Letters From Our Pastor

The Inner Citadel, Part One

July 6, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Michael Jinkins

Montaigne was despised by both sides during the wars of religion between Protestants and Catholics that ravaged France from 1562-1598, writes historian Robert Zaretsky in an essay (June 29, 2020) for the NYT. He was known in his time as a politique: Someone who “for the sake of all tries to find common ground in a land savaged by zealotry.” Zealots hate those who do the hard slow slogging work of incremental reform.

We remember Montaigne today as one of the most civilized and wise voices in an age (the sixteenth century) in which cataclysmic events such as war and plague threatened the populations of Europe. But in his own time Montaigne was an active person, a mayor in the Bordeaux region.

His wisdom is distilled in a series of Essays, literally forays into or explorations of a variety of subjects, which he wrote at his estate well outside the gates of the city over which he was mayor. His equanimity comes shining through these essays, making it hard for a contemporary reader to realize that he wrote them while the world seemed to be falling apart all around him. The lesson he learned in his own savage time, the lesson that comes through his essays, is that we can come to rely upon ourselves when the world is in turmoil. Or to put this theme another way: nothing external to us need affect our inner calm and equanimity.

There’s a wonderful song by the Avett Brothers that communicates a similar message, “Ain’t No Man.” The first lines go like this.

There ain’t no man can save me,
There ain’t no man can enslave me,
Ain’t no man,
A man that can change the shape my soul is in.
There ain’t nobody here
Who can cause me pain or raise my fears
Cause I got only love to share
If you’re looking for a truth I’m proof you’ll find it here.

This morning as Debbie and I were having our tea together, and I was reading through the usual political shenanigans, catastrophic injustices and worrying scientific information catalogued in the morning news, Debbie was looking at real estate listings in the Outer Hebrides.

Seriously. She’s looking for someplace inconvenient to live.

Of course, we both know that Montaigne and the Avett Brothers, as well as Seneca and Epictetus the Stoics, and Buddha and the Dalai Lama, not to mention our Lord Jesus, were right: the world has always been a mess, there never was a golden age when everything worked and dangers didn’t exist, and if your happiness, and security, and comfort, and hope depend upon the world around you, you’re going to suffer all the time. All the time.

I had just pulled out one of several volumes of Seneca in our bookshelf this morning, and was availing myself of his enduring wisdom, when my long-time assistant at Louisville Seminary sent me an email sharing the obituary in the Indianapolis paper of my old friend the Reverend Dr. John Wimmer.

John died a few days ago at the age of sixty-three after courageously fighting cancer for two years. The obituary was well written. It said the kinds of things that a good obituary is intended to say: chronicling John’s distinguished academic and ministry career, his executive service as founding director of the Indianapolis Center for Congregations, and, of course, his service as a program director for the Lilly Endowment, Inc., where he helped thousands upon thousands of congregations and pastors across the country with millions upon millions of dollars in grants.

There’s so much more the obituary could have said, however, that only John’s friends knew (many more things than I will ever know); many of these things demonstrate his quiet strength, compassion and courage, not least his faithful endurance of the malignancy that eventually took his life.

One of the secrets to John’s patient endurance and cheerfulness was his dedication to Stoicism, that philosophy which echoes through the ancient world and surfaces in the pages of the New Testament. It was John who, knowing my love of Stoicism many years ago, put me onto Evagrius Ponticus, that great and enigmatic soul of the early Church. John, with whom I had discussed my regular silent retreats at Gethsemani Abbey, told me about a Trappist monk formerly of that monastery, who had discovered connections between Stoicism and Evagrius. John and I traded correspondence on these connections and on Stoicism. But that’s only the external story.

John was a unique gift to me during a time of great perplexity and difficulty, when hardly a day passed that I didn’t feel like packing it in. Like the Stoics he loved, John’s interest in philosophy and faith was practical. A philosophy isn’t something to just think about, it is a way to live. And John found in his philosophy and faith a guide through life’s challenges right up to the end.

There’s an old story about a man who has fallen into a hole. Its sides are steep. Lots of people shout down advice to the fellow. Nothing they suggest works. Finally along comes an old friend. Instead of saying anything, he jumps into the hole with the guy, who then says, “Why the heck did you jump into the hole. Now we’re both stuck down here.” The friend smiles and says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before. I know how to get out. Come with me.”

This morning I had another conversation. Debbie and I are entertaining one of our grandchildren this week, our daughter Jessica’s daughter Grace. Some of you have met Grace. She’s stayed with us in New Orleans a number of times. Debbie and Grace had gotten dressed to run a few errands. Grace came bouncing into the den, twirled around so I could admire the new dress her Mimi had bought her, and then came over to my chair.

I was reading Seneca at that moment, thinking about John. The chapter of Seneca’s letters I was looking at is “On the Reasons for Withdrawing from the World.” Seneca’s lesson, as ever, was that if we turn our happiness, security and sense of well-being over to the world’s conditions, we will be “servants to a multitude of masters.”

Some few of us have the freedom, the physical freedom, if you will, to try to flee the world, to find quiet places of rest and repose. Most people in the world do not have this freedom. And it was never in the nature of Stoicism or Christianity simply to escape the world’s trials to an insular oasis.

However, we all have a much greater freedom. This greater freedom comes from the awareness that If our enduring, long-term happiness depends upon finding the right place to live, far from the external conditions that frighten us today, we shall be disappointed. Indeed, if we wish to live in a manner than promotes the common good, we will have to find a philosophy of life that sustains us in this world.

Nothing outside ourselves can create the necessary conditions for enduring happiness. This is the mature, sustaining perspective of Seneca and other Stoics. Seneca was not just a theoretician. His philosophy provided him the inner strength to labor among the political and cultural elite of Roman society, not simply in the knowledge that he had a country estate to which he could repair, but in the confidence that the mind provided him an impregnable inner citadel from which he serve in the world around him. Not even the sword, which eventually was wielded by an executioner sent from the Emperor, could penetrate those walls.

“Grace, you seem very happy,” I said that morning.

She beamed. Why not be happy? She and her Mimi were dressed up and going to run their masked errands that might include a swing by Chick-fil-A.

I took my finger and tapped the middle of her forehead.

