Every ending a beginning

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Rev It Up

reflections on faith and life

Rev. Kathryn Timpany,

First Congregational UCC, Sioux Falls, SD

February 11, 2015

 

“Every ending a beginning…”     –     Paul Simon, “Darling Lorraine”

As most of you know by now, I am wrapping up my time with you as one of your pastors and teachers. Your responses to this news have touched me deeply. This moment feels mostly like an ending, and one that we weren’t able to orchestrate. Illness set the time table for us. We are left to be the first responders of a sort. Some of us are better in that role than others, but we are all in this together.

And so, as with all endings, there is the damp sadness of grief, which is as it should be when people have become closely attached and deeply invested on one another. It is not easy to be ending my ministry with you, because I have enjoyed our time together immensely. I am also deeply thankful to have served such a faithful church. Not everyone who feels called to pastoral ministry has such a good time fulfilling that call.

But this is also a beginning, the start of a new phase of life, with all its bright possibilities spangling our hopes. Our church was gathered 143 years ago, and I have been with you for a mere ten of those years. As my father, who spent 40 years as the choir director of his church, has often reminded me: pastors come and go, but the people of the church will still be there. I look forward to watching you continue your journey of faith, and wonder what celebrations you will share when another ten years has elapsed.

I have always liked the metaphor “journey” for understanding how faith intersects with human lives. Faith is not a static thing you acquire once and for all but rather a pliable process that changes shape as it adapts to our lives as they unfold over time. I have always loved road trips, especially those taken on little-used roads through seldom-seen countryside, but I have lived most of my public life on a superhighway, enjoying the speed and the amount of ground that can be covered quickly and efficiently. I haven’t always lived in the passing lane, but have enjoyed moving right along with the traffic on the easier roads of ministry.

I have not been very patient when occasional minor misfortunes have made me pull over to the shoulder – until the tire could be changed or the gas tank refilled. I knew patience was an under-developed virtue in me. And now, here I am. Sitting for months on the shoulder of the highway with major engine failure, watching the other cars whiz by and the seasons of the year with them. Learning much more patience than I ever thought I needed.

As has happened so many times before, you are the ones who are my guides and teachers now. During the last ten years I have seen many of you struggle with circumstances like this. Sudden illness, injury, betrayal, despair, divorce, unexpected death – you have had your lives forever changed, and I have been honored to witness and sometimes accompany you when the future you imagined shattered and fell in shards all around you. I have watched how grace has found you and lavished you with holy love. I have been with you as you have learned to accept a whole new life and bid the old one a gracious goodbye.

Now, I am the one experiencing radical change, and I look to you for hope and do my best to soak up your hard-earned wisdom as I wait for full healing to come abide with me. The gift of your trust as you have shared your stories with me over the years is now leading me on the journey of faith.

Many of you have asked how you can help. Since the healing I seek requires balancing rest and activity in short segments, you are already doing the best thing – surrounding me with concentric circles of love and care. Your cards and emails and prayers have been most welcome. Staying in touch helps me endure the isolation that is part of my journey right now.

doorwayThe future stretches long before us. We cannot see the details, but we live with the confidence that has come from our experience as a people of God. We trust that the next chapter will be as satisfying as it is now inscrutable. We will have joy and sorrow, peace and struggle, pain and ecstasy, just like we have had in the past. And because we are a people of the God we catch a glimpse of in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, our future will be full of challenge and courage, compassion and grace. This God we worship loves to create new life every time we think death is permanent.

 

Thank you for sharing the journey with me!

 

 

 

may spring come sooner than you think

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Whose are you?

 

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Rev It Up

reflections on faith and life

 

Rev. Kathryn Timpany,

First Congregational UCC, Sioux Falls, SD

January 12, 2015

 

To whom do you belong?

You mean, who is my family, who are my people?

Perhaps.

Well, if that’s what you mean, then…I come from Scandinavian and British Isles stock. My family made it to the Midwest in the mid 1880’s. My grandparents…..that’s not what you mean. I can see it on your face. So, what are you talking about?

Whose are you?

Oh! You mean who are my parents, or maybe you mean who is my spouse? My parents sure let me know I belonged to them when I was little, anytime I did something that made them proud! (or displeased them!) And my spouse, well, everyone knows whose spouse I am!

