August 2017


August 29, 2017: New Bible Study Opportunities


I love teaching the Bible. It is a book that continues to teach me, confuse me, encourage me, challenge me, and fill me with wonder. I’m constantly discovering new things and am forced to rethink long-held beliefs.

I’m looking forward to leading some new Bible Studies this year.

First, on Sunday mornings starting on September 10, I’ll be teaching a class at 9:15 am in the John Elder Classroom. We’ll be going through different short series, so if you can’t come to one, you can pick up and join us for another series.

The first series will be a five-week class on Adam Hamilton’s book Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say.

You can purchase the book Half Truths, and read each week’s lesson ahead of time to be ready for discussion, but that's not necessary. We’ll watch a short video of Hamilton sharing his thoughts and then we’ll dig deeper into the Bible and share our own ideas.

I hope you’ll join me in searching for the whole truth by comparing common Christian clichés to the message and ministry of Jesus. The clichés include:

Everything happens for a reason.
God helps those who help themselves.
God won’t give you more than you can handle.
God said it, I believe it, that settles it.
Love the sinner, hate the sin.

The second opportunity is on Tuesday evenings from 6:00-6:30 pm beginning September 19, also in the John Elder Classroom. This in-depth Bible study focuses on the book of Genesis and on how to read Genesis with ancient eyes.

When we read Genesis as an ancient story, written at a particular time to a particular people, it opens up possibilities and worlds we don’t encounter in our limited existence. When we stop using Genesis as an argument, a textbook, or a code of conduct, and begin to see it as an ancient story — with memorable characters, twists and turns, ups and downs, accomplishments and mistakes — we find it fresh, deep, and more true and relevant than we might expect. Join us  as we learn about the nature of God, Scripture, and humanity through the Book of Genesis.

I hope you’ll be able to join me for one or both of these opportunities to explore the Bible and learn more about God, life, and ourselves.

In common calling,

Pastor Stephen


August 24, 2017: I Don't Buy Napkins


I don’t buy napkins. I tend to get the giant rolls of paper towels that you can tear off in thirds and use those. I just never think about napkins. Apparently, I’m not alone. There’s a whole study about how millennials are killing the napkin industry. Younger generations are opting for paper towels instead of napkins. One isn’t better than the other, but they are different.

Do you remember your Blockbuster Video card? I used to love to peruse the aisles of videos and then DVDs to find the right movie to rent. Blockbuster was huge for a while, they even had their own college football bowl game. Now Blockbuster is gone. Mail order services and internet on-demand efficiency and convenience have made video rental stores irrelevant. It wasn’t that Blockbuster was bad; things and people change.

Some other industries are in danger of going the way of Blockbuster. Gym memberships are down across the country. People, especially young adults, are still exercising, but are opting for class-centric centers or in-home programs instead of pricey gym memberships.

People do not buy as many books through book stores, but online. The book stores that are surviving have changed their model to offer more than just a book-buying experience. Casual dining restaurants are struggling, because younger people are cooking more at home or going to more locally owned restaurants. 

These are just a few of the industries that are facing decline due to a changing world and populace, especially among younger generations.

Jan Edmiston, Co-Moderator of the PCUSA General Assembly, recently wrote:

We in The Institutional Church are wed to many features that are decreasingly comfortable or meaningful or important to younger generations. Are we willing to adapt how we are the Church for the sake of sharing the message of Jesus with those who are no longer (or never have been) with us?  I hope so.

We change our minds about what we like. New technologies change the way we buy. New information changes our minds about what is good or healthy. The church changes with new technology, and trends, and tastes, and resources. As people leave, move, or end this life, the church is changed. As people come in with new ideas, talents, skills, and passions, the church is changed. As the community around the church shifts, so does the church.  Change is inevitable, but change is opportunity.

We are often scared of change, but change is the engine of innovation and art. Did you see any beautiful pictures of the eclipse this week? It was a dramatic change in how the sky looked, that produced such awe and wonder. Change is opportunity. What opportunities do we have at Derry?

In common calling,

Pastor Stephen


August 16, 2017: The 100 Years Letter


Imagine it’s 100 years in the future and you are a new member of Derry Presbyterian Church. The church is still at the corner of Derry and Mansion, but what do you think has changed? Is it a dying church, with only 30 to 40 people sitting in the large sanctuary each Sunday morning and not much ministry and mission happening? Is the parking lot mostly vacant and does building lie dormant most of the week?

Or is the church bustling with life as it is now? Do children fill the halls each day and do people of all ages gather for worship, fellowship, and mission? Is the building constantly full and is life flowing out of the building into the community?

What do you think this church will look like in 100 years?

The future largely depends on the present. Religious scholar and historian Diana Butler Bass recently said, of the current decline in church attendance, that when people had the time and money to do something about the future; they failed to do it. We’ve inherited their lack of foresight.