“The secret to happiness,” I said, “is right in here, not out there,” I said motioning to everything outside of her. “Can you remember that?”

She nodded. And I said it again, tapping her forehead again. I want her to remember this, long after I’m gone.

Thank you, John.

Miracles All Around

June 30, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Michael Jinkins

Dear friends,

As I write you this note I’m sitting on our sun porch on Saint Simons Island watching a monarch butterfly emerge from its chrysalis. It’s happening in our kitchen right now.

Debbie has been protecting this creature from the time it was a caterpillar on a milkweed. It traveled with her by car from Saint Simons to New Orleans and from New Orleans across about a third of Texas to pick up our granddaughter Grace and back to Saint Simons. This newly emerged butterfly was already well-traveled before it ever got its wings. This morning, while Debbie and Grace were at the beach it came forth from the chrysalis.

Until the past few weeks I was embarrassingly ignorant of the way butterflies come into existence. I knew the stages. My second grade teacher made sure of that. But I didn’t really comprehend the magic.

As you know a butterfly starts as a caterpillar munching away on leaves, until one day it transforms into a chrysalis. Transforms is the key word here. In my ignorance, I thought the caterpillar built a chrysalis, crawled inside, and grew wings. Nope. The caterpillar actually becomes the chrysalis. And those bits of the caterpillar that are inside the chrysalis become a gooey sort of bug soup. That soup is transformed into a butterfly and eventually breaks free to dry its wings and fly away. Incidentally, this process is really difficult for butterflies. And if humans try to “help” them, the butterflies will die.

Debbie and Grace came racing home from the beach when I called them with the news that a butterfly had emerged. Carefully they took the milkweed plant outside, the butterfly still hanging precariously from the chrysalis.

This is miraculous stuff: Transformations that can neither be seen nor really comprehended. Of course, this is why in the Christian traditions, this process has been used as an analogy for resurrection.

Why am I telling you all of this?

We living through a period of enormous stress and confusion in our history. The pandemic has upended the commonplace and introduced anxiety to everyday life in a way we couldn’t have foreseen. A renewed awareness of the ways in which our black neighbors are often maltreated and traumatized by the very systems that should serve and protect all citizens has awakened many of even the most dormant consciences. Going into both of these events our nation seemed more divided than many of us could recall. More than a few people have said to me, “I just don’t know where we are headed.”

In response to these realities, and in response to this question, I’d would like to offer two observations.

1.  If a future monarch butterfly had any consciousness of what it was going to go through on the way from caterpillar to butterfly, I have a hunch it would freak out. Really. I imagine most prospective butterflies would opt to remain caterpillars crawling around and chewing away on a nice green milkweed, enjoying its legs and dodging the occasional mockingbird. The stories about flying it may have heard will sound like silly fables. The risk of dissolving inside an apparently dead shell of its own tissue and hanging from a leaf would be far more real than the eventual possibility of wings. That miracle of transformation, so ordinary that it occurs all around us in nature, makes me reflect hard on the nature of spiritual and social transformation. And it brings to mind that wonderful passage from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans reminding us that as followers of Christ ours is not to conform to the self-serving and self-centered mold of the world but to allow ourselves to be transformed through the renewing of our minds into the very image of God.

2.  It’s hard for me to believe, but as July approaches I will have had the privilege and joy of serving as your interim senior pastor for almost a year and a half. What I have discovered as your pastor is that if there is a Christian congregation anywhere in America that can embrace the hard work of continuing spiritual and social transformation it is you. I have never known a group of people more eager to learn and grow in faith. I’ve never known more courageous and generous people. Every day I am with you (even now when we have to keep a safe social distance) I love and admire you more as a congregation. Miracles are happening all around us. God is at work throughout our world and in our society. The crises and challenges we face provide a chance for transformation like nothing else. We have a wonderful opportunity to respond to the needs of others with grace and mercy; with lamentation, confession to be sure; but also with deeper understanding and tenderness; and with compassion and a renewed sense of our common humanity. We have the opportunity to fly, as hard as that is to imagine as we crawl around in these leaves.

For the next few weeks, although you’ll hear me preaching through Steven’s digital magic, I will be away from New Orleans. I hope each of you know, however, you will always be in my prayers.

God bless you.


False Mythologies and True Choices

June 22, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Michael Jinkins

There is a mythology being constructed around the country. It asserts that so-called Evangelical churches that support the current executive administration of the United States are the heirs to the Confessing Church movement in Germany which opposed Hitler and the rise of Nazism. This false mythology also attempts to cast any Christians who raise questions about the actions of the current executive branch of our government and the president as allies of fascism.

I have held back on commenting explicitly on the rise of this mythology, in part, because there seemed to be no way of speaking about it that doesn’t appear to engage in partisan politics. But I think I’ve found a way to do that now.

I am an historical theologian. That means that a large part of my scholarship has been purely descriptive. Mostly I try to clarify how beliefs arose and what these beliefs consisted of through the dim mist of history. For example, in one of the many biographical essays I was asked to write for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, I clarified the use of the term “puritan,” a term that has been thrown around so much over the past centuries as to lose all meaning. Indeed, I clarified it to the point that readers were able to see that several people labeled as “puritans” weren’t. The term simply wasn’t of use.

In our time, in our country, some of the most commonly used words have become useless. Recently I read a thoughtful Republican politician say that he has no idea what “conservative” means in today’s political rhetoric. His comment was, “I don’t understand what we’re trying to conserve anymore.” The word “liberal” has also become meaningless, at least in our country. In Europe it refers to both the economic system that values individual risk-taking and free enterprise, and the political system that emphasizes some version of democracy over authoritarianism. Neither “liberal” nor “conservative,” and some others thrown around in our current political climate, clearly denote what is believed by those who are described by the terms.

Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once observed the manner in which such words should be taken out of common usage until they are meaningful again. I agree. Even the word “Christian” is used in such a sloppy manner these days that I gave it up for Lent this year. Better to send it to the cleaners for awhile than to abuse what was originally a derisive term for those folks (“little Christs”) who followed the crucified Jewish prophet and healer.