Because you were “given away” by someone? Transferred from one house of ownership to another? Because of the name you carry?

Well, yes, I guess. Well…..no! I wasn’t “given away”, as you put it, and I don’t carry the name of my spouse. I am my own person! I don’t belong to anyone! Maybe you’re talking about the company I work for, then, or the team I support. Is that what you mean?

Perhaps. Just asking a simple question. To whom do you belong? Who do you listen to? Whose name do you carry? Whose life do you want for your own? Where lies your deepest loyalty? Who do you trust completely, even when you don’t understand what’s going on? Even when you hurt so much you can’t see straight?

Argh! You are frustrating me! You are messing with my mind!

Sorry about that. Let me tell you a story. Maybe that will help.

There was a man who lived a long time ago in another land. He was known as Jesus of Nazareth. One day he went to the river with a lot of his neighbors. They had heard there was a man there called John who was offering a ritual of repentance, a chance to be free and clear of all that kept them bound up, worried, greedy and afraid. This Jesus went there with them.

 But when his turn came to step into the river, strange things happened that startled people. They couldn’t stop talking about it for years. A few of them wrote down their impressions so no one would ever forget.

What happened?

The heavens were torn open and there was something like a dove that hovered over him and he heard a voice.

What did the voice say?

It told him who he belonged to.

 That’s it? Didn’t he already know?

Perhaps. But after that day, there was no doubt.

 Well…..whose voice was it, coming out of the crowd?

Oh, it didn’t come out of the crowd. It came out of the torn-open heavens.

What?!

It said, “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find great pleasure.”

What does that story have to do with me?

Have you ever been baptized?

Yeah, I guess so. I was pretty little. I don’t remember it really.

Well, everyone who was there probably does. Maybe you could ask one of them. They might know if that same voice called you Beloved and nearly burst open with the great pleasure you were, the gift of joy you were, just by being you.

******************************************************************************************

On Sunday, as Tim was going out the door to church where, among others things, he would be offering a ritual of baptismal remembrance, he came over to me and put a small clear stone in my hand. The stone has a little curved figure embedded in it. It reminds me of a wave near the shore. He kissed me goodbye, and then smiled and said, ” Remember your baptism. Remember whose you are.”

Which I did. All day long. And it made all the difference in the world.

May you hear echoes of that Voice every day of your life.

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Lead, Kindly LIght

 

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Rev It Up

reflections on faith and life

 

Rev. Kathryn Timpany,

First Congregational UCC, Sioux Falls, SD

December 16, 2014

 

It’s such a simple story. Love came down at Christmas and dwelt among us.

It’s a story we tell over and over again, year after year, even though it is unrealistic and easy to sentimentalize, and when it happened we didn’t recognize what was going on. In fact, we still have a bit of trouble with that part.

This baby. He is the one whose name we later began to call upon for comfort and courage and wisdom and guidance when we came up against something that stymied or downright terrified us. He didn’t make his fortieth birthday, but he had such a great impact on people during his short life that it felt like he turned the world upside down. He faced his own tortuous death with a kind of confidence that still allowed for anguish. And after that….well, that’s when the mystery deepened.

This is the baby whose birth we celebrate.   From the beginning, he experienced what it meant to be human. He was hungry and needed food. He was vulnerable and needed shelter. He was helpless and needed to have all his needs cared for by someone else. He lived in a time of violent political unrest, and while he was still an infant, his parents had to take him and run for their lives, because the political ruler in their land felt so threatened he resorted to infanticide on a wide-spread basis. This baby learned to walk in a refugee camp.

Perhaps that had something to do with the fact that as he grew up he realized the God of his tradition cared more than most people thought about the poor and marginalized, that the command to love your neighbor the way you love yourself was not just a toss-off. Perhaps they called him precocious when he went to the Temple at age 12 because he had begun to understand what Godly love was all about. Perhaps that’s why they called him crazy when he thumbed his nose at religious laws when they got in the way of bringing hope and healing to real persons who were suffering. Perhaps they called him dangerous when he refused to fear the tyrants because he understood there was something more powerful and more life-giving than their hollow promises and coerced obedience.

