Love Letters

When I arrived at the Abbey Of Gethsemani, I was greeted by Jennifer. She was at the front desk assigning retreatants rooms in the Guest House. So  I asked  her if I might have room 309, but Jennifer told me it had already been taken. I confess I was disappointed. I spent both of my Sabbaticals in room 309 and it has come to be a sacred space for me. I was assigned room 310. It was the room my niece, Rebecca, stayed in when she joined me on retreat in May of last year. It is a lovely room that overlooks the garden.
I have another confession to make. I hate change. I like familiarity. I don’t like new and surprise. But God had a different plan for this retreat. God is always doing a something new among us if only we have the heart to see it.
I should also share that a little over a month ago I listened to a Ted Talk on line. It was by Hannah Brencher and the title of the talk was “Love Letters to Strangers.” I hope you will look it up and listen. It is a fastening story. The gist is this: Hannah was feeling depressed and so she decided to start writng letters to strangers and leaving them in all sorts of random places in New York City. She thought writing letters would make her feel better. It did. But what also happened was a wonderful surprise. Others followed her example and they also began writing letters and leaving them in all sorts of places throughout the city.
So guess what I found in my desk draw in room 310? Dozens and dozens of love notes addressed to the occupant of room 310. I think I count 42 in all so I have decided to read 6 or 7 a day. They are simply wonderful. Some include art work. One was even written on a piece of musical manuscript. (My favorite so far.)   I am so glad I am in room 310.  Thank you Lord for the gift of love from strangers who have taken the time to share their love with a fellow spiritual traveler.

I Count It All Joy,

Pastor Vallerie


Giving Birth-Thursday Aptil 7, 2016

New Harmony has 13 sculptures placed through-out the town. Each one has religious significance. The PIETA (pictured below) is located in the Roofless Church. It was sculpted by Stephen de Staebler. The sculpture is an image of the crucified Christ giving birth to each of us from his heart.
Sixteen years ago today my mother, Sallie King, died. Her life and death have impacted my life in profound ways. She left me, and each of her children, a legacy of love.
Each of us is born from a human mother. But every person is also born from the heart of God. That is why it so important that we that we love one another and strive to be kind to each other. This is the way I try to live but I admit that I often fail to love and act with kindness.
I was blessed to have Sallie King as a mother. She left me a set of values which have served me well. Our home was always open to to others. We shared what we had even when we had very little. She taught us not to judge others by what they had or their outward appearance. She pointed us to Christ by taking us to church and by setting an example of Christ’s love in her actions and behavior.
Each of us leave a legacy behind. We all birth a part of ourselves into the world. We all contribute something to one another be it for good or for evil. Just as Christ has birth each of us out his great love for us, shouldn’t we be birthing his love into the world?
I am thankful for my mother and gifts she “birthed” within me. I am also thankful for those who “birth” love into our world.image

I Count It All Joy,
Pastor Vallerie

Loving God, Loving Each Other-Tuesday, April 4-Wednesday, April 5, 2016

Last Sunday our Minister of Music, Sylvia Coates, choose the anthem “Loving God, Loving Each Other” by Bill Gaither for Morning Worship. The tune and words have been swimming in my mind ever since.
New Harmony, IN, was founded on the principles of loving God, loving each other and loving the planet, earth, which we all share.
Tuesday I enjoyed walking the two labyrinths in this town with a population of only 800. (Makes New Kent seem like a city.) I window shopped in an antique shop. I watched a robin gather grass and bark for her nest and I delighted in two squirrels chasing one another.
Wednesday, I took the official tour of the town and learned it’s history and saw many interesting buildings and artifacts. In the afternoon, there was a severe thunderstorm with damaging winds. Several trees came down but no one was hurt and no building were damaged.
New Harmony was founded by the Harmonists in 1814. They were Lutheran Germans who separted from the Lutheran church because they believed as Baptists do, in the autonomy of the believer. They came to America and purchased 30,000 acres of land beside the Wabash River so they could live and worship freely. Each family was given a 1/4 of an area of land, their own log cabin and a cow. They worked hard but paused three times every day for prayer.
Outside my room is a brick pillar with the Ten Commandments engraved in stone blocks all round. (Pictured above)  A reminded that loving God requires us to be obeident to God’s Word.
I like the idea that every oerson was given a equal share of land, the same house and a cow. Of course they all worked. Everyone held everything in common just like the early church did and most monastic communities do today.
I watched Frontline on Tuesday evening. They interviewed Matthew Desmond, a Harvard Profeesor in sociology who has written the book, “Evicted.” It is about the eviction crisis in our American cities. In his book, he tells the stories of eight families that were evicted in Milwaukie, WI. I think we need to pay more attention to the struggle of the working poor. They work hard but are still unable to make ends meet.
Throughout New Harmony there are lovely gardens and gorgous trees and so much to enjoy. There are also poems about the care and protection of nature. The town is beautifully kept and there is a balance between human beings and nature.
While I am relaxing in New Harmony, the words of the song are being made real. Let us strive to love God, love each other and care for all of God’s creation.

