Member Spotlight: Youth Senior Sam McKlin

Six high school seniors will anchor our 11:00 a.m. Youth Sunday service this weekend as they deliver reflections on their time at Glenn. These rite of passage moments are often packed full of both comedic and pull-at-your-heartstring memories. It gives them a chance to say farewell (for now) to a congregation that has nurtured them, and a chance for the congregation to be reminded of the authenticity and vibrancy Glenn Youth bring to our life together.

One of those seniors - Sam McKlin - who grew up at Glenn and is heading to Davidson College this fall, reflects below on his years with this community of faith:


1. Looking back on your time at Glenn, tell us about an experience that shaped who you are today.

In my sophomore year of high school I played the lead role, Harold Hill, in the Music Man. Prior to that performance, I had been in smaller roles in two of the previous youth productions. Since I only had the onstage experience consisting of about 20 different lines and some group musical numbers, I didn't know if I'd be able to handle the responsibility and commitment that comes with playing a lead part. In the months leading up to the musical I put a lot of time into learning the flow of my lines, understanding my character, and memorizing "Ya Got Trouble." Looking back on that experience, I can recognize how much it changed me. It taught me to be more confident not only in acting and singing but also to be more confident in school and in my own personality. I also learned that I can accomplish something difficult even if I've never had experience with it before, and that sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone to learn something new.


2. Glenn Youth is such a tightly knit community of friends that feel like family. Was there ever a moment when you felt particularly upheld and supported?

Glenn Youth has been the best environment for me to grow up in. I feel constantly accepted and supported by the entire group. A few years ago at a senior high retreat, we decided to try a new way to bond with each other. We sat in a circle and people who wanted to share anything that was causing them pain or grief or stress from their personal lives could say it confidentially. You never know what even some of your best friends might be going through, and listening to each other and empathizing with one another drew our group even closer together. I felt most upheld and supported myself in that moment, and I know I was upholding and supporting my friends just the same.


3. You are musically talented and have graciously shared those gifts with the congregation. How has music enriched your life of faith?

Music has given me so much in and outside of Glenn. I joined the cherub choir when I was 4, and I've been singing in the church choirs ever since. Music is something that grounds me to my faith, and it helps bring people together. Whenever we hear "Amen," everyone in the congregation can hear Bill Mallard's voice and life living on in the song. Personally, music gives me a similar connection to God and to others by letting me express my emotions in a way that I find difficult to accomplish with words.


4. When you move away to college, a lot of stuff will get packed up with you. What “stuff” will you pack up from Glenn to take with you? What lessons and values will you carry from Glenn?

Glenn has taught me to be a kind, accepting person. Perhaps the best lesson I have learned from Glenn is how to listen to other people and acknowledge opinions other than my own. I know that trying to understand other people is the first step in making progress. My generation has to learn how to listen and understand before shutting down new ideas so that we can build a future focused on peace and empathy. I will need to enter college and the rest of my life with that knowledge in mind, and I credit Glenn and my parents for teaching me how to listen and understand.

Exploring God's Creation in Costa Rica

Twenty-one Glenn folks ventured to Monteverde, Costa Rica to the UGA Ecolodge in a trip sponsored by Glenn's Environmental Committee. They have returned inspired and awed by so many things:


We had such an amazing trip and will forever be thankful to Glenn for the opportunity and the fellowship. In Costa Rica there was always something amazing to see, on the ground, in the trees or in the air. We found ourselves taking the time to observe our surroundings and to appreciate he natural beauty around us. We are going to try to do this more in our lives back in Atlanta. We often miss so much racing from one appointment to the next forgetting to notice the people and the things around us.

The Rollins family

I remain intrigued by the full extent of the sustainability of the farm. Our guide advised that other ecolodges grow mint in the kitchen garden and call themselves sustainable. Not here! Our shower water was wonderfully hot, much to my relief after hearing it was heated by the sun in our rainforest. They cooked with methane gas, produced in the biodigestor from animal waste. The cows were milked twice a day, and large pitchers of steaming hot chocolate were served to use the milk. We were hesitant to use the morning butter as it had the consistency of mayonnaise, but it turned out to be the best butter I have ever tasted, especially when served on the homemade bread. As Alice observed, it brings a whole new meaning to "made from scratch" when you make your butter and cheese from the morning's fresh cow milk. This was a trip I will never forget. 

