Historic Salem United Church of Christ, Columbia PA

A church where all are welcome. Come and be known and loved as you are!

Mission: Salem’s Mission Statement Last Revision: 09/23/2014 Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the people of Salem UCC, Columbia Borough PA are called together in order to experience and share the love of Christ with others, not only in our church building but throughout all situations of our living as well. As one, we covenant to embody: 1. A community that holds to a core belief within our denomination that we are to work towards healing divisions, which is born from Jesus’ prayer, found in John 17:21: “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one--as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me” (NLT). 2. A commitment to set aside our doctrinal beliefs, historic traditions and personal desires in order to place the desires, prayers and words of Jesus above our own. 3. A desire for unity that requires flexibility and makes room for diverse viewpoints to peaceably coexist while placing in all things; charity above rigidity. 4. A culture that encourages all, regardless of age and ability, to take advantage of opportunities to learn and grow, as individuals and as one body, towards living out the abundant grace and love of God, which Christ opened to everyone. 5. An environment that strives to welcome and include all into the full life of the church, without limitation or boundaries, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual orientation or identification, economic condition or mental or physical ability. 6. A spirit led embrace of God’s amazing diversity with a prayerful balance of loving accountability for the actions and commitments of one another.

[05/03/20]   Join us this morning for live service on Facebook at 10:15am! And bring a cracker and some juice!

[05/03/20]   Join us tomorrow, Sunday May 3rd at our "normal time" of 10:15am here on Facebook live. It's nice to have some semblance of normal during this time, right?

[04/25/20]   Please join us for Sunday services tomorrow at 4PM on Facebook! The following week, we will return to our 10:15AM service time.

Historic Salem United Church of Christ, Columbia PA's cover photo

[04/08/20]   Tomorrow at 7pm will be our Maundy Thursday service! Please join us, and if possible come prepared with some nice smelling moisturizing lotion. I look forward to it!
- Pastor Mark
PS- Clarification: this is an online service. In case anyone didnt realize. Hope to "see" you here!!

[04/05/20]   See you at 4pm

[03/30/20]   Please head on over to our website to check out our LIVE donation button for online tithing!

[03/29/20]   A couple announcements:
Due to the recent shelter in place order for both York and Lancaster County, tomorrow's service will be held from Pastor Mark's home office, and will be abbreviated.
Some good news: We are very close to having a functioning donation button on our website, for online tithing. Stay tuned!
Hope to "see" you tomorrow.

[03/22/20]   Historic Salem United Church of Christ's Sunday service will live stream on Facebook starting at 4:00 this afternoon. Join us!

[03/14/20]   https://www.facebook.com/1594131957535914/posts/2614026192213147/

People are resilient, Thanks be to God!

[03/09/20]   A Plague and a Prophet – a sermon on Julian of Norwich and John 3:16
preached by Pastor Mark Harris on March 8, 2020

Please pray with me: Compassionate God, we know that we will die. Some of us,
perhaps of this very disease we face now. Gather us in. Grant us peace. Grant us
life eternal in your beautiful realm of love and mercy. And for those of us who
remain in this broken world, grant us strength. Grant us courage. Grant us what
we need to remain compassionate and merciful, to love our neighbor, and to
remain faithful in Christ to your will. Amen.

I just finished reading excerpts from a work by a woman we call Julian of Norwich.
I say we call her that because we don’t actually know her name. She was an
anchorite. These were highly devoted people who chose to retire from the world
and took up residence in small cells at the back of churches or cathedrals. There
they stayed in isolation reading and praying. Our subject, Julian, retired this way
after she received a series of visions while on what she believed to be her deathbed.
Julian lived in the 14 th and 15 th centuries in England, where she witnessed the Black
Death, a pandemic of bubonic plague that ravaged England.
When she was thirty years old, Julian actually prayed to become sick with the
plague, but not to die. She expressed the wish to suffer as Christ did in order to
become closer to Him. Her prayer was answered. She took to her bed, and priests
and physicians were called in, one of whom put a crucifix in front of her face, that
she might meditate on it and find comfort, a common practice of the day. In the
following days, she had a series of mystic visions in which much was revealed to her
by God, and Christ appeared in order to mediate her understanding of the
meaning of what she saw.
These visions ranged from disturbing and frightening to intensely beautiful. When
she recovered from her illness, she set to writing out these visions with the express
purpose of illuminating her fellow Christian as to what she had learned. At this
task, however, she seems to have failed. For her writings were not published in her
day. In fact, they remained preserved in church libraries, reproduced by nuns,
until they were unearthed by a scholar in 1670. They continued in relative
obscurity until a new translation was published in 1901, after which, Julian and her