In our time, and in our country (though by no means are we unique in this) there has also been a rise in casting anyone described by terms like “conservative” or “liberal” (and some other labels) as evil. I really mean evil. I recall the late Jack Stotts, President of Austin Presbyterian Seminary, telling a graduating class that he grieved the change in our country from saying, “I disagree with you. You’re wrong,” to “I disagree with you. You’re evil.” Especially when it comes to the mixture of religion with anything (maybe especially politics), the labeling of someone as evil means you can ignore them, even destroy them, with impunity.

I think we all recognize the way things are today with regard to these lamentable general trends of tossing around words that have become meaningless and using them and others to label people so they can be dismissed. People are complicated, however. Their views and values rarely conform to a single straightforward list of do’s and don’ts or to the platform of a political party. Most people live in grey landscapes not black and white ones. They are accustomed to taking a variety of matters into consideration when trying to decide how to act morally. They also know what it feels like to be wrong, although that’s harder to admit. But more and more this subtle approach which requires genuine individual weighing of alternatives and the burden of personal responsibility is being marginalized by an approach that says, “If you are ‘conservative’ you believe these things,” “If you are ‘liberal’ you believe those things.” It’s tribalism in the guise of good political citizenship.

Again, I think we know the general lay of the land. It’s a mess out there. Those who are too lazy to figure out what they actually mean when they use certain words, and those who toss around largely meaningless labels to avoid having to enter into genuine discussions and conversations seem to hold the field. But, here’s why I believe there’s room for hope. Most regular folks, when it comes to the complicated business of navigating their personal lives and relationships, want to take more care than some politicians, some pundits and some preachers do.

So: back to the false mythology of the hour.

Some fairly well known figures are saying that the churches around the country who vocally and unconditionally support the executive branch and the president are the heirs to the Confessing Church movement in mid-twentieth century Germany, a movement exemplified by the Protestant Christian martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And, correspondingly, they hold that those Christians who do not agree with the policies of the executive branch and the president are fascists.

When I first heard this idea, I thought it so ludicrous that I didn’t even take it seriously. That was a mistake. It is spreading like wildfire. People love to hitch the wagon of their beliefs and efforts to a famous heroic cause, and there are few more heroic causes than the Confessing Church movement, whose leaders included people like Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoller.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) officially stands in the tradition of the Confessing Church movement in its adherence to The Theological Declaration of Barmen, a confession written principally by the Reformed theologian Karl Barth and adopted by a synod of churches across Germany in 1934. An underground seminary, led by Bonhoeffer, set about to educate ministers for this movement.

At the heart of the movement was the belief that Jesus Christ as he is attested to in the Bible is the one Word of God whom we must hear and obey in all of life, and that there are no areas of life over which Jesus Christ is not our Lord. This affirmation is in fact a re-affirmation of the oldest confession that Christians hold, tracing its origin to St. Paul himself, “Jesus is Lord.” And it carries the specific rejection that there are aspects of human life over which Christ is not our Lord. The anathema of this confession runs like this: there are no aspects of human life over which someone else other than the God revealed in Christ Jesus is our lord. Martin Niemoller courageously summarized this affirmation in a title of one of many things he wrote at the time: “Jesus Christ is my Fuhrer.”

Obviously, there was an implicit political message in the confession. No government can claim authority over the totality of human life. To do so is to usurp the place of God. In other words, such a move on the part of a government represents a form of idolatry. If policies of any government conflict with the lordship of Christ, the Christian is cast into the dilemma of wrestling with that ancient and enigmatic charge from Jesus (as he flipped a coin bound for the tax man back at his interlocutor) to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, but unto God what is God’s.” Caesar, in other words, does not have a free hand over the conscience of the Christian.

This reality into which our faith thrusts us is fraught. It is why Christians and other persons may indeed be persons of goodwill but may disagree deeply over specific social and political policies.

But this history and this confession also clarify our Christian struggle of conscience. You may have seen the fascinating article in the New York Times (June 20, 2020) which told the story of a young Baptist pastor in Alabama who, in 2017, did what Baptist preachers and scores of other preachers have tried to do throughout history; that is, he tried to preach the Bible with integrity in a particular moment. Karl Barth once described the role of the preacher in a way this young pastor would understand well. The preacher comes to the pulpit, Barth famously said, with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.

Faced with headlines regarding worrying policies of the then new administration, the young pastor preached a sermon based on the Beatitudes (see Matthew chapter five), from that section of the Gospels known as the Sermon on the Mount. Some members of the church were fairly enraged. And they confronted the young pastor. Among the things they said, was this: “Those are nice, but we don’t have to live by them.”

I find this statement, as a historical theologian, fascinating for several reasons, but for one reason in particular: One can say what one wants about the biblicist tradition represented in most Southern Baptist Churches, but when it comes to holding the Bible as the supreme authority over the Christian’s beliefs and behaviors, there’s never been any doubt as to where they stand.

In this case, however, these church members explained to the young pastor that the words of Jesus conflicted with the policies of the current administration, and they refused to consider that it was the policies that needed to be considered critically from the perspective of Christian faith. Instead, from that day on, they began to monitor the young pastor for statements that did not conform to their political agenda.

Speaking as a historical theologian I must say that their actions – and this church is by no means alone in this – have much more in common with the German Christian Church which remodeled Christian scripture and confessions (removing whole sections of the Bible, for example) to reflect the policies of the Nazis than they do with the Confessing Church movement which risked imprisonment and death for opposing the policies of the Nazi government.

Please understand me, I am not plucking out of the air the example of Nazism but reflecting historically and theologically on the mythology many evangelical churches and their leadership themselves are currently constructing to defend their support of actions that others, including other Christians, are questioning and criticizing.

George Orwell once said that those who control the writing of history also control the future. I think we should take that seriously.

In my life I have worn the labels of Christian, Presbyterian, and Evangelical (especially when in the British context), but I have also been called liberal and conservative. These days I would hardly know what any of those terms mean anymore if I just relied on the pejorative uses of them in our society. After a lifetime of studying the Bible, I am more sure than ever that it speaks with authority to our lives, but I am also critical and analytical of the Bible as a document and regard it as a witness written by human beings over many centuries attempting to come to terms with their experience of God. The Word of God speaks through the Bible, but I believe the words themselves are all human.