Susan Peterson

As magnificent as the country was, and as educational as the trip was in many ways, my "ah-ha" moment came several days later, as I sat on my own deck in the middle of the Fernbank/North Georgia Piedmont Forest. How fortunate we all were to be able to go to Costa Rica AND how fortunate we are to live here in Atlanta, Georgia! Maybe we will all appreciate our forest, trees, beautiful birds, mammals (ex., squirrels), plants, insects in the same way as we did last week in Costa Rica. We need to steward them as well as the Costa Ricans are trying to do in their home country!

Who is ready to go back? There are more lessons to learn...:)

Dell MacGregor

I totally loved the trip. The best part was getting to know other members of Glenn better. The mix of ages, minds and talents was wonderful. It was great to have little girls on the trip. They put a different perspective on everything. We were their age once!

Donna Burbank

Wonderful experience! I admire the mission of reforestation & reduction of pesticide/herbicide use in production of agricultural products we consume daily. What are small steps towards this way of business and changing values that we can implement in our own goals of sustainability here?

Gardner Neely

What a wonderful group. And the children! Lecturers were informed and prepared. Concern for the environment outstanding. The coffee farm was responsible.

Wesley Stephens

The Eco Lodge's Vision and Mission statement - photo by Jan Lichtenwalter.

The Eco Lodge's Vision and Mission statement - photo by Jan Lichtenwalter.

The stunning beauty and diversity of the environment and God's creatures was surprising. I was not prepared for the variety of mammals - agoutis and coatis, as well as two species of monkeys that we saw. And the birds were unbelievable - some with stunning brilliant colors and exotic tails.

Lynn Speno

The trip surpassed any expectation I had, and most of that had to do with getting to know our Glenn members better! I didn’t fully fathom how enriching the experience would be for Charlotte —not only from the lectures and knowledge gained from the UGA-CR staff and tours but the interactions she enjoyed with her fellow Glenn travelers. The multi-generational aspect of the trip made it very special. Like Lynn, I am missing the sounds of birds and the quiet, serenity of being in nature. How cool was it to look for and appreciate the birds, monkeys, coatis, etc. along our path everyday. I also learned how unique it is for a church to have an environmental committee, and am proud of Glenn for being such a trendsetter. 

From Charlotte: "Definitely surprised to have rice and beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And, you need to enjoy life’s small moments because you only get one life. So you should take risks and have fun.” (referencing the trip overall and the zip lining/vertical drop specifically).

Colleen Golden

Please join the team in the Ward Fellowship Hall after 11:00 a.m. worship on Sunday, April 30 for a slideshow of pictures, the sharing of stories, and a sampling of Costa Rican food. All are welcome.

Refugees: Who, What, and Why

“Refugees”: the very word likely evokes a variety of emotions for many, including our own congregation. There is much anxiety, confusion, and controversy in the air today about immigration in general, with the unfortunate result that the specific immigration category of refugees sometimes gets unfairly mixed in with other, separate concerns.

Our hope with this piece is to shed more light on the subject of refugees and to reduce some of the misunderstanding, as well as to remind ourselves and others about what Glenn has been doing and what we can still do to support the large refugee community in Atlanta. And perhaps most importantly, to remember the theological reasons that prompt us to commit to this work.

A refugee is a special category of immigrant who has undergone a lengthy and multi-step process in order to be admitted into the U.S. or other country. First, the status of “refugee” must be determined by the United Nations, based on well-founded reasons for fleeing the person’s native country because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group, or their political opinion. The U.S. hand-selects every person who is admitted into our country as a refugee and gives priority to refugees who have been targeted by violence. Second, for entry into the U.S. the person must be referred to the U.S. refugee admissions program by the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, or by a U.S. embassy or approved humanitarian aid organization. Fewer than 1% of the nearly 20 million refugees in the world are considered for resettlement worldwide. Third, refugees undergo the most intensive vetting process of any other type of immigrant seeking to enter the U.S. Refugees seeking entry into the U.S. undergo security screenings by multiple agencies, including the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security. The total vetting process typically takes up to 36 months.

Once a refugee has been cleared for resettlement into the U.S., the U.S. government works with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and eight other national resettlement agencies to help them make a new start in America. In metro Atlanta, IRC is one of five resettlement agencies supporting our very large refugee community, many of whom have settled in the Clarkston area. Newly arrived refugees receive stipends to cover their first few months in the U.S., but they must be self-supporting after that. Many successfully assimilate into American culture, become U.S. citizens, and contribute to their communities.