I count it all joy,
Pastor Vallerie

Gentle Blessing-Monday, April 4, 2016

I have a friend who always signs her emails “Gentle Blessings.” I really like that!
Today I had the gift of several gentle blessings. The first was David, our Chair of Deacons, who got up at 4:30 a.m. to take me to the airport. I am grateful for the ways others care for me
My second blessing was the flight from Richmond to Atlanta. If you fly Delta you are going to wind-up in Atlanta. The flight crew went out their way to make a crowded plane as comfortable as possible. The landing was as gentle as a feather. If I had not been looking out the window, I would have never realized we were on the ground. The entire crew including the pilot and co-pilot stood at the door and greeted each passenger as we got off. Taking pride in your work and doing it well is such a blessing
When I arrived in New Harmony, I experienced the beauty of God’s creation. My room is located by Swan Lake. I saw two swans swimming majestically across the lake. The swans were pure white, with long royal necks and so graceful. Our world is filled with beauty.
I am blessed. This is my Post-Sabbatical week of rest and renewal. What a journey and adventure this has been. I am continually praising God for his grace and goodness.
Gentle Blessings,
Pastor Vallerie

Declarations of the Heart


“Declarations of the Heart”
John 3:16

Where would you and I be if Christ did not have an extravagant, giving heart? Giving begins with Jesus. John 3:16 is often referred to as the heart of the Gospel. This beloved verse proclaims that God loved us so much that he gave himself for us. God’s essential nature is giving. You and I can never, ever out give God.
Every year our church conducts a stewardship campaign because every Christian needs to examine their giving to Jesus Christ through His church. Most of us have a budget. A budget is a tool that helps us plan the use of our income. If your budget does not include systematic giving to Christ’s church, I want to challenge you to prayerfully consider giving to Christ through Emmaus as part of your budget. If we wait until we see what is leftover in our bank accounts at the end of the week or month, we will never give. Money has a way of disappearing. But if we plan and budget our giving, we manage our resources in a better way.
The standard of giving is the tithe. Tithe literally means tenth. The Bible teaches us to tithe as a way of acknowledging God as the giver and provider of all we have. When we tithe, we set aside one tenth of our income first as a way of declaring with our heart that God is first in our lives.
The hymn of the month for January has been: As Saints of Old Their First Fruits Brought. Throughout the Old Testament, the People of God were reminded to bring the first fruits of their crops to the place of worship. Giving is an act of worship. We give back to God out of gratitude to God. We give back to God out of love for God.
If you honestly believe tithing is out of reach for you, start where you can and work your way towards tithing. Consider giving a percentage of your income each time you are paid. As your financial condition improves, increase your percentage.
When the Stock Market is as jumpy as it has been lately, it is easy for us to become anxious and fearful about money. When we read that stores are closing and people are losing their jobs, we naturally wonder, will I be next? The older we get, we naturally worry if we will have enough money to live on in our golden years.
We need to put things into perspective. I was very grateful that I was able to join our youth group last Thursday as they participated in Caritas at Sandston Baptist Church. I thank Rev. Tiffany for her leadership. As we went around serving homeless men dinner, one man shared with me he was so grateful for the snow. Because of the impending weather forecast, Sandston Baptist was allowing the men to stay at the church all weekend. He was grateful because it meant he did not have to be on the street during the day. This is a wonderful ministry and I hope we will become involved in a greater way next year. By the way, next year the church will be housing families. The words of this man haunted me all weekend as I sat in my warm home watching the snow fall. I had a refrigerator full of food. I lacked for nothing. I can’t imagine living on the street.
We may think we cannot afford to give, but when we consider what we have compared to others, we realize just how rich we are. Compared with the most of world, you and I are rich indeed!
You and I have been corrupted by a culture that tells us we must consume to feel good about ourselves. The more we have, the more we want. We are always on the look-out for the new and improved version. I have an iPhone 5. By the time I upgrade, Apple will probably be out with a iPhone 10! What are they up to now, an iPhone 7?
Let’s be honest. Can you name one person you admire and respect because they have kept everything they have for themselves? Our heroes are those who give generously and sacrificially. Jesus pointed to the widow in the temple who gave her last coin. She gave quietly without fanfare. She gave out of her poverty. (Mark12:42-44)
We give to acknowledge that all we have belongs to God. We are mere stewards of God’s resources. We give out of gratitude because of all that God has given us. We give because giving sets us free from our culture’s obsession with consumption.
Next Sunday, January 31 is our Celebration Sunday. This is the Sunday we set aside for you and I to declare the intention of our hearts. What will you commit to give Jesus Christ through His church in the coming year? Next Sunday we will invite you to complete an Estimate of Giving Card. If you are tithing, is God calling you to give over and above a tithe? If you are giving systemically, is God calling you to move to tithing? If you are not giving in a regular way, is God calling you to begin to give systematically? Only you can discern what God is calling you to do. Please make this a matter of prayer.
For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Poet’s Corner