For me, faith has become simpler even as life has grown more complex. I believe, I truly believe, that at the core of all that is there beats the heart of Love divine. And the surest way to show our kinship with God is by loving others. My way of trying to do this is to try to follow Jesus of Nazareth. I fail far more than I succeed. But I cannot ignore Jesus no matter what any nation or its government says. I am also aware that when my nation acts, it acts in my name, because I am a citizen. And when it acts in a way I believe deeply is at odds with the Lord I try to follow, I cannot ignore the gap between the parting of these ways.

I believe that Christians and other persons of faith in other traditions can be good citizens. And sometimes citizenship is proven not in obsequious consent but in loving one’s country enough to speak against its government’s policies. There’s always more to say, but for today, this is enough.

Lament, Confession, and Commitment

June 16, 2020 by Rev. Sarah Chancellor-Watson

Throughout the years St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church has enjoyed rich and fulfilling relationships with many of the other congregations along St. Charles Avenue. Despite our different traditions, and even religions, we live out our unity as God’s beloved children as together we have studied the scriptures, we have shared meals, we have worshipped and given thanks to God. With the fervent cries for racial justice in our city and country once again reaching a fever pitch, the faith leaders of these congregations decided that the time was right for us to come together again and answer the call of our shared faith to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. On Sunday members of our congregation joined this greater interfaith community in a silent prayer walk along St. Charles that culminated in a service of lament, confession, and commitment.

Rev. Elizabeth Lott, from St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church, reminded us that the current racial tensions are not anything new. What we are seeing is just the tip of an iceberg that periodically breaks through surface of the water. Knowing that God stands with the suffering and is present wherever God’s children are in pain or grief, we lifted our voices in prayer and solidarity. Acknowledging that as God weeps with our black/African American siblings, we too weep and grieve with them, even as we may not fully understand the depths of that pain.

In the Jewish tradition the holy day of Yom Kippur is set aside for the community to gather and together atone for their sins. Rabbi Katie Bauman, of Touro Synagogue, led us in a prayer based on the vidui, a traditional confessional liturgy used during Yom Kippur. Each of us with our fist on hearts confessed and repented of our own personal acts and our roles within a larger community and society that in big and small ways have protected and perpetuated racist and unjust systems and structures. In our own tradition and theology, we understand the act of confession as not only admitting to our personal sins – those things that we have done and the things we have left undone, but also our corporate sins. This act of confession is not to paralyze ourselves with shame and guilt, but to acknowledge that we are flawed humans and part of a flawed humanity. We need God and God’s grace daily in our lives. When we name our sins we don’t have to be burdened by them, but instead are empowered by the Holy Spirit to participate in God’s justice and redemption of the world.

The definition of repentance is turning away from our old ways and turning towards God. Even as the plans for this event were coming together, each of the faith leaders expressed a strong desire that this not be the only thing that we do together to confront racism and systemic oppression. We asked ourselves many questions about what is our role and place in this work for racial justice? Rev. Jay Hogewood, whose congregation Rayne Memorial United Methodist hosted us in their parking lot, reminded us of the deep significance and symbolic representation of our congregations of predominately and historically white members on one of the most affluent avenues in the city. He noted that it is good and important that we use our collective voices of influence and power to speak the truth in love, showing not only with our words but with our continued actions our commitment to the affirmation of the inherent dignity and worth of black lives.

One of the things that I love and am most proud about serving this congregation as your pastor is that we are a church that puts our faith into action. We are not content to stay behind the walls of our building, but time and again and in many different ways we have answered the call to be the Body of Christ in the world, to love and serve our neighbors as ourselves.  The struggle for racial equality and the work for justice is not a short-term project but is one that will require us to keep up our commitment long after the current strife has left the headlines. In the coming days and weeks and months we will be sharing with you all opportunities for us to live out our faith in this particular way. I was so honored to walk with those who showed up and were able to be a part of Sunday’s walk and service. I hope that many more of you will join us as we have the courage to engage in difficult conversations, listen, learn, advocate, and join our neighbors and friends of all races and religions in working together to bring about the shalom of God’s reign and kingdom.

In grace and gratitude,

Sarah Chancellor-Watson
St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church

Bullies on the Playground

by Rev. Dr. Michael Jinkins

In his memoir, “Surprised by Joy,” C. S. Lewis tells the story of his experience as a boy at boarding school. It was the ordinary practice of his teachers to take turns monitoring behavior during recesses. But, at some point, the teachers asked the headmaster to try an experiment, to let the boys self-monitor on the playground. It was reasoned that the boys would work out their own ways of dealing with each other justly and fairly without the oversight of their teachers. After all, the boys were training to be good English gentlemen.

Anyone who has read William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” or George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” will know that the experiment was doomed from the outset. Indeed, any of us could predict precisely what did happen. C. S. Lewis himself reports, “the bullies took over the playground” and the headmaster had to suspend the experiment and reinstate oversight by the teachers.

Human beings aren’t angels. And even some angels are fallen, I might add.

That’s why, of course, we have the U. S. Constitution we do as Americans. It is based on the assumption that, given the opportunity and without appropriate boundaries and countervailing forces, many human beings will act in their own short term private interests rather than for the common good. And, of course, there are some whose disruptive and even violent acts have nothing to do with the pursuit of anyone’s interests, but are purely irrational. In other words, our founders believed in the persistence of sin in creation, otherwise called “original sin.”

The similarities between the Constitution and Presbyterian polity are not just a coincidence. I don’t know if it is historically true, but, it is said, this is why some of the English called our American Revolutionary War, the Presbyterian Rebellion.

If society is to work well, there have to be agreed upon standards of behavior, predictable and fairly adjudicated consequences for bad behavior, and public officers whose vocation it is to act with integrity, courage and virtue, to stand by these standards and to insure they are appropriately and consistently applied to all. Otherwise, as C. S. Lewis observed, the bullies will take over the playground.

John Calvin, in his “Institutes of the Christian Religion” (1559), taught that the law of God is given to humanity for a threefold purpose: to show us the true path of the good in this world; to restrain the evil; and to aid the godly in their attempts to live as God wishes them to live.

Like a lot of young rebels, I once flirted with antinomianism, the idea that if we love God enough we don’t have to bother with law. I suppose that’s typical of young ministers, at least of my era. But I have played now on far too many unruly and downright dangerous playgrounds to think that the teachers can retire to their faculty break-room for tea and biscuits just yet. The bullies are always ready to take over unless constrained.