Churches and other organizations and individuals assist agencies like IRC by providing funding for refugee family sponsorship, which offsets the federal funding those agencies receive and enables the federal funds to go farther in assisting the refugee community. Family sponsorship also enables a church to develop a relationship with the sponsored family, in many cases a relationship that persists long after the sponsorship period has officially ended. Glenn had been planning to undertake such a sponsorship this year, but the recent changes in U.S. policy on refugees (placing a 120-day hold on admitting any more refugees and reducing the total number of refugees for 2017 from 110,000 to 50,000) have made it impossible for IRC and other resettlement agencies to offer a family sponsorship program for the rest of this year.

Glenn has been involved with support of refugees through IRC for the past several years through the work of two of our service committees: Environmental and Missions. For our 2017 monthly day of service initiative, the service opportunity for the last two months has been focused on Atlanta's refugee population. On Saturday February 25, a group of Glenn folks spent the morning at the IRC community garden near North DeKalb Mall. We weeded, spread mulch, and climbed a mountain (of mulch)! In the process, we forged new friendships, sweated a bit, and cleared a path between garden plots. It might not seem like much, but to those who garden there, it means a lot that people are willing to come out and spend a Saturday morning to help them as they adjust to their new life in Atlanta. The garden is appropriately named the "New Roots Community Garden", a fitting name for a place for new growth. This was the Glenn Environmental Committee's third year assisting with the garden.

On Saturday March 25, a group of about 15 Glenn folks gathered at IRC’s Resettlement Store near Northlake Mall. This continued a tradition that the Missions Committee has followed for the last three years of spending a couple of hours on a Saturday morning working as “stock clerks”, sorting donated items that are in large plastic bags or cardboard boxes in the storeroom and placing them in the appropriate racks or shelves in the store itself. By the time our volunteers leave, the racks and shelves are packed full. But, we are told, by the following Tuesday the racks and shelves will all be empty as the refugee families come in and take all the items they need, free of charge. IRC depends strictly on volunteers to help keep the store stocked each week, so this remains a wonderful opportunity for Glenn to be involved in a meaningful way in helping our refugee neighbors.

We believe that when we choose to help refugees, we are engaging in Jesus’ work of being in relationship with and being of service to the least, the last, and the lost. We live into our congregation's desire to "Love God, Love Neighbor" more fully and embody Jesus' teaching of welcoming the stranger.

If you can't join us in these “hands-on” volunteer activities, but are interested in learning or doing more, here are other ways you can help (information provided by IRC). Some of these are political advocacy steps, others are for becoming better informed, others are for providing financial help. Whatever your preference, we hope you will consider becoming involved.


Albert Sheffer, Missions Chair
Lynn Speno, Environmental Chair





1.  Sign up and participate in once per day advocacy action alerts.

2. Sign up and participate in the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies action alerts.

4. Call and email Senator Isakson (770.661.0999), Senator Perdue (404.865. 0087), Governor Deal (404.656.1776), and your specific Congressman every day and let them know: “I support refugee resettlement in the U.S. and in my community. I oppose limiting entry for any person based on where he or she is from or based on religion.”

Stay Informed

1. Like and follow the IRC in Atlanta on Facebook. Share posted stories often and openly. Please also share this email on your personal Facebook page.

2. Sign up to receive the IRC in Atlanta’s monthly newsletter, action alerts and more. You must enter your Georgia zip code to ensure you receive the Atlanta office’s newsletter.

3. Like and follow the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies on Facebook. Share posted stories often and openly.  

4. Follow the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies on Twitter and retweet often.

5. Send your name and mailing address to Ariana to be added to our mailing list.


1. Make a donation to the International Rescue Committee in Atlanta. Follow this link specifically to ensure your gift stays in Georgia where it is needed most. 

2. Mail a donation directly to: International Rescue Committee, 2305 Parklake Drive, Suite 100 Atlanta, GA 30345

3. Hold your own fundraiser in person or online for the IRC in Atlanta. Contact Ariana for help with materials and assistance.

4. Many companies have programs in place where they provide matching gifts to nonprofits that an employee volunteers with or donates to. You may be able to double or even triple your donation if your company offers a matching gift program.

5. Volunteer with us. Contact our volunteer coordinator at or 678-636-8928 and view our volunteer opportunities on our web page.


