How good it is to be home! I missed the Covenant family. I know that you all have been busy, and I look forward to catching up, hearing your stories, and sharing your joys and concerns. My sabbatical has been rich and rewarding, and I am grateful to Covenant for the gift of time.

As with most significant journeys, I find it difficult to express in words all that happened along the way. I am working on a presentation that will give you highlights that might be of interest to you all. In a nutshell, I walked 75 miles, visited seven different countries and three U.S. National Parks, spent time traveling with my best friend/husband of many years, settled in with a congregation in New Zealand for a few weeks, traveled with 13 others to the Isle of Iona, experienced my first total eclipse of the sun in Wyoming, and spent quality time with my children and grandchildren. I have been singing and reading and delving through boxes of memories that have been stored for years. I feel renewed and rested and ready for an exciting year ahead.

I must admit that reentry has been more difficult than usual after such a long time away.  My first week back in the United States was filled with ominous reports from North Korea and then the terrible tragedy in Virginia. As the week unfolded, I thought how relieved I was that I would not have to preach on Sunday, for how in a time of such polarization and division can a prophetic voice be heard? And surely at times such as this, the witness of the church needs to be strong and sure.

As I write this article, it is a few days after the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. I feel a sense of loss and sadness for our country as we walk through this dark hour. As I read news reports from various sources, I learned that a colleague who recently served in our presbytery now serves a congregation in Charlottesville. Rev. Ken Henry pastored Stone Church in San Jose until a few years ago when he moved with his family to Virginia. I have great respect for Ken and was not surprised to learn that he was one of several pastors who organized a prayer vigil on the Thursday evening preceding the “Unite the Right” rally. Ken said that the prayer rally was to be an evening for congregations to come together at a time when fear was rampant. The prayer rally was met with good response and was seen as a unifying force for the community.

Two days later Ken attended the “Unite the Right” rally with several hundred clergy. He said,  “I have never had a day like that one, to see so much hate, it just wears you out.” Ken described the most poignant moment of the day: “I looked across the street in the midst of tear gas and everything, watching people screaming and yelling. I saw this ten-year old boy dressed in army fatigues, wearing a hard hat, and he looked like he was getting ready for battle. He had a small bat in one hand and an American flag in the other. His face showed nothing but hate.”

This is a picture that I cannot seem to get out of my mind. I wonder, where does a ten-year old learn such things?  Who has taught him to hate in this way?

Nelson Mandela once said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

This, my friends, is the hope for our time. This is our witness. For we as Christians know the greatest teacher of all time, and this Teacher, this Rabbi named Jesus, has taught us well. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  John 13: 34-35

I am excited about the year ahead for the Covenant family. There is much work to be done. We have long been one of the best kept secrets in Palo Alto, a diverse group of people who get along in spite of our differences of opinion.  It’s time for us to get the word out.  It’s time for us to model what it means to be God’s people at times such as this. It’s time for us to be living witnesses in a broken and fearful world.

See you very soon!

Love, Margaret