So, what are we doing now that will affect the future of our church for positive or negative? I’d like you to try an exercise. Imagine you’re that member of Derry Church 100 years from now, and write a letter to the church as it is today. Write a letter of thanks to the people today that are opening the future for those in the church 100 years from today. What gifts, foresight, planning, and ideas that have happened recently will still make an impact in the future? Pretend to look back over 100 years to the things happening now that are vital to the long-term future of this church.

This could be a helpful exercise for our church and our Session. I’d love to see what you write and share those letters with our Session, and perhaps I will share your word of thanks to the people who are opening up the future for us.

I hope by thinking about the church 100 years in the future, and how what we are doing today shapes that future, we can become even more intentional about our present. I hope we can continue to open up the future so Derry continues to be:

 a welcoming church family that encourages the congregation to grow in spirit, involvement, and commitment to do God’s work through worship, education, music, mission outreach, and caring.

In common calling,

Pastor Stephen

August 8, 2017: Deep Roots, Fresh Growth, Broad Reach


I have really valued hearing from so many of you through the questions I initially asked of the church and in subsequent conversations. I look forward to continuing to learn about you and about Derry as we continue to meet and as you share with me. There’s so much to know and celebrate at Derry Church!

Derry Presbyterian has been growing in faith since 1724. You have worked to be “a diverse community of believers, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to know, glorify, enjoy and serve God in the name of Jesus Christ.”  You have Deep Roots so you can grow strong in this vision, but making this vision a reality also requires Fresh Growth. The church reformed is always reforming. We are always changing, as the world changes around us, as needs change, and as our resources change, but there are some things that won’t change. Jesus Christ will always remain the head of the church and we will follow him. We don’t always know where he will lead us, but we know that if we remain in him, we will bear new and fresh fruit (John 15:5).

We never fully achieve what the church should be, but in the words of Paul, we “press on toward to goal,” building on our strong foundation and growing into the future.

Your mission is “To be a welcoming church family that encourages the congregation to grow in spirit, involvement, and commitment to do God’s work through worship, education, music, mission outreach, and caring.” The reason you exist is to grow and nurture followers of Christ. You work to cultivate fresh growth, but you know you rely on your deep roots for that growth. You rely on how deeply rooted you are in your faith and love for Christ. Derry also has many of the resources it does because of those who have come before you. Your roots, your history, is what helps you do the work of growing.

The important growth is the growth of faith, hope, and love. It is the growth of the Kingdom of God through Derry Presbyterian. You have been growing in faith since 1724, so you have a Broad Reach. Your mission, why you exist, isn’t only for the members of Derry. It is for the world. Your roots are deep, your growth is fresh, your heart is big, your mission is vital, your vision is wide, and your reach is broad.

When I think of Derry Presbyterian, I think of Deep Roots, Fresh Growth, and Broad Reach.


In common calling,

Pastor Stephen


August 1, 2017: Broad Reach


We’ve talked about Derry’s Deep Roots and Fresh Growth. This week I want to talk about your Broad Reach.

One of the things that attracted me to Derry was your commitment to mission. Mission isn’t just a committee at Derry—it's the way you are the church. You reach people with the love of God throughout the Hershey and surrounding communities, but also across the world in places like Nicaragua and Pakistan.

The Kingdom reaches far through the efforts of Derry Church and its members. You reach into the lives of children, youth, and adults. You provide educational opportunities, fellowship opportunities, and unconditional love and welcome when it is needed most. You brighten people’s lives with donated flowers and you fill people’s stomachs with donated food. You provide educational and economic opportunities for women in Pakistan and build homes for families in Nicaragua. You built a mission house so Love Inc., which does so much good, has a place for an office. You make blankets, plant gardens, teach skills, give scholarships, and support so many others in mission work that wouldn’t be possible without your generous support. Their work is your work. You have such a broad reach.

Your reach isn’t limited to official church programs or missions. The branches that grow from the strong and sturdy trunk of Derry Presbyterian, with its deep roots, include all your members who live as disciples of Christ, the pastors who grew up at Derry and were supported through seminary, and all the lives this church has touched. Your branches grow in number every day, and the canopy of Derry Presbyterian is always expanding, reaching out further and further.

Derry Presbyterian isn’t a church that exists for itself. You are not a congregation that is looking to be served, but to serve to and give some of your life away to others: your time, your talent, and your treasures. Some churches are all about the survival of the church and the comfort of its members, but not Derry. You are about following Jesus. You are about growing and nurturing followers of Christ. You are about reaching others with the love and welcome of God that is too good to keep to yourselves.

God has gifted Derry Presbyterian with many gifts, and you have used them for others. You have a long history and an even longer future of loving and serving others. Christ’s hands on earth, which are your hands, have a broad reach at Derry Presbyterian.

But you, O mountains of Israel, shall shoot out your branches, and yield your fruit to my people Israel; for they shall soon come home. See now, I am for you; I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown.  ~ Ezekiel 36:8-9

In common calling,

Pastor Stephen