The Talk

The Talk. We are all familiar with the many variations of the Talk with our kids, from THE Talk (sex) to Talks about alcohol, drugs, not following the crowd, and the list goes on. And I had all those Talks with my children. But there is one variation of the Talk I never had to give: the Talk warning them about how people will perceive and react to them based solely on the color of their skin.

Members of Glenn recently participated in an afternoon of conversation with members of Ben Hill UMC, a predominantly black congregation. Over the course of the afternoon, Byron Thomas, the senior pastor of Ben Hill, shared several readings from the book America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis. After each reading, we broke into small groups to discuss our response to what we had heard. The conversations we had were not always easy or comfortable, but they were all honest, based on each of our personal experiences.

In all of the small groups I participated in and in the discussions of the larger group, I heard member after member of Ben Hill refer to the Talk. The women spoke about having the Talk with their sons and the men remembered hearing the Talk from their parents. And when they mentioned the Talk they all meant the same thing - a discussion of how they would be perceived and treated throughout the course of their lives based solely on the color of their skin. As a parent, I cannot imagine how it would feel to deliver that same message to my children.

These conversations with Ben Hill grew, in part, out of questioning what Glenn’s response should be to racial injustice. Our afternoon spent with members of Ben Hill confirmed that the white church has to play a role in creating a world where the version of the Talk they heard growing up and give to their kids today is no longer necessary. To live out our belief that we are all children of God, the church needs to participate in the work needed to undo the effect of centuries of unequal treatment and laws. These discussions with Ben Hill may be just a small step towards that end, but they are a step.

If you are interested in being a part of ongoing conversations between members of Glenn and Ben Hill, please let me know. I particularly encourage men to consider participating. The folks from Ben Hill pointed out that most of the people from Glenn were women, a fact that we had not noticed. Ben Hill members explained that because white men tend to possess unquestioned privilege in our society, their support, understanding, and action are all vital to dismantling the institutions that keep systemic racism in place.

We hope you will join us next time in this authentic space driven by a desire for understanding and relationship. Listening to each other’s experiences is necessary to enable every person to live a life that is in no way dictated by the color of their skin.

Carol Allums

If you are interested in further reading on the topic of racial justice, here are some books I have read, or am planning to read, as I have continued to think about the issue of white privilege and my obligation, as a Christian, to work towards racial justice.

Recently Read:
"Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates
"The Souls of Black Folk" by W.E.B. Du Bois
"White Theology: Outing Supremacy in Modernity" by James W. Perkinson

Currently Reading:
"America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America" by Jim Wallis
"Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?" by Martin Luther King Jr. (this book was referenced by Rev. Dr. Dwight Andrews when he preached at Glenn on MLK Sunday)
"Counting Descent" by Clint Smith

On my reading list:
"Racism Without Racists" by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (this book was referenced in a recent address by Dr. William Barber during his keynote address as a part of Candler's Bandy Preaching Conference)

If you have any questions about any of these books, or suggestions for books I should add to my reading list - or if you just want to talk - please reach out at

Glenn Family Flashback

In anticipation of our new directory being printed (coming soon, so stay tuned!), we flipped through a directory from the 1970's - back when Larry Bauman was Larry Bauman, Senior Pastor - to see what families are still active at Glenn. And to our surprise, there are quite a few.

These pictures reinforce what many have said about Glenn over the years: that it is a generational church. Many parents have raised their kids at Glenn, and then their kids have stuck around to raise their own kids at Glenn. Some families go back three, even four, generations. Their knowledge of this congregation is deep, and what a gift it is to have that collective memory in our midst.

Whether you have been at Glenn for decades or have only just arrived, we hope that this is a place you can truly come to know and be known by.


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In the Midst

They were everywhere.

On my trip to Israel last month, I saw in eight days more sights than I thought one could cover in a month. From Jericho to Jerusalem, Megiddo to Magdala, Nazareth to Nablus, and just about everywhere in between, there was no shortage of holy and historical sights to take in as we traveled by bus throughout the region. It was a wonderful, enlightening time for me and the rest of the group from the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. One funny thing I noticed as we moved from one sight to another was that there was one thing all of these places had in common:

Gift shops and street merchants.