This is the birth that so many of us celebrate at this time of year. We have given this baby many names over the years. Officially, his name was Jesus, which means “he saves”. I have a feeling his parents had a nickname or two that never made it into the record book.   Eventually people called him Savior, Son of God, Light of the World, Teacher, Brother, Redeemer, Lord, the Christ, and a whole host of other names, uttered in gratitude or sneered in disgust. But right now we just call him Baby.

I don’t know about you, but it brings me a great sense of comfort and hope that all things human were somehow brought together with all things beyond-human in this nativity. It is easy to be cheery at Christmas time when all things are right with your world. I have had years like that, and they are wonderful. But it is much more important to me during the years when things are not completely right that we tell this story for all we are worth – throwing all the music and all the decorations and all the special food and all the gleeful anticipation of children at it that we can manage.

For this is a story for those who feel far from home, frightened of the future, and unfit for any kind of love at all. This is a story that makes no sense: that God – the Creator of Everything – can be known in the very ordinary life of an ordinary human being. And because it makes no sense, but has outlasted every attempt to discredit it, then our experiences that make no sense can lose their power to dominate us as well. When death comes too early, too violently, or too unjustly, when bodily limitation dooms dreams of long, happy, unmarred lives, when the best you can do is not enough, this baby’s story makes all the difference in the world.

My gift to you this year is this portion of a poem written in the 19th century by John Henry, Cardinal Newman. Some of you will hear it as it was set to the music that made it a popular hymn during that time. I have borrowed his name for the baby whose birth we celebrate for my own devotional life this year.

 

Lead, Kindly Light, amid the circling gloom,

Lead Thou me on!

The night is dark, and I am far from home –

Lead Thou me on!

Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see

The distant scene, – one step enough for me.

 

 light_in_dark7

 

 

 

 

 

may you be given what you need most this year

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Don’t Ponder Ancient History

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Rev It Up

reflections on faith and life

 

Rev. Kathryn Timpany,

First Congregational UCC, Sioux Falls, SD

December 1, 2014

 

Black Friday – hurry up! Cyber Monday – hurry, hurry!   You will miss all the deals if you don’t. You will miss the frenzied mobs, the frantic faces, the awful crush of spirits. You can’t get ready for Christmas Day unless you hurryhurryhurry! Or…..it is Advent – wait. Just sit still. Don’t hurry. Don’t hurry at all. Not through breakfast, not through your to-do list, not for any reason at all. Just wait. Just be still and see what you can see.

For many years now I have offered these words as encouragement to any of you who showed the slightest interest in the seasons of the church year. I meant what I said, but I did not always practice what I preached.   I was full of energy, full of anticipation, and I had a long list of things to do, enough to keep me so busy I hardly noticed how little daylight there was left to cherish as winter settled in.

This year, I have no choice. Hurrying is off the table. Waiting is my daily fare. I do a lot of sitting still, and it is time to confess to you what you already know.

Waiting is hard. Very hard. Especially when it is accompanied by throbbing silence after you have put your whole soul into a plea for healing, or wrenched your heart inside out begging for mercy.

My own situation remains as full of mystery as ever. Though there is no proof, there is general consensus that a fall I took after Christmas last year which included a whiplash and a bang of the head could have set off the cascade of symptoms that began last January with headaches and progressed to increasingly erratic fatigue exacerbated by diet sensitivities. We try to name this roller coaster with terms like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Post Concussive Syndrome, because it gives us a sense of control – at least we know what to call This Thing. If we can name it maybe we can best it after all. Maybe we can find a pill that will help. Maybe we can feed it more love, less fear.

And so we wait. And so I become much more aware of others who are waiting for healing too, and who are experiencing much more suffering and loss than I am, much more than I can even imagine. We are our own community, we hopers, and we are often missed in the hustle bustle of the season. I know this because I used to miss these hopers myself, before I joined their company. I told myself there wasn’t time to stop and listen to their stories and dreams. I had all those Christmas sermons to write about all that Love coming down from heaven! waiting by road

But here it is: we all wait, every one of us, for Something, even if we don’t know what it is, exactly.   Here it is, just in time: Advent, a season specially tailored for those who need hope as much as they need food and drink and shelter. It is good to be together in this season, sharing lament that opens our ears to hear the music of the spheres.