book, called Revelations of Divine Love, became widely read, and she was
recognized as an important voice in Christian mysticism and theology.
So, what does this hermit mystic from 600 years ago have to say to us today? What
wisdom can we glean from holy visions seen as Europe was in the midst of the
worst disease outbreak in its history? Let’s put it in perspective. We are currently
beginning to reckon with a disease outbreak that has what we consider a high
fatality rate. That rate is somewhere between two and three and a half percent.
That is high, compared to influenza, which has a fatality rate of about two tenths of
one percent. Now, we have a handle on the flu. We have anti-viral medications,
and pretty good prevention. It’s hard to know how much of Covid-19’s high death
rate is due to it being a brand new and emerging disease, for which we have not yet
developed treatments and protocols. As our doctor’s learn, they may be able to
reduce that fatality rate quite a bit.
Historians believe that in Julian of Norwich’s time somewhere between 40 and 60
percent of Europe’s population died of the plague. That was devastation on an
unimaginable scale. By a disease that today would be easily treated with a course
of antibiotics.

And in the midst of this outbreak, what was the message of God that Julian carried
for us?
“’It is true that sin is the cause of all of this suffering, but all shall be well, and all
shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” These words,” she writes of
what Christ said in her vision, “were said very tenderly, with no suggestion that I or
anyone who will be saved was being blamed. It would therefore be very strange to
blame or wonder at God because of my sin, since he does not blame me for
sinning. And in these same words I saw a marvelous great mystery hidden in God,
a mystery which he will make openly known to us in heaven; in which knowledge
we shall truly see the reason why he allowed sin to exist; and seeing this we shall
rejoice eternally in our Lord God.”
Julian brings a message of peace and compassion and reconciliation. Of
unrevealed mystery too, for we cannot know how all of this is going to work out.
But we should be strong in our belief in a loving God, and the promise that in the
fullness of time, all shall be well.

Look to John for confirmation of this:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who
believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in
order that the world might be saved through him.”

Does that sound like a God who waits to sit in judgement and condemn us to hell
for petty sins and transgressions?

Julian of Norwich lived at a time when there was a crisis of faith in England. With
half the population dying, you could forgive them for questioning God! The
reaction of the church to this questioning of faith was kind of brutal. There were
many mystics and proclaimers of new ideas who were burned at the stake at that
time. The fact that Julian escaped this fate is likely owed mostly to the very fact
that her writings were not known of at the time. Her book was copied by nuns and
secreted away in a library. This allowed Julian’s long life of prayer, as well as her
continued contemplation of and writing about her visions.
I want to mention two other things about the book. First, Julian did try to adhere
to the teachings of the Church at the time. She wrote clearly that “heathens” and
those of faiths other than Christianity were clearly bound for hell and eternal
damnation, as the Church in Rome said. But she followed this up quickly with an
admonishment that no one should question the power of God, nor believe that they
know all of the mysteries of God. In this sly double talk, she allowed for the
possibility of universalism, that all would be saved by the infinite power of God and
in the fullness of time. This was very forward thinking for a woman who likely
never left the town she was born in.
The other thing was that Julian was granted a vision of a world she did not
comprehend, one in which a greater sense of Christian fraternity might be
achieved, and in which some of the mystery that she was shown would be
understood. She had to accept that she would not live to understand these things.
Now, I don’t go in for a whole lot of mystic mumbo-jumbo, but did I mention that
Julian’s writings were hidden in a library and remained obscure for over six
hundred years, only to be revealed to great popularity in the last century?