Yes, the overwhelming common denominator between these sacred sights was that each had a store selling you “authentic” Holy Land goods and people outside of the sight hawking paraphernalia related to your trip. The sound of these vendors still rings in my ear: “6 scarves for $20 dollars (they always took US currency)”, or “beautiful olive wood necklaces for your special lady” or “I will make a deal for you!” Some were nice, took rejection pretty well, and even cracked jokes with the group. Others were pushy and rude, with some even stepping onto our bus, uninvited, in hopes of gaining one last sale before we drove away. In Nablus there were even small children waiting outside the bus to sell us inexpensive olive oil soap when we returned from Jacob’s Well. Even on the most remote part of the trip, a hike along the Wadi Qelt in the wilderness from Jerusalem to Jericho, there were still people waiting at the end of the hike to sell us fresh squeezed pomegranate juice and mass-produced hats that said “Jerusalem” on them to keep our heads warm.

At first this was quite annoying. I believed we were here to experience these sacred sights and have a deep religious experience, and all of the commercialism and consumerism was totally killing my vibe! I started to become indignant that these vendors would interrupt my holy moments by convincing me to buy cheap goods. This dichotomy - the desire for reverence pushing up against the realness of life - was not what I expected and reached it’s zenith in Jerusalem. We traveled into the Old City to walk the Via Dolarosa, the path Jesus walked during the crucifixion. I anticipated a quiet, holy moment as we silently traversed the steps of Jesus. What I wasn’t prepared for was that the Via Dolarosa moves through a bustling city market, a street lined with shops and vendors calling out to you with every step that you take. 

A market in Jerusalem.

A market in Jerusalem.

As we walked down this path I began to see things a little differently; I was struck by the sacredness of that vibrant market. I realized that even as Jesus walked this path 2,000 years ago there would have been vendors and merchants, people going about their daily life, not realizing the magnitude of what was happening around them.

During Lent we are often encouraged to find time to reflect and to withdraw in order to pray, read scripture, and meditate. These are noble goals, and even Jesus set the example in his ministry of taking the time to be alone, to commune with God in stillness and quiet. But the truth is that most of our life happens in the chaos. Work, school, kids, friends, bills and a host of other responsibilities take up a majority of our time. It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and not look for the ways in which God is present in each and every moment. The vendors, gift shops, and markets, I realized, did not take away from the sacredness of those sites. Instead, they added a gritty, real dimension to them, bringing them back into the real world and reminding me that God is not just in the set-apart moments, but there in the midst of everyday life.

We believe that God is in our midst in the times of quiet reverence, but also in times of chaos. I came back from that trip with many memories and things to ponder, but one that has stuck out is my desire to look for the presence of God each day. I want to remember that all of life is God’s, and therefore all of life is sacred…street vendors and all.

Brent Huckaby

Brent hiking the Wadi Qelt.

Brent hiking the Wadi Qelt.

Confirming Love

In 2001, as a seventh grader, I took part in Confirmation at Glenn. I still remember moments from our confirmation retreat, the sparkly teal blue dress I bought for the Sunday service, and, of course, my friend-in-faith, the marvelous Barbara Antley.

I will admit, however, that I didn’t always take the idea of Confirmation seriously back then—probably because there was so much to try and comprehend in a short span of time, not to mention that what we were trying to comprehend was, well…somewhat incomprehensible, to be honest. Did I really believe what I had repeated on Sunday mornings for most of my life—“in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit” etc., etc.? Was I ready to make a public commitment to God, Jesus, and the church? Really, the very teenager-y, longing-to-belong part of me felt kind of affronted—I’ve been involved at Glenn since I was born and I’m only just getting my membership badge now?

On that Sunday in April sixteen years ago, we lined up on the marble steps to take photos, we mumbled through our recitation during worship, we knelt and felt hands laid tenderly on our shoulders and heads, we chowed down on potato salad and fried chicken on picnic blankets. We went to school the next day. Was anything really different?

In 2017, as an almost-30-year-old, I’m taking part in Confirmation at Glenn—this time as one of eight friends-in-faith/mentors walking with all 15 of our young teenagers on their own confirmation journey as they decide if they want to join the church. Along with my fellow mentors Laura Reece, Jeff Henry, John Wiley, Jennifer Scott Ward, Reid Lockwood, Kara Johnson, Andrew Johnson, and our fearless leader/youth minister Blair Setnor, I’ve had the privilege of sitting alongside these confirmands on Sunday mornings as we wrestle with the questions of faith, many of which I still don’t have answers to. We’ve explored topics ranging from “Why should I choose Christianity?” and “Can science and faith exist together?” to learning more about John Wesley and traits inherent to United Methodism.