And, frankly, I’ve had it with bullies taking over the playground.

The weaponized employment of cruel and demeaning language, the ugly habit of stereotyping and name-calling especially on social media, the vulgar innuendoes that cover a multitude of sins and only encourage more brutish behavior, and the excuses given for roughing-up those who offer even the slightest opposition to whatever bully is holding forth: it isn’t right. And we know it.

Whether they come out of left field or right, whether spewing forth their self-righteous condemnation like a tent revivalist on a hot Friday night, or they’re just mad as hell and envious of everyone who has the stuff they want: none of this gives anyone permission to beat up on anyone else.

I suppose the whole pandemic thing is contributing to it. I’m worried about folks getting sick and dying. Most of us are. I’m concerned about the wives and husbands, sisters and brothers, the children, and grandchildren, who have lost and may yet lose someone precious and irreplaceable in their families. You know exactly what I am talking about. In the midst of a pandemic, the numbers aren’t just numbers, they represent human beings, human lives, human souls.

Therefore, I find myself genuinely frustrated when someone teases or taunts a person for wearing a face mask or keeping their distance, whether that someone is a professional politician ridiculing a reporter for acting “politically correct” or a group of men on a sidewalk sneering at and threatening a young woman who, herself, is unlikely to become dangerously ill, but is wearing a face mask to protect others who may be vulnerable.

Just today I learned of the experience of a private school nurse with twenty-five years of service in her school who attempted to offer medical advice to safeguard the health of the students in the school’s summer camp. In the meeting of administrators and staff to discuss reopening, each time she raised a concern about best practices and offered scientific data in support of these practices, she found herself quickly sidelined until members of the group began to jeer at her each time she spoke. She said later, “I found myself feeling smaller and smaller.”

This sort of behavior only begets more of the same, as we have all seen.

Saint Paul once observed that we Christians are free to do all sorts of things. Indeed our freedom as Christians goes way beyond the freedoms any Bill of Rights gives American citizens, although I’m pleased as punch that our U. S. Constitution was successfully amended to include ours. Saint Paul also tells us, however, that our freedom as Christians operates under the most sacred of constraints, the love of Jesus Christ.

Christianity isn’t a club (especially not the sort to beat others over the head with). It is a movement of people following Jesus of Nazareth who summarized the law of God like this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” He took that little summary right out of the holy scriptures he grew up with.

I have no intention to add to the playground maelstrom with a fist fight about the importance of the love of God. So I want to say in closing just this.

  1. Those of us who are called through the waters of baptism to follow Jesus Christ are responsible to live by the law of God. First and foremost, we shouldn’t be part of the problem on the playground, but part of the solution.
  2. We also have a duty, as Christians and as responsible members of this society, to support the rule of law that applies to everyone (yes, everyone!) and to insure that the structures (the checks and balances and legal processes) of our democratic society are not eroded by graft, greed or factionalism.
  3. Finally, as Christians, we have a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate what it looks like when the law of God becomes a living, active, joyful path of love, rather than just a list of do’s and don’ts.

    Leonard Cohen was so right when he said that love is not a victory march, it’s a slow and very painful hallelujah. Well, hallelujah.

Anesthesia Dolorosa: A Postcard From the Socially Distant

June 8, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Michael Jinkins

It is spreading more quickly and widely than ever before, especially among those who are plugged into the endless cycles of news streaming from all our various devices and screens. It is possible to pick up this bug even if you haven’t had any actual physical contact with anyone in weeks.

I picked it up few weeks ago, and it has gotten much, much worse in the past week, although I didn’t realize at the time that I had it and I certainly didn’t know the name of it then.

What is this mystery contagion? Anesthesia Dolorosa.

Bill Banta spotted my symptoms during a virtual happy hour a few weeks ago with Fred Lyon and Don Frampton. The three of us (hunkered down in our isolated lairs) were subjecting the world to analysis when Bill said something to the effect that he felt more optimistic than I appear.

Now, Bill is not one of nature’s Eeyores, by any measure, nor a Tigger is he. I’ve always found him to be among the more sensible balanced animals of the forest, and the more he talked, the more I realized he was right. My glass was neither half full nor half empty, it was brimming with pessimism. But it would be awhile before I discovered the name of the malady from which I was suffering and before I found myself on the road to recovery.

The discovery occurred while I was reading Alex Halberstadt’s gripping memoir of growing up in the Soviet Union, emigrating as a child to America, becoming a writer for The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Paris Review, among other publications, and (here’s the stinger) discovering that his paternal grandfather had served as a personal bodyguard for Joseph Stalin, a torturer and a murderer of political enemies (real and imaginary).

In the course of telling his story, Halberstadt takes us into the Soviet mind as it was in those days prior to Glasnost. It was a time when an entire society tried to make itself believe the lies they were told day-in and day-out (though they knew them to be lies) because a single slip of the tongue, a single expression of dissatisfaction, a single admiring remark about the Liberal Democracies of the West, might cost you your job, your apartment, your family, your freedom, or your life.

It is in this larger context, and during the more intimate crisis in his parents’ marriage that would lead to divorce, that Halberstadt describes the symptoms of a mindset that can become a worldview. He writes: “My mother said that in those years she developed what Soviet [psychological] diagnostic manuals termed ‘anesthesia dolorosa” — a sensation of looking at the world through a pane of dirty glass.”*

Immediately upon receiving my diagnosis (thanks, Bill!), I embarked on a treatment.

For the next several days, I immersed myself in all the beauty and wonder of nature, dug in the dirt, planted new flowers to attract bees, butterflies and humming birds, sat in the garden early in the morning and late in the evening, listened to music, and listened to the silence. Debbie and I would sit in the garden so quietly that the birds and squirrels treated us as neighbors. I became so good a doing nothing that I didn’t want to stop doing it. Still don’t. I began to notice again the things I had forgotten I had noticed. I fell utterly in love with the top of a live oak a street away from our house (there’s not a straight line in the top of that tree), and learned to laugh again listening to a very immature mockingbird trying to learn his song. I prayed short prayers when the mood hit me. Meditated for long periods of time. And, as the boy in the pigsty said, “I came to myself.”