Isaiah the poet speaks: Don’t remember the prior things, don’t ponder ancient history. Look! I am doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it?

Well, actually, not yet. But I have plenty of time to wait. I’ll keep my eyes open. And my heart. And my ears.

Here’s a song in my head now, first chanted by monks 1700 years ago, and still filling halls of worship today:

Of the Father’s love begotten,

Ere the worlds began to be,

He is Alpha and Omega,

He the source, the ending He,

Of the things that are,

That have been,

And that future years shall see,

Evermore and evermore!

 

 

May you receive the assurance that all things shall be well

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Living in Limbo

 

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Rev It Up

reflections on faith and life

 

Rev. Kathryn Timpany,

First Congregational UCC, Sioux Falls, SD

October 21, 2014

 

 

It’s not much fun being on the injured reserve list.

A lot of you have known this long before me. It’s one thing to be out for a week with the flu, or a month recovering from helpful surgery. But when you hear those gloomy words “probably out for the season”, that is something else again. Your uniform hangs in the locker gathering dust and creases. No one even turns their head if you holler, “Put me in coach! I think I can make it this time for a play or two!” The game goes on as your world shrinks. Your focus shifts from shaping future strategy with your teammates to managing symptoms and nurturing hope pretty much all by yourself, unless you happen to be one of the really lucky ones who are surrounded by people who refuse to ignore you and never give up on you, even when you are ready to give up on yourself.

injured players

 

 

Especially then.

You are living in limbo, a word that comes from the Latin limbus, which means “edge” or “border”. The Catholic Church developed this idea to talk about a state of being in the afterlife, existing literally “at the edge of Hell” until full redemption could be accomplished. The Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Christian Churches left this scary idea behind at various historical points in time, but it lingers on as a fitting description of what life is like when you are teetering on the edge of uncertainty and you have no idea how long you will have to stay there.

But the world is full of surprises, especially for people who are grounded in communities of faith and families of unceasing love. Since I am now on that dreaded reserve list for an unknown length of time, I have noticed a few things that I could never have seen from any other perspective.

First of all, there are more of us than I thought. One of the things I have plenty of time for these days is holding each of you in my mind and heart and prayers. Your faces rise before me, your stories cascade around me, our shared memories bloom again and again. You have offered them to me in trust, and I cherish them as gifts. I see those of you with chronic and sometimes terminal illness praying for peace. I watch those of you who have suffered almost unbelievable loss, struggling to remain faithful. I bear witness to the perseverance some of you exhibit against overwhelming odds for failure. I want you to know I have time to be with you these days, more than ever.

Secondly, the world is a remarkably beautiful place. There is the land itself, and its seasons. I am always buoyed when I can get out from under the roof over my head and remember how small I am here, remember my true place in the universe. There is the sky, and all its phases. There are all the colors and textures of growing things, now entering a phase of hibernation. There is transcendent music, and exquisite craftsmanship, and technical marvel, and scientific discovery, and spiritual depth, and astounding athleticism, and books, wonderful books – all given to us to enjoy. While I am afflicted with this mysterious disorder of energy transfer at a cellular level they call Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I have more time than ever to appreciate the cornucopia of gifts that floods our lives, even when we are too distracted – by either pleasure or pain – to notice.

exhausted polar bear

And finally, though I have no language to capture it that does not sound trite and overused, there is love all around.   There are people who care for us and about us. They are near, and they are far away. There is sacrifice that is offered without complaint. There is commitment that withstands all temptation and petty irritation. There is devotion that never ceases.   There is forgiveness that defies description and hope that refuses to die. There is so much of this kind of love I can’t begin to take it in. It is often more than enough, when I am flat out from fatigue, to notice this, for I miss it so much of the time.

I have long taught that there is a Psalm to express every imaginable human emotion and experience. This one, the 90th, speaks to me today:

Lord, you have been our help, generation after generation.

Before the mountains were born,

before you birthed the earth and the inhabited world –

from forever in the past to forever in the future, you are God…

           

We live at best to be seventy years old, maybe eighty, if we’re strong.