In the midst of our confirmands’ insightful (and refreshingly blunt) questions—and our frequent inability to give them a solid answer—I’ve spotted the same facial expression that I imagine I also had during my own confirmation process: overwhelmed at having to take it all in, let alone hash out what you actually believe.

This past Saturday, the confirmands and their friends-in-faith gathered for a community garden workday.

This past Saturday, the confirmands and their friends-in-faith gathered for a community garden workday.

Because the truth is, my confirmation experience didn’t confirm much for me—except for the fact that I was loved. Loved by this community of faith, loved by a higher power of some kind, loved greatly and enough to continue to navigate learning how to be (and become) myself. My confirmation experience did confirm that I wanted to be (and become) myself within a community of faith, whether or not I could confirm exactly what I believed on that day or any other. And being unable to confirm those beliefs didn’t bother me, because I knew I was—and would be—loved.

So though nothing was certain on Confirmation Sunday 2001, it became a quiet foundation for me to jump from in the coming years. A foundation that kept me active in youth group, spurred me to seek out a fellowship group in college and get involved in planning weekly worship services with the chaplain’s office. A foundation that gave me an open mind and made me glad to embrace friends of other faiths or none. A foundation that brought me to a pastoral internship to see if preaching and leading a congregation was right for me—and when I found it wasn’t, a foundation that gave me the self-knowledge and self-love to move forward as a strong and active lay person. A foundation that has led me to opportunities and people who have shown me the Jesus I find I believe in more and more: not the Jesus who exists to block out those who don’t believe, but the Jesus who stands with the oppressed and marginalized of all faiths, who speaks love to neighbor and enemy, who is a presence of peace over power, which is the greatest power of all.

Knowing all of this—where I started and where I am—it’s been especially important for me to watch these confirmands’ faces. To listen to their questions (“What’s the difference between serving the poor and doing good things in a community that isn’t religious and doing it as a Christian?”). To stumble through an explanation of why I’ve chosen to claim Christianity. To talk with them as together we crafted a creed that those who decide to be confirmed will recite on Confirmation Sunday. To discuss the meaning of words like “witness,” “advocate,” “prevenient.” To see eyes brightening as they consider the significance of Jesus working as a carpenter, creating and building with his hands. To pass the peace with them in worship and to spot them turning the pages of the Bible as the Gospel is read.

Being part of their confirmation process has certainly strengthened my own faith. And here’s what I hope our time together (so far) has shown them: 

You don’t have to be certain. The journey doesn’t ask you to be sure, only that you start walking and see where it leads. It’s likely that on April 23, 2017, you may not feel that anything is confirmed—except for the fact, the truth, the God-given grace that you are loved, by the human beings you can see and by the Spirit you can’t.

And for now—forever, really—that will be enough.

Claire Asbury Lennox

What God Can Do Within the Dust

The season of Lent begins with a grittiness. Ashes made from last year's palm branches form a rough and imperfect symbol upon our foreheads. The gritty cross reminds us of our own mortality and sin before God, but also points us toward the way of
reconciliation and ultimate redemption.

The beautiful poems below highlight this paradox of Ash Wednesday - the reality of death, and the hope of new life. May they deepen your experience of Ash Wednesday and enrich your Lenten journey.


Blessing the Dust

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

Did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

 - Jan Richardson


Marked by Ashes

Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day . . .
This day — a gift from you.
This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
     halfway back to committees and memos,
     halfway back to calls and appointments,
     halfway on to next Sunday,
     halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
     half turned toward you, half rather not.

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
   but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes —
     we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
       of failed hope and broken promises,
       of forgotten children and frightened women,
     we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
     we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.

We are able to ponder our ashness with
   some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
   anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.

On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you —
   you Easter parade of newness.
   Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
     Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
     Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
   Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
     mercy and justice and peace and generosity.

We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.

 - Walter Brueggemann


A Poem for Ash Wednesday

Will stopping this Wednesday to receive
the sign of the cross in dirty ash
Upon tired foreheads really make a difference
Mark us for a moment, a season, a lifetime?

Will this emblem on our own skin
Soak in where words have not
and choices have not?

I wonder at its hope and purpose.

People of candle flame and tongues of fire,
Walkers on water who have dipped
beneath the cleansing surface,
Taking a night to dabble in oily ash and stain.

Would that Sunday, yet two months away,
dawn at all, if not as bright,
with trumpet call to new life if we could not
stand in this other truth, as true
as resurrection but more gritty?