Gradually the grime on the window pane disappeared. It was on the inside of the glass all along and it came right off with a little vinegar and elbow grease.

Once I cleaned off the grime of the glass, my mental and moral paralysis cleared right up too. That’s the ironic thing about this malady. It makes you immobile in the face of the challenges facing us.

Aware that you can’t fix everything, you decide you can fix nothing. Aware that you may face criticism for what you do, you do nothing.

But once we see the world again, as wonderful and beautiful and worth our effort, once we see people around us again not as dim figures moving through the fog, but as neighbors, we can participate in what God is up to in creation to heal and restore it, to redeem and reconcile humankind. 

Michael Jinkins
St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church

*Alex Halberstadt, “Young Heroes of the Soviet Union: A Memoir and a Reckoning,” (New York, 2020), p. 192.


Hope and Healing in a Time of Crisis

June 4, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Michael Jinkins

Lament and One Un-broken Moment

There are times when we hardly know what to say, when discouragement is almost overwhelming.

This week, in particular, I have found myself turning repeatedly to the Psalms of Lament, such as Psalm 120, that great plea from the psalmist to deliver him from those with “lying lips,” “deceitful tongues” and threats of violence. This psalm follows, incidentally, the longest psalm in the Bible, which celebrates the Torah, the law of God, the fulfillment of which is Shalom, the wholeness that holds together peace and justice.

During these long months of the novel corona virus pandemic, when we surely hoped that people might draw closer together in spirit to deal with a disease that has no political affiliations, nevertheless we found our country provoked into partisan divisions. And, in more recent days, we have witnessed scenes of brutality on television: black citizens killed by officers of the law, peaceful demonstrations in some places, but also wanton destruction in others. Sadly we have even seen peaceful demonstrations violently broken-up, apparently for political reasons. It has become difficult to find the right words to say, our natural reaction being more to weep than to speak.

I confess that at points this week, I was so overwhelmed with sadness I felt nearly paralyzed with grief. And then something unexpected happened, something that changed things in one place in one unbroken moment.

It happened here in New Orleans on Tuesday evening when peaceful protesters were met by the New Orleans Police Department on Interstate 10. The police were decked out in helmets, some in riot gear, the same outfits we’ve become sadly accustomed to seeing on television.

As the protesters chanted and both they and the police urged their ranks to remain peaceful, into the potential maelstrom stepped Chief Deputy Superintendent John Thomas. As reported by Bryn Stole in the Times-Pic Advocate, Chief Thomas addressed the crowd with these words:

“We feel ashamed for what this officer did to tarnish the badge,” … referring to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on Memorial Day. “We support you.”

“Not long after Chief Thomas said these words, the officers in riot gear all took a knee.”

Just when you thought that hope was a foolish dream, someone does something genuinely good and brave. Someone responds instead of merely reacts. Someone reaches for the humanity of compassion and higher reason, rather than letting the reptilian brain command their actions. In this case, a bunch of someones.

Rather than taking sides in the usual polarized political debacle we see on endless news cycle, ordinary people took leadership and stood for the common good, for peace, justice and truth-telling.

I am proud of New Orleans. How fitting that the city that memorializes the sacrifices of the men and women who served the cause of freedom in the Second World War is the same city where the freedom to assemble and protest is protected by men and women in police uniforms. The courage it takes to listen to hurting, frightened and, yes!, angry citizens surely ranks high in the annals of the brave. There is also, however, courage among those who convert their hurting, their fear and their anger into peaceful protests, rather than to hurt and destroy.

There’s bad actors enough on every side. There are folks who, under the cover of civic unrest burn and loot. This is unlawful and those who commit such acts should be held accountable. There are also people in a variety of uniforms who, under the cover of those uniforms, disgrace the vows they have made to protect and to serve the public. They also should be held accountable.

But, there is such good, also, to celebrate. There is more that unites us as a people than divides us. And this week, amid the violence and the vengeance, I believe we have seen glimmers of hope. Thank God!

Michael Jinkins


A Prayer for Hope and Healing

Last Sunday we celebrated the Holy day of Pentecost. A day known as the “birthday” of the Church as we rejoice in gift of Holy Spirit – God’s eternal presence with us. The Holy Spirit is known by many names and actions throughout the whole of scripture, from beginning of creation to the promise of God’s Kingdom here on earth. Inspired by the many ways the Spirit acts in our lives I submit this prayer for us to be in prayer for ourselves, one another, and the world.

Holy Spirit, Holy Comforter, we are heavy and weary with the pain and grief that is in our world, our country, our city, and in our own homes. We continue to live with fear and uncertainties of a global pandemic. While some of us worry about ourselves or our loved ones getting sick or even dying, others of us worry about making the rent payment and putting food on the table. All the while our African American siblings are again crying out for justice from under the weight of centuries of oppression and discrimination in this country. This trauma and pain is unfathomable for many of us. Intercede for us with sighs too deep for words to bring your peace and healing into the hearts of George Floyd’s family and friends, into the hearts of those who are protesting, into the hearts of our law enforcement officers, and into all our hurting hearts.

Holy Spirit, Holy Agitator, as you send the tongues of fire to the disciples at Pentecost, as you drove Christ out into the wilderness after his baptism, stir in our hearts today. Move us from complacency, partisan politics, excuses, and scapegoating. Send us out into the world and into places within ourselves that may make us uncomfortable. Mold us everyday into your people, people of grace and justice, people who in all aspects of our lives reflect the light of your perfect love.

Holy Spirit, Holy Wisdom, we give you thanks for all the ways that you have been faithful to us and have guided us in the past. Throughout the decades you have led us through difficult times and we trust that you will not abandon us. Help us each to discern the gifts you’ve given us. Help to us understand when is the time to speak and to act and when is the time to listen and amplify the voices of others. Guide our feet, our hands, and our words, so that everything we do may be done in love and to the Glory of our great God.

Holy Spirit, Holy Hope, just as you moved over the waters of chaos of creation, bringing light and life, help us to see that you are still at work among us – making all things new, bringing about reconciliation and wholeness. Free us from the constraints of this world, and bring us into a new kind of unity that is not defined by our human distinctions of race, ethnicity, class, gender, religion, or ideology. Help us to see your light in this darkness and remind us that you are our ultimate hope as you work in us and those around us to reconcile the whole of creation into yourself.

