September 2017


September 25, 2017: A Focused Vision

Last Saturday, leaders of Derry (staff, Session, Deacons, and the Long-Planning Committee) gathered to talk about stewardship, vision, and the future.

We discussed our stewardship theme for the year, Rooted, Giving, and Growing, and some of the changes that will be happening this year. We’ll be sending out more information about this year’s stewardship campaign soon.

We had a frank and productive conversation on our current deficit budget and the projected deficit for next year.  We had conversations about the need to cut expenses and increase giving. We hope to do both during this stewardship campaign so we can have a balanced budget. We believe this is possible because Derry members have a history of rising to meet needs, and our committees are watching their spending and identifying cuts that will not greatly affect our ministries.

We also spent time talking about vison after watching a short film by National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones called Focus Your Vision. The film led us to discuss seven key concepts about developing and focusing a vision:

Keep Your Vision Focused: When we focus our visions, we find their purpose.

Stop, Look, and Listen: Great visions don’t leap out to meet us! To find one, we need to slow down and really understand what’s happening.

Hold On To The Best, Let The Rest Fall Away: Intellect helps us find which parts of our visions are really important and which to get rid of.

Trust Your Intuition: If we learn to trust it, our intuition can reveal spectacular visions.

It’s Not Trespassing To Go Beyond Your Own Boundaries: Taking risks and expanding our horizons helps us turn visions into reality.

Make Your Vision Big Enough: The really big visions should never be focused too tightly.

Do You Have Juice In Your Camera?: Juice is the passion, the energy needed to realize our visions.

If you, your small group, or your committee would like to see and discuss the 25-minute film, please let me know.

After our conversations about vision, we were reminded of the results from last January’s retreat by the Long-Range Planning Committee. We took a fresh look at our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, as well as ministry ideas that are inspired by them.

We ended our time together by table groups talking about five goals for Derry over the next five years and then sharing them with the larger group. It was really interesting that many tables had very similar goals for the church. We heard everything from creating new opportunities for young adults -- like some sort of theology discussion at a pub -- to creating a coffee house space for youth in Hershey to gather, study, learn, and have fellowship.

There are many exciting goals your leaders have for Derry. We look forward to including you in the conversation, and together, with the Long-Range Planning Committee, determine Five for Five: five goals that we can work together to accomplish over the next five years.

There is a lot of excitement about ministry at Derry Presbyterian Church. We can do some truly amazing things together. I can’t wait to see it and be a part of it.

In common calling,

Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker


September 18, 2017: The Third Place

In community building, the third place is the social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace. In his book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg argues that we need a “third” place to provide a mooring for community life and wider, more fluid, creative interaction. Examples of third places would be environments such as cafes, clubs, parks, and Starbucks.

Starbucks has built its brand on being a third place. Taste tests have repeatedly shown that more people prefer Dunkin Donuts and McDonalds coffee to Starbucks, but who wants to go sit down for an hour in a bright pink Dunkin Donuts or a McDonalds? Starbucks is not just a coffee shop or a bean roaster; its has become a universally recognized meeting, interview, hangout, and otherwise-place that incorporates the hallmarks of a Third Place: inexpensive, provides food and drink, highly accessible to the walking public, caters to a somewhat regular clientele, and is welcoming and relaxed.

We all need a place to go to reconnect, to relax, and recharge. We need a regular place we can feel welcome and safe. We need a place to build and strengthen bonds with other people. We all need a third place.

Where should the church be in this conversation? Right in the middle. The church, wherever she is, should be conscious of casting itself as a “third” place.

Biblically, it seemed to be a mark of the early church. Early Christians, according to Acts 2:42, gathered wherever they could and dedicated themselves to “the apostles; teachings, and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and prayer.” They met together for meals, for conversation, for fellowship, and for spiritual formation. They met to reconnect, to recharge, and to relax.