But their duration brings hard work and trouble

because they go by so quickly.

And then we fly off…      

 

Fill us full every morning with your faithful love

so we can rejoice and celebrate our whole life long.

 wind cave national park

 

 

 

 

 

May you remember how much you mean to me today and may it bring you joy

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Circle of Life

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Rev It Up

reflections on faith and life

 

Rev. Kathryn Timpany,

First Congregational UCC, Sioux Falls, SD

October 1, 2014

We call them seasons. Different times for different functions. Planting, growing, harvesting, resting. We cycle through the seasons of the year and their regularity comforts us, though there may be one or more that we prefer.

We have just rolled through the autumn equinox, entering the dark half of the year.   The harvest is plentiful in our part of the world, the colors are pretty, the weather is buoyant, but the light is seeping away little by little, like water through the fingers of a cupped hand. You can’t have one without the other, beauty and bounty without loss.

There are seasons in human life as well. Birth, childhood, adolescence, early, middle and late adulthood, death. Each of these seasons is the proper time for particular experiences of being human. In the beginning, we are wholly dependent on our care-givers. We grow and learn at astronomical rates if that care is good and wholesome. Our energy is boundless, for the learning curve is steep.

As we enter the next stage we begin to forge our own paths more than follow the ones set out for us. We gain confidence, or not. We fight hard, or go easy in harness. We build, create, form new bonds, begin new families. Our desire to succeed is endless.   Our minds continue to mature long after our bodies have plateaued.

Then we come to a time when satisfaction begins to ripen. What matters most is that we feel good about ourselves, what we have done, how we have loved. Our desire and drive level off, and we begin to take note of the wonders of the world. We bask in our delights, and old struggles lose their punch and power.

Finally, we enter the season of wisdom. All things begin to make sense. Perspective becomes clear. Our bodies and minds are losing energy, but our souls are coming into their glory. We begin to become dependent on our caregivers once again. We rediscover the interdependence of all life, how much we rely on each other, how much our joy is not of our own making, but the result of layers upon layers of gifts of love.

We can’t have one without the other, the exuberance and lure of unexplored horizons, and the wisdom to journey without stumbling, without shunning the gifts that are lavished upon us.

Most of us accept these seasons of life and for those of us who are religious, the seasons of the church year help support them. We find meaning in the seasons of advent, nativity, epiphany, lent, resurrection, pentecost, and that great long extended season called Ordinary Time. These seasons help us set our own lives in line, help us remember what matters most, help us deal with uncertainty and mystery.

For when uncertainty and mystery become more uncomfortable than we can handle, come upon us in the form of unexpected illness, tragic accident, mean betrayal, awful violence and even evil itself, when the proper seasons of life are interrupted, broken, shattered, ruined, none of us are prepared to go it alone. We need a Sacred Story that talks about sacrificial love and unending mercy. We need a community of people who define their lives by such a story, and who find it easy to gather around and joyfully care for those who are suffering, whose seasons of life have been interrupted.

That is the joy of the Church when it is at its most faithful. Oh, I know. Stories of unfaithfulness abound. The media, addicted to Shock and Awe, will make sure you know this. The people called to be the body of Christ, to bear the mind of Christ, are not always able to fulfill that call. Sometimes they do unbelievably great harm, harm that seems irreparable. But that is no reason not to celebrate the thousands of examples of communities who are faithful to the Dream of God.

This is a season in my life when I have no words to express how thankful I am to be a part of a community of people who are faithful to this call of Love. Illness has taken me out of the arena for now, but not out of the circle of care. And as we learn how to bear the news of the illness of my adorable great-nephew in Indiana, I know that the circle of care is deep and strong around my family there are well.

Sometimes the faces of my ancestors in the faith come back to me in vivid detail – those related by birth as well as those related by common belonging. I learned all this from them. I couldn’t have figured it out on my own. I couldn’t have imagined how good the world could be even in the midst of seasons of sorrow.

I invite you to join me in a prayer of thanksgiving, excerpted from Ted Loder:

So, we thank you the more

            for those who are the hallowers,

               who show us what it means

               to see and make all things holy:

            the fidelity of those who rise each day

            to care for the children, watch over the sick,

               and do the thousand thankless tasks

                 that sustain us and the community…

            there is nothing else to say

            except thank you and Amen.