I wrote the following article for the Dover Diary. Because of space, the article was edited. I thought you would like to read it in its entirety.

Emmaus Baptist Church was awarded the Lilly Foundation Clergy Renewal Grant for 2015. As part of the grant proposal, I traveled to England, accompanied by my dear friend, Mary Wright, to sightsee and trace the steps of C. S. Lewis. Our journey began in London.
When you enter Westminster Abbey you are given an electronic device which takes you on an audio guided tour of the Abbey. It is hard to imagine the large number of individuals who are buried and/or commemorated in this illustrious church. As you walk through the Abbey listening to the voice of actor Jeremy Irons, you encounter the names of Kings and Queens, famous musicians, ministers, politicians, poets and scientists inscribed on stones. The tour ends at the Poet’s Corner where one finds the names of such legends as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Lewis Carol, George Herbert, Henry Longfellow, William Shakespeare, Percy Shelley and Oscar Wilde to name only a very few. During our first visit to the Abbey we missed C. S. Lewis’ name, so before leaving England we went back and gazed at it with our own eyes.
Our next stop was Oxford, England, the city known for her spires, and home of Oxford University which is comprised of 38 colleges. As we traced the life of Lewis, our journey led us to University College where he was a student. Exams were taking place at the time of our visit so we were only allowed to see the quadrangle and the room where the poet Shelley is buried. While a student at University College, he won the Chancellor’s Essay Prize. Lewis saw himself as a poet. He wrote and published poems but he was never “recognized” for his poetry.
In 1925 C. S. Lewis was hired as a tutorial fellow in English Language and Literature at Magdalen College, Oxford. We visited Magdalen College where we took a stroll on Addison Walk, attended Evensong in the Chapel, and took pictures of staircase number 3 in the New Building where Lewis held his tutorials. We were not allowed to see Lewis’ room because it was in use. It was said Lewis invited Hugh Dyson and J.R.R. Tolkien to dinner one fall evening in 1931. After the meal the three men took a stroll on Addison’s Walk around the River Cherwell. It was during their conversation, as the men were discussing the nature of myth and metaphor, that Tolkien’s words opened Lewis up to the possibility of faith in Jesus Christ. In his autobiography, Surprised By Joy, C.S. Lewis describes his conversion experience as he knelt down in his room and admitted that God was God. He said of himself that he was the most reluctant convert in all of Christendom.
After his conversion, Lewis starting attending Holy Trinity Church in Headington Quarry, Oxford. We visited the church where Lewis and his brother, Warnie are buried together. We were met by Mike Stranks, the Verger, who spent over an hour sharing stories about Lewis. We sat in the pew where Lewis and Warnie sat; we gazed at the Narnia Window and visited their grave. From there, we walked to the Kilns where Lewis lived from 1930 until his death in 1963. The home was owned by Mrs. Moore who is also buried a Holy Trinity Church. She died of Alzheimer’s in 1951.
While in Oxford, Mary and I enjoyed a cup of tea at the Eagle and Child. This is the pub where Lewis, Tolkien, Charles Williams and other writers known as the Inklings would share their writing with one another.