From the beginning there seemed to be a need and a desire for the new community forged in Christ’s church to offer a real, tangible “third” place. Things haven’t changed that much. We still need a place we can go and feel welcomed and feel like we belong. It is why we offer fellowship after services on Sundays. We can sit down with coffee and a cookie and talk with friends new and old. It’s one reason why we have Terrific Tuesdays. We share a meal, we learn, we sing, we pray, and we worship together. Sometimes, we just sit together with other people who’ve had a long day at work and we vent, laugh, plan, and commiserate. It’s why we have the 80+ lunch, men’s breakfast, and supper clubs. We gather together for food and prayer and connection.

It isn’t about the physical place. It isn’t the church building, or the restaurant. It's the community. The place is the people. It isn’t the building; it’s the community. It’s your place: and a place we can provide for others. It’s a place where are encouraged to grow in spirit, involvement, and commitment to do God’s work through worship, education, music, mission outreach, and caring.

Derry Church:  a place to worship, a place to serve, and a place to belong. We’re a needed third place.

In common calling,

Pastor Stephen


September 13, 2017: History to Serve the Future


I recently learned the story of the Chazy School District in upstate New York. A wealthy benefactor from the small rural town thought it was unfair that students in rural areas had to go to small one room school houses that didn’t have the resources or opportunities that students in city schools enjoy. He decided to do something about it.

He gave money to start the first unified school district in the country. He gave so much that residents didn’t have to pay school taxes for the first ten years. Chazy became a model for rural cities and counties across the country.

Unfortunately, today the Chazy school district is an underperforming school district that has been surpassed by the districts around it. The district celebrates its innovative heritage, but is not following through on it. It’s resting on its laurels instead of pressing forward. Chazy has a history of innovation, but a future of looking back. History is not just to be celebrated; it is to be learned from so it can help serve the future.

This school district is a powerful illustration of what can happen whenever we think our work of innovation is done. Strong histories should serve stronger futures. I’m looking forward to meeting with Derry’s Long Range Planning Committee this month to hear more about the congregation’s dreams for the future of Derry.

I know we have a strong and faithful history, but I know we are not done yet. There is fresh growth coming our way and an even broader reach. Our deep roots will serve us, and the world, well.

In common calling,

Pastor Stephen


September 7, 2017: What Is It To Live Forever?


For the early Israelites, living forever meant having progeny -- bearing children so that your name would “not depart from the earth.” Eternal life was through your children.

Subsequent to the exile in Babylon, they adopted a notion of the soul and came to believe that the soul could live on after death. Some believed in the possibility of resurrection, where not only the soul would live on but the body as well would enter into some kind of afterlife.

We typically don’t speculate much about afterlife, whether we are on the great wheel of karma, or whether we meet Peter at the pearly gate, or whether our children are our way to live on. The Apostle Paul considered it a mystery and a blessed hope. And many of us simply side with those who understand that the gospel is much more about “Thy Kingdom come, on earth . . .” than trying to get into some afterlife eternal real estate.

That being said, one very practical and gospel way to live on is through legacy giving. A legacy gift continues our influence, our intentions, our goals and our values even after we have crossed over into the mystery. It funds “Thy Kingdom come on earth . . .” Even after we pass on, we live on.

Legacy giving in churches is often one of the ways new ministries, missions, expansions, and projects are funded. Derry has a Futures Fund, a Capital Facilities Fund, and a Legacy Fund due to Derry members who made legacy giving a priority.

Sometimes circumstances make it so we cannot give back to the church all we’d like to in life, but we can set aside a portion of our estate to the work of God through the congregation we have grown in faith with.

Let’s be aware of the gifts from so many faithful people before us who sacrificed and gave and passed to us this amazing church. As we receive this gift, let's be willing to match their faithfulness and generosity so that folks 50 years from now will be blessed by the generous faithfulness of our time in the life of the church.

Legacy giving is one faithful way of living on and sharing the grace we have received from God and from each other. If you’d like to learn more about how you can make a Legacy Gift to Derry and explore the ways your vision, values, and dreams for Derry can live in and find fulfilment, please talk with me. I’d love to dream with you and learn more about the legacy you would like to leave at Derry Church.

In common calling,

Pastor Stephen