 

 

 

may you take time to notice the depth of love around you today

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wait…

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Rev It Up

reflections on faith and life

 

Rev. Kathryn Timpany,

First Congregational UCC, Sioux Falls, SD

September 3, 2014

 

 

Now! I want it right now!

Ok. Here ya go.🙂

We live in an unprecedented age of instant gratification. Have a question? You’ve got Google. It’s right there on your smartphone in the palm of your hand. Want to get directions to someone’s house? Your map app is right there next to the one that points you to the best restaurants in town. Want to ease that pain? Here’s your pill.

One of the few arenas in which waiting is still the name of the game is transportation, at least if you live in an urban area. The average commute to work for the American worker is now 25 minutes one way. Traffic snarls on highways and lines at airports are increasingly standard fare. People still camp out in parking lots overnight waiting for ticket sales to begin for a cherished performer.

But for most of us, most of the time, we do not expect to have to wait much for anything anymore.

All current research notwithstanding, I think this is one of the main reasons churches like ours are experiencing a decline in participation.   Faith is not an instant-gratification proposition. It is a lifelong journey. The formation of character, the learning of a language, the perfecting of the skills for generous and compassionate living are all aspects of human existence that take a long time to learn well enough to become second nature.

If you are going to call yourself a Christian, it seems to me, you will be doing your best to follow the teachings and actions of Jesus of Nazareth, a great rabbi (Hebrew for “master”) whom we came to understand as The Christ, God’s Anointed One, only after his death and resurrection. There are 66 books in the little library we call The Bible (73 in the Roman Catholic version), but only 4 of these report directly about the life of Jesus. We call them gospels, a word which means good news. But even learning what’s in those 4 short books is not something you can do by showing up once or twice a year to a worship service, or reading short excerpts occasionally from a devotional resource.

There are, for instance, 46 parables that Jesus is reported to have told as he was teaching about the nature of God’s dream for a good world. How many can you recite? How many of them are about a reversal of the status quo? How many of them reinterpret conventional wisdom? How often would you need to hear these to have them at the front of your mind when you make moral decisions, or need to be reminded of the merciful and unending love of God when all you feel is shame? How long does it take for an acorn to become a big oak tree, or better yet, a sequoia?

I have been well-acquainted with this all-too-human wrestling match with instant gratification lately. I have not been able to function with full energy for several weeks now. I have glimpsed the diminishment that comes to all of us eventually.   It has been a scary and frustrating time for me. I am used to getting things done quickly. I like to plan ahead, rehearse and be prepared for any contingency. I like my work in ministry. It brings me joy, and hopefully helps others, too. When I hear that it may take several more weeks for full healing to be accomplished, I find myself sinking, resisting, railing, flailing, bargaining, and praying like I used to as a child.

Please God, I’ll do anything to get well! Just tell me what it is I should do, and tell me how quickly I can get over this! And the answer comes back: Wait. (How long, O Lord?) Slow down. (O rest in the Lord., wait patiently for him.) Learn the new norm. (Take my yoke upon you and I will give you rest.) Fear not. (Right!) No, I am serious – don’t be afraid. (Aughhh!)

 And you know what? I have been lavished with the gifts of this community of faith of ours, people who are in it for the long haul. I have been wrapped in care and compassion, strengthened by love and prayers, offered heart-felt gifts of extraordinary generosity and patience. I am so glad all of you have resisted the temptation of instant gratification and have spent your lives becoming so Christ-like. This is what it is all about. This is why Church matters.

I don’t know when my full portion of energy will return. I will write these reflections occasionally as I can. I will be praying for all of you, and especially for our staff who will resourcing and leading you in the months ahead. I am practicing praying in the way of Jesus – not my will, but Thine be done ­– but it is a steep learning curve, even after all these years of learning to put my trust in this great rabbi.

My deepest hope is that when I return to full strength I will look around, and our church will be more faithful still – brimming over with vital ministries and missions and new people who you have invited to join us. People just like you, who understand not everything important in the world is given right now!

FCC

 

 

 

 

 

 

may you not miss a chance to know the love that abounds in congregations like ours

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