We pray all these things, in the name of our Savior, our Teacher, and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sarah Chancellor-Watson


Additional Insights:

“When There Are No Words”
Theodore J. Wardlaw, President
Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary

“A Message from the Senior Pastor”
Scott Black Johnson, Senior Pastor
Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church

you may also view this article, here

When Things Fall Apart: A Postcard from the Socially Distant

June 1, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Michael Jinkins

A young mom, watching her four year old at play, asked Debbie one day, “At what point do you stop worrying about your children.”

“Never,” said Debbie, “You just worry about different stuff.”

Late November, a few years ago, Debbie and I were attending the annual national conference of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature. By that point in my career, it was mostly a chance to catch up with old friends and colleagues, and to put in an appearance or two at cocktail parties organized by various publishers and grant makers. It was, in other words, supposed to be fun. We were sitting in our hotel room across the street from the conference center getting ready to go out when we received a call from one of our children.

There’s no need to go into the details of that call and the worries it provoked. Let’s just say that suddenly, everything seemed to fall apart all at once. In seconds we went from relaxed to terrified. I’ll leave the family situation aside, except to say that we have all probably experienced something similar.

My late friend Professor Alan Lewis, who died almost thirty years ago from cancer, had a special gift of saying things that dismantle old settled questions and force us to think in new ways. One day sitting in my office, he said, “You know, my faith in chance is getting shaky.” Maybe, he said, he was going to have to resurrect his belief in God’s Providence.

Well, as foundations were shaking in our world that November day, and as Debbie quickly left the conference to be with one of our children, I stayed behind at the meeting. But I was unable to concentrate on the papers in the various sections I attended. So I decided to wander the Exhibition Hall where hundreds of publishers were offering steep academic discounts on their latest books.

There are certain publishers I always visited, some to catch up with friends in the book business, some to check out new research in my field, and some for my own spiritual growth. I was looking through the books offered by Shambhala Press, a publisher in the last of those categories, when Providence apparently showed up.

I came across a book with the perfect title for how I felt that day, “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron. I bought the book (at a nice discount!), found a cup of coffee and a quiet corner in a nearby hotel, and started reading.

I admit that I turned to this book hoping to find some sort of easy comfort, a cooling balm for my fevered worries, maybe an escape into a mental glade by a bubbling brook. What I found was a spiritual warrior of the Tibetan sort with the personality of a tough old Marine. I wanted escape. She demanded a bracing dose of reality. She was right.

Recently, journalist Krista Tippett, in her excellent podcast, “On Being,” featured readings from Chodron’s “When Things Fall Apart.” I think everyone’s experience of a classic like this deserves its own space, so I’m not going to get in the way of your potential exploration of the book, just in case you choose to read it. But I do want to tell you why this book became, from that November day onward, an important resource for my spiritual life.

It helped me learn that when things fall apart, the best approach is to step into the difficulty rather than to step back or away.

Deep within life’s greatest challenges, hidden within the folds of the most painful and anxiety-producing moments, lies the key to our spiritual growth. There, in the midst of our own discomfort, pain, and vulnerability, lies the opportunity to grow in empathy for others who suffer, the opportunity for our hearts to soften and receive life’s deepest and most subtle lessons. Instead of raging against misfortune, we have a chance to step into it to learn the secrets of our humanity.

Ironically, it was in reading this Tibetan Buddhist teacher that I was able to understand (in my heart) something about the two thousand years of Christian teachings on the spiritual meaning of Jesus’s suffering and dying on the cross, his prayer in Gethsemane, his words of love contained in those soaring passages of the so-called “high priestly prayer for this disciples” in John’s gospel. What had appeared simply “morbid” in the visual representations of the suffering Jesus was illuminated from within. Suddenly I could embrace more fully than ever the spiritual wisdom of writers like Lady Julian of Norwich who found in suffering the doorway to divine love.

“When things fall apart” it is fruitless to ask, “Why is this happening to me, Lord?” as though we should be immune to life’s pain. It is also theologically unhelpful, I think, to blame or to “credit” God with causing the conditions that lead to suffering. This creation is the ultimate “given.” In the teeth of suffering it just doesn’t get us very far to ask, “Why” or “How.” It is often very helpful, however, and may be the very height of spiritual wisdom to ask, “Given that I am in these circumstances, what might I learn here?”

Pandemics have to count as such circumstances, it seems to me. We feel vulnerable when there’s a virus on the prowl. The targets of a virus are completely random. This virus has only one “goal”: to replicate. That’s it! And it replicates with amazing efficiency. The fact that Jesus is our Lord gives us comfort in this time, but this fact is not an antidote to getting sick.

Not a day goes by that we do not hear stories of death and grief, stories reminding us of life’s fragility. Not a day goes by, however, that we also fail to hear stories of heroism and care in the face of danger, of courage when the chips are down, of love even as life passes so fleetingly.

We are reminded on every side of the wisdom of Ecclesiastes: “A breath, a sigh, the merest puff of a breath: such is life.” And, as we step into this reality, as we allow ourselves to feel the fragility of life, we may also sense the wonder of love rising in our hearts, an empathy for others deeper than any we have known before, a sharing in suffering (yes!), but also a sharing in our faith’s deepest call, to surrender our hearts to be overcome by God’s love for this aching creation and God’s vulnerable creatures.

To hold life gently as the precious reality it is, is to hold life as it is meant to be held, with wonder and reverence for every living being. There is so much to learn that can only be learned “when things fall apart.”

God bless you and keep you, my dear friends.

Michael Jinkins
St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church

Devotion: A Message from the Socially Distant

May 26, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Michael Jinkins

I loved to watch Peter Stephens pray. Peter was Dean of King’s College, Aberdeen, when I started post-graduate studies there. He had recently moved to Aberdeen from King’s College, Cambridge. Peter was a Methodist, deeply shaped by the rich tradition of English Wesleyan formation. He would enter the college chapel quietly and just as quietly he would slip to his knees, his back as straight as a sergeant major’s, his hands clasped before him, his head bowed, the modest black teaching gown slipping from his shoulders, almost always in a simple gray wool suit. There, his eyes closed, he would pray, as unself-consciously, it seemed to me, as a solitary monastic in his private cell. When the organ began its voluntary, he rose to his feet, stepped into his row, and sat in his chair.