When I first read Julian, I found her writing a bit sensational. It seemed like pulp
fiction in the pursuit of religious devotion. She spends many words on detailed
descriptions of the gobbets of blood that form and disappear under Christ’s crown
of thorns. She goes into great detail about the wounds of Christ changing shape as
his body slowly dries up while he hangs on the cross. It’s pretty gruesome stuff, and
I assumed it was meant to take the place of television in a time when entertainment
was sparse. The fact that these writings were hardly know, and that the woman
went into seclusion right after her deathbed visions lends a lot of credence to what
she witnessed, though. She was a compelling writer, but this didn’t benefit her
personally. Instead, the message she bore from her visions disappeared into
obscurity, and she died unknown. Now, it is revealed. Now, in this time, a world
which she would have difficulty comprehending.
Now, as we face another plague, and buy up all of the hand sanitizer and toilet
paper in the world, let us hearken to her words:
“’It is true that sin is the cause of all of this suffering, but all shall be well, and all
shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
For God so loves us that he gave his only Son. Not to condemn, but to save the
world.
And God is still speaking.
Amen.

[03/01/20]   Today's Sermon:

The Fourth Wall – a sermon for Salem on the First Sunday of Lent
Preached by Pastor Mark Harris on March 1, 2020

Please pray with me: God, break into our lives. Come up off of the page, and down from the heavens. Christ come down off of the cross and out of the tomb and hold our hands as we seek to walk your path together. Amen

I had to leave early from the breakfast yesterday so that I could make it to class on time. My Saturday class is on Preaching. It is a survey of sermon forms, and methods of preparation and delivery. Would you believe, it is making it harder for me to write sermons? I sat down to write this, and my head was filled with Buttrick’s Moves and Lowry’s Loop. Those are sermon styles named after famous preachers. I began asking questions that I had never asked before, like, “Are my connectors solid?” “Does my antithesis sufficiently yield to the synthesis that I plan to conclude with?”
Please don’t misunderstand me to be saying that I have no room for improvement. I know that I do. I am aware that I ramble sometimes, and that I try to include too many details and related stories, such that it leaves some of you wondering the reason for me including some of them. I am too still in my delivery, not using my whole body, and my pauses are often too short. There is good reason for me to be taking a Preaching class. There is good reason that it is a requirement of my Seminary.
So why is it harder for me to write a sermon? Is it because I am trying to satisfy something new? In the past, my hallmarks for my sermons were my own theology, the feeling of being led or inspired by God to speak out about something, the direction and Spirit of Scripture, and, perhaps most of all, you. I feel like I hear my sermons through your ears, and ho I feel like they will be heard is very important to the writing of them. And, please understand, when I say “you,” I do not mean A church, or SOME congregants. I mean you. This church, Old Salem. This congregation specifically. This group of people gathered together to worship. This is important enough to me that, as I write, I wonder to myself, “Will Joyce be there this Sunday?” or “I hope Dawn is there to hear this.”
I wrote PAUSE here to remind myself to pause and take my time. [PAUSE]
In this way what I do here in my preaching is not my work alone. From the choosing of Scripture, to the being led to a topic, to putting the words on the page, you are with me. It is a communal process, and you are vital to it, from the first step, to the preaching of it and beyond.
[INDICATE SHIFT IN TOPIC BY VISIBLY CHANGING POSTURE] read it, and do it
There are denominations out there for whom Seminary is not a requirement. As I finish now my fourth year of school, I wonder if I shouldn’t have considered them more seriously. Many Baptists do not attend Seminary. In fact, there is a saying in some denominations that Seminary is where faith goes to die. There is a belief that the rigors and particularities of academia serve to dampen our receptiveness to the Holy Spirit; that too much consideration of this translation or that one and the correct meaning of ancient Aramaic and new archaeological understandings of the context of the hands that wrote the words all serve to muddle the clarity of the Word of God.
In this way of thinking those meant to be preachers like me are revealed by their preaching. It is demonstrating that one is filled with the Holy Spirit through testimony that shows the church that someone is ready to lead worship. This model sounds a little bit like my feeling that I write sermons communally with all of you. It’s you and me and God, and that is all that is needed.