Lewis died on the same day as President John F. Kennedy. Because of this tragic event, his obituary went largely unnoticed. Mike shared with us that probably 30 people attended his funeral service. However, J.R.R. Tolkien was among those present.
Lewis was never given a professorship at Oxford. Some believe it was because of his books on Christianity. Oxford’s loss was Cambridge’s gain. In 1954 C.S. Lewis was offered a professorship at Magdalene College, Cambridge in Medieval and Renaissance English. He accepted.
We journeyed to Cambridge where we happened on a student exhibit in Pepys’s Library at Magdalene College. There we viewed a hand written letter from Lewis to the Chancellor of the University accepting the position. We walked through Magdalene College named for Mary Magdalene of New Testament fame. Above the altar in the Magdalene Chapel her life is depicted in stained glass.
In 1956, while he was at Magdalene College, C.S. Lewis married Joy Davidman, an American divorcee. She died from cancer on July13, 1960. Their love story was portrayed in the movie Shadowlands and in Lewis’s book, A Grief Observed.
When Mary and I returned to London, we headed straight for Westminster Abbey. The Verger at Holy Trinity Church had told us that on November 23, 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of Lewis’s death, friends from Holy Trinity church, his stepson, Douglas Gresham, and others placed a stone in Westminster Abbey in Poet’s Corner commemorating the life C.S. Lewis. The stone has these words of Lewis written on it: “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen. Not only because I can see it but because by it I can see everything else.” C.S Lewis may never be remembered for his poetry but he has taken his rightful place among the greats at Westminster Abbey in the Poet’s Corner. God is good.
I will be forever grateful to our Lord Jesus Christ for the opportunity the Lilly Foundation Clergy Renewal Grant has afforded me. It was a journey of a lifetime.

i count it all joy,
Pastor Vallerie

The Things We Do For Love-Part II

My life is an open book.  In the long run I truly believe that is the way Jesus wants all of us to live.  But  sometimes my raw honesty comes back to haunt me. For example, what was I thinking when I posted the blog about my one time adventure riding a horse?  Giddy up indeed!  That blog really came back to bite me.

Imagine my surprise when upon my return from sabbatical on Sunday, June 28th when our current VBS Director let me know of her plans for me.  After the  lovely dinner and the warmest of welcomes, reality really hit me in the face.  Our VBS Director informed me that I was  riding a horse to raise money for missions this year.  Not a horse, I protested.  Anything but another ride on horse.  Don’t worry, they have assured me this horse is very gentle.  Where have I heard that before?  I pleaded with her and finally she consented to allow me to kiss the horse instead of riding it.  I felt I had a reprieve.

The boys and girls met their misson goal.  I was happy to kiss the horse.  But someone, I’m really not sure who, shouted out to the children that if they exceeded their goal, I would also ride the horse.  Before I could turn around, the horse ride was back on.  What’s a county preacher to do?  She can’t disappoint children.  We raised $346 for  the children of Lee County.  I am very grateful for this effort.  So after giving one horse a frieindly kiss or two, I mounted another and rode around the church back yard  waving and gritting my teeth while Melanie held the reins and guided him along.   He really was a gentle animal.  I  survived yet another VBS. PV rides again.  Oh, the things we do for love!