A rabbi friend in Austin, Texas, told me the story of his experiences traveling in Mongolia a few years ago. On the first night of his stay with a Mongolian family, he asked where he might go to say his prayers. His host directed him to a quiet corner of their hut. Curiosity of a very special sort seemed to come over the man.

“Do you have special clothes you put on in order to speak to your God?”

“Yes,” said my friend, as he removed his prayer shawl from his bag and put it on.

“In what posture do you speak to your God?” the man asked. My friend explained that he bowed on his knees and swayed gently back and forth when saying his prayers.

The man seemed impressed.

“Are there special words you use in speaking to your God?” Again my friend said yes, there are prayers prescribed, and silence, and one word, the name of God, which is never spoken.

My friend told me that the man sat and watched him pray. He seemed to feel that my friend’s approach to God was appropriate. It was different from his own, but it showed a proper respect, a setting-apart of this kind of speech from all others.

The word “holy” means just that, “set apart from common usage.” Some buildings can be holy, so can some patches of earth. Some eating and drinking utensils can be holy, and we all know that the word “Bible” just means “book,” that’s why we call it the “holy” Bible.

One of the most profound theological ideas inherited from the early fathers of the church is that because God entered into creation in Jesus, all creation is now “holy.” Athanasius the Great, the champion of early Christian orthodoxy, used an analogy of a King who enters a city within his realm which had been held by an enemy. The enemy had ravaged the city, plundered its treasure and misused its people. When the King entered into the city, however, the enemy knew his days were numbered. And, just as important, when the King entered the city, the city immediately became fully and immediately the King’s city.

Athanasius tells us that this is an analogy for the incarnation. Not only was creation crafted by God, not only is creation sustained by God, it belongs so fully to God that it shares God’s holiness. Creation is now claimed utterly and completely by God, every stick and stone, every creature, every person. The holy God declares creation holy.

This means that while there are buildings and plots of land and utensils and clothing set aside for special usage in the worship of God, every little bit of this world also is set aside for the worship of God. I find comfort in this fact in these days.

I don’t have a single stitch of clergy garb in my closet on Saint Simons, but I was conscious that when I sat down to lead worship and pray and preach in these past many weeks, my shirts from Perlis served the “holy” purpose just fine. And wherever you’ve been praying and worshiping God, whether in a den, living room or on a porch, that place has been every bit as holy as any sanctuary in the world. God makes things holy, including our beautiful church building at the corner of State Street and Saint Charles Avenue. But wherever we meet God now, is more than adequate. It is holy ground.

Michael Jinkins
St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church

Adagio: A Postcard from the Socially Distant

May 10, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Michael Jinkins

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross studied grief and dying. Her observations as a psychiatrist provided the basis for the idea that most human beings pass through “stages” that are identifiable: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. Human beings are relatively unpredictable creatures, but her general model holds. Chaplains, therapists, doctors, nurses, family members have witnessed for themselves the loops, off-ramps and by-passes of the so-called “grieving process.” We’ve seen denial last for months, skipping back and forth with bargaining; anger can turn inward to become depression only to become anger again. Some folks never seem to reach acceptance. But what of most of us who do finally accept loss?


As a chaplain intern at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas more than three decades ago, I saw anger among the dying and those anticipating grief, even bargaining, a lot of denial. And, of course, when death occurred there was a great deal of shock and disbelief, even among those people who thought they were prepared for the death of a loved one. Somehow, it is not until that yawning gap opens up, that absence becomes present, that we get the real dose of grief. Most of the families I informed of a death, seemed suddenly to come unmoored, some drifting in a deluge of emotions so powerful they might feel numb. They needed the gentle suggestions and directions, “Would you like to sit down?” “Here, have a cup of water.”


I never got to see anything resembling the “acceptance” stage of grief until I became a pastor. I’m not sure what I expected. Maybe I expected that the grieving would eventually wake up to a day on which the sun shone more brightly. I’m not sure. If I had reflected on my own experiences of grief, when my beloved grandfather died, when my younger brother died, I would have seasoned my expectations with a realization that grief is like a wound. It may heal, but it leaves a scar. And acceptance simply means emotionally coming to terms with that scar.


We are all witnessing a lot of grief these days. Grief, as we all know, accompanies any kind of loss, not only physical death. Job loss, in addition to financial anxiety and fear, can produce as much grief as the death of a loved one. Illnesses can be attended with losses too, even if one survives. And the tsunami of deaths has not abated, and the grief just keeps coming.


We’ve seen a lot of denial related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of it is politically motivated. Some is cravenly self-interested. But some of the denial is that natural reaction that rises up in the human heart when confronted by something so terrible we just can’t believe it is true.


We’ve surely witnessed a lot of anger. Some of it is politically motivated, as with denial. But much of it is directly related to social, financial and personal issues arising from the pandemic. And, because a disease is ultimately responsible, and we all feel pretty helpless, that anger needs a more tangible object to blame than an invisible virus, which is, as one pathologist says, “just bad news wrapped in a protein.”


At some point, we’ll get to acceptance. Eventually. Probably. But, as we’ve discovered in our own journeys of grief, acceptance will not mean a return to the way things were. The economically-most-vulnerable in our society have been ravaged by the illness, and it will take a lot of help for them to get even close to the level of financial insecurity they knew before the pandemic. The physically-most-vulnerable will have little reason to breathe easier when this present crisis passes. Who knows when the next one will come along?


This pandemic has wounded us, and when the wound heals (among those of us fortunate enough to survive), a scar will replace the wound.


I am reminded that the Psalms of Lament, those passages of scripture that pack such a punch of honesty, begin with weeping and sorrow, questioning of God, blaming, anger, bargaining, depression, and only sometimes culminate in acceptance. And even the acceptance, like the hard won wisdom of which Aeschylus speaks, “drip, drip, dripping into the soul as pure pain even when we dream,” frequently is an acceptance in a minor key, mellowed perhaps, more sober certainly, sometimes beautiful, but always fragile. This is life, adagio.


Michael Jinkins
St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church