When the Protestants split from the Catholic church in the 16th century to begin to form the myriad of denominations we now recognize, one of the reasons was to reclaim the Bible for the common person. In the Roman Catholic church of the time, Scripture was the domain of priests. It was meant to be read and interpreted by priests who would then tell those gathered to worship what it meant, and what they were supposed to do in response to it. The Protestants believed that the Bible was for everyone. Hence, I have several copies up here with me, including a few that are historic and impressive, and all of you have copies out there in the pews as well. Hold them up!
This shift meant that the person who stood up here had a new role. It was not simply to put down my Bible and look out at you and proclaim, “God wants you to do thus and so!” Now this person up here was meant to equip you with the tools to read and interpret the Bibles at your fingertips. Sometimes those tools began with literally the ability to read. Now this person up here was also a teacher.
Would you go to learn math from someone who had never studied it? Then why would you do so with Scripture. So, Protestant churches began to have an expectation that clergy would be well-educated in grammar and history and administration. This mission expanded over time to include things like foreign languages and pastoral care to meet the needs of new members.

Therefor, I take classes on Hebrew Bible and New Testament, on Interpreting in Context and Spiritual Formation, on Pastoral Care and Ministerial Ethics. And Preaching. And I can say things to you like: “It is believed from textual analysis that the Book of Mark was written the soonest after the death and Resurrection of Jesus of all of the Gospels.” And, “The term Jehovah for God was derived by a misattribution of vowels into the abbreviation YHWH, which was used by Hebrew scholars as a shorthand signifier for the name of God.”
Seminary trains me to be a better Pastor in many ways, not just in the highly academic. It helps me identify and remedy my mistakes. It is because of my Ministerial Ethics class that I know that I messed up on Christmas Eve. Steve, that was not the time nor place to talk to you about my own personal history and difficulties with the Christmas holiday. I stepped out of my role as a Pastor when it was not appropriate. And my class on Pastoral Care taught me that I have been missing important things. Steve, Dawn, Dot, Marion: I know that anniversaries of loss are important and deserve my attention as your Pastor. I’m sorry that I missed them for you.

None of the training and study I engage in turns me away from the understanding that I am called. On the contrary. I was living in New Hampshire when I heard this call. My intention was to attend Seminary in Massachusetts. But that Seminary closed, and events conspired to bring me, a Pennsylvania boy who grew up lower middle-income in Lancaster County, to Lancaster Theological Seminary. And shortly thereafter, as I provided pulpit supply to local churches, I found you, a Pennsylvania church that served a lower middle-income congregation in Lancaster County. Coincidentally, you were looking for a part-time Pastor, and I was looking for a part-time job, and everything seemed to fit together. So, events conspired, and coincidence caused things to fit together.
Or, I was called. Or, I was called by you, through God, to this very place, this very Sanctuary to begin to join with you in writing sermons every week communally, and to learn with you how we care for each other as a community of faith, and to make mistakes with you that we might learn from them and grow.
God has not stopped speaking. My faith has not dimmed one bit in Seminary. Instead, God is in every class I take, and what’s more, so are you.
So, it is harder now, for me to write a sermon. But that is not because I am measuring myself by a different standard. It’s not because I am worried that I will not measure up to Buttrick or Lowry or Harry Emerson Fosdick, or even to my excellent and inspirational professor Dr. Williams. It is rather that I am measuring myself by the same standard and see new ways to do better. I measure myself by you and want to serve you better.

I’m just a couple of months away from graduation now, and then I have a few more things to complete before I am ready for ordination. It has occurred to me that after ordination, I might like to let go of the accidental career that I stumbled into when I was seventeen and devote myself wholly to being the best Pastor that I can be. I don’t know how this will work, but as usual, I have some ideas. I am looking forward to exploring those ideas, and all the other ways that God is leading us when we get to that point. But I am not in a hurry. For now, I am content to attend Seminary with you and God.

Amen.

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324 Walnut St (PO: 429)
Columbia, PA
17512-1117
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