I count it all joy,

Pastor Vallerie

The Things We Do For Love-Part I

It all started with the Methodists which should not surprise anyone.  My colleague and friend, the Rev. Charlie Reynolds, was servng as Pastor at Providence United Methodist Church at the time.  To intice his VBS children to raise money for missions, he volunteered to be “slimed”.  My church got wind of his act of sacrifice and suggested that I should not allow the Methodists to outdo the Baptists.  Therefore, I should offer to have green yucky stuff poured all over me.  What’s a country preacher to do?  I consented.  Money poured in like never before.  There was such joy on the faces of the VBS children as they anticipated this preacher covered in slime  The adults seemed almost too happy.   So slimed, I was.  It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be and we did rasie money for missions.  The Baptists were not undone!  Praise God!

For several years in a row after VBS, I was slimed.  This went on until a new VBS Director volunteered for the position.  Her husband raised goats so she came up with the brilliant idea that instead of being slimed,  I should kiss a goat.  How bad could it be?

The money came in so quickly we met our mission goal in two days.  The church was happier than I had ever seen them.  So we upped the ante.  If we raise this much more, so and so would also kiss the gaot.  Long story the time VBS was over we had 13 people kissing the poor goat.  Since I was the main attraction, I was to go last.

The day for goat kissing arrived and one by one, the VBS Director,  assistant director, teachers, deacons, and everyone we could think of lined up to kiss the goat.  I stood back and watched as one by one they took their turn.  All the while I was thinking to myself, this goat is not liking this one bit.  He is saving his wrath for me.  I am going to get it!  My concern must have shown on my face because Shelby came up to me and started to whisper..Pastor Vallerie, Pastor Vallerie.  I bent down to listen.  Here are the sweet words she spoke to me:  “You don’t have to worry about kissing the goat.  I kissed it for you.”   What do you mean? I inquired.  Shelby continued:  “I went out last night into my grandfdad’s field and kissed a goat.  Don’t worry, it won’t hurt you.”  Never has this country preacher felt more love.  When my turn came,  I knelt and boldly kissed that goat right on the lips.  It was a moment I will hold in my heart forever.

On April 16, 2010, we lost Shelby to cancer.  She was 12 at the time.  It was the saddest day of my pastoral life. I will never forget her and the thing she did for love,

I count it all joy,

Pastor Vallerie

Open Your Heart

Day 80

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Richmond Hill, Richmond, VA

I gathered with my Centering Prayer Group  last night (Tuesday). It was so good to see these familar faces and to join with them in prayer.  After Centering Prayer, I when to lounge to read and relax.  I had a restful night and was up early on Wednesday morning for worship.  A retired Episcopal pastor led the worship service.   He had five points to his message but it was the last point that I believe God wanted me to hear:  Open up your heart, Vallerie.

You may rremember an earlier blog when I was at the Abbey of Gethsemani and I shared about my conversation with  Fr. Jim.  I confessed that my heart was closed.  He prayed for me, his prayer was answered and a rainbow appeared.

During worship at Richmond Hill, I believe God was remnding me not to allow myself to return to a closed heart but to keep my heart in the good spiritual shape by keeping it open to Christ at all times and in all circumstances.

The second expereince I had during my retreat was eating breakfast with those who were also on retreat from the SARA Center.  They talked openly about their struggles with addiction.  Two of my table mates had been incarcerated.  They spoke about the difficulty of finding a job, any job, when you have a record.  Both have good jobs now because someone gave them a chance.  I listened to their stories with an open heart and open mind.  I learned from their courage and determination.  I am glad I went on retreat.  God really did have something for me.

I count it all joy,

Pastor Vallerie

What’s Up Pops?

Day 79

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Meachanicville, VA

I had plaaned to “book end” my sabbatical by spending 24 hours on retreat at Richmond Hill.  Before heading there, I asked my friend Jerry to meet me for lunch at the Peking Restaurant in Mechanicsville.  It seemed fitting since this was the way I began my sabbatical  journey.

I confessed to Jerry that I was  not sure I wanted to go through with the retreat. I had so much unpacking and sorting still left to do.  Jerry insisted that I needed go and to be open to what God had in store for me because my journey was not over.  Actually, our spiritual journey is never over.  He paraphrased a translation of  a verse in Romans 8 from The Message which says: What’s up Pops?  Jerry inisisted that God (Pops) had something for me.  He was right!  But that’s tomorrow’s post.

i count it all joy,

Pastor Vallerie