mourn the inequity which we are witness to throughout the world amid a health pandemic and the pandemics of evil, injustice and human brutality.
You O Lord who know us before we are knit together in our Mothers’ wombs, who loves us unconditionally and weeps over our inhumanity, open our hearts and eyes to see each human life as valued and created for your purpose.
Merciful God, we mourn over and over for the too many to name lives that have not mattered for so many, for George Floyd, and all African American men and women who have suffered and died at the hands of an unjust society that views them less than your beloved created in your image. You know their names, you know their purpose, forgive those who do not.
We seek your mercy for the Mothers and Fathers who are tired and weary knowing that every time their black and brown babies walk out the doors, they are viewed as a threat.
Gracious One, we pray for all your children who are deprived of human dignity, those separated from parents and families at our boarders, those who are without shelter, proper clothing, food, and water whose suffering is made worse by human systems of inequality.
Holy One, Let your presence be palpable to all creation, fill your people with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Hope, the Spirit of Love for our neighbor, knowing that in your Kingdom there are no strangers, none that are less than your beloved.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
–A Prayer for This Time, by Olivia Hudson Smith