Does its honest presence make the revelation
The breath, the rising sun possible
We stand with grimy hands, flinching,
Drawing back from the itchy sensation
Of ash and oil and human nature.

Holding ourselves still
And breathing deeply until, we can be,
wholly in this grubby skin,
Waiting, with creation for the water and the flame.

Tossing scraps of paper sin into a smoky burner
Watching as they are consumed,
disintegrate and rise,
Prayers for healing, longing, hope, to God.

We laugh, upside down and unrelenting,
A laugh like Easter morning.

 - Lisa M.Caldwell-Reiss


Rend Your Heart

To receive this blessing,
all you have to do
is let your heart break.
Let it crack open.
Let it fall apart
so that you can see
its secret chambers,
the hidden spaces
where you have hesitated
to go.

Your entire life
is here, inscribed whole
upon your heart’s walls:
every path taken
or left behind,
every face you turned toward
or turned away,
every word spoken in love
or in rage,
every line of your life
you would prefer to leave
in shadow,
every story that shimmers
with treasures known
and those you have yet
to find.

It could take you days
to wander these rooms.
Forty, at least.

And so let this be
a season for wandering
for trusting the breaking
for tracing the tear
that will return you

to the One who waits
who watches
who works within
the rending
to make your heart

 - Jan Richardson

A Great Thanksgiving: Lay Ministry in Action

Communion is a strange ritual. I’m always mystified as I chew the bread. Eating the body of Christ? My son enjoys the mid-service “snack,” and makes terrible remarks about zombies eating bodies. I sincerely attempt to explain to him communion’s significance, but my fuzzy explanation only demonstrates how baffled I am.

Probably there’s something in the fact that the word “mystery” hides shyly in the invitation that precedes communion every month. I’m beginning to sense that part of Christianity is being able to be with things we don’t understand, that Christian scripture and ritual are of God’s logic, not ours. But after spending some time with Glenn lay minister Carolyn Roper, that logic feels a bit less mysterious.

We met in the lobby of AG Rhodes Health & Rehab the day after Valentine’s Day. Carolyn was there to bring communion to Linda Merkle, a Glenn member recovering from a broken hip, and invited me along so I could see one of the ways lay ministers serve.

Carolyn is one of 15 Glenn lay ministers. Each has completed six months of pastoral care training, under the direction of Emory Chaplain Woody Spackman. Dorothy Chitwood, another Glenn lay minister, says trainees learn how to talk with people who are in health and other crises. “People usually just want to tell their story,” she says. “We don’t have profound answers but are delighted to talk and are honored and humbled to be with them.” All discussions are completely confidential, she says, and lay ministers are very open to talking with anyone.

I followed Carolyn up to Linda’s room, and she was up and about, getting around very well on her walker, a strong recovery after only a month. We arranged a couple chairs next to Linda’s bed and Carolyn opened a small black case containing thimble-sized plastic cups, communion wafers and a laminated card printed with an abbreviation of The Great Thanksgiving. She opened a small bottle of grape juice, poured three cups and began to read the invitation. Handing each of us a wafer, she reminded Linda that it was the body of Christ, given for her, and then reminded me that it was the body of Christ, given for me. Next she offered each of us a clear plastic cup of grape juice that was the blood of Christ, given for us. Then Linda presented wafer and juice to Carolyn, repeated the reminder: the body of Christ given for Carolyn, the blood of Christ, given for Carolyn. Finally, Carolyn led us in prayer and then closed her black box.

Carolyn (left) and Linda (right) serving communion to one another.

Carolyn (left) and Linda (right) serving communion to one another.

C.S. Lewis said one of the reasons we go to church is to be reminded of what we believe. Carolyn says Glenn’s lay ministers bring the church to those who can’t come on their own to help them remember their relationship to God and to church. They deliver church bulletins to the bed ridden, sit with those who have just lost a loved one, accompany the ailing through their travails at the hospital, and just generally serve as reminders of God’s love. Independently, both Carolyn and Dorothy said they committed to the sacrifice and demands of lay ministry because they were called to.

The day before, Carolyn had whisked Linda away to a reunion of the Jake Ward class at Glenn. The outing granted Linda what she described as a “God moment.”  The fellowship, the music, the singing, the food all brought to her a feeling of love and belonging. “I felt my place was there,” she said.


Irene Hatchett

Shine On

In his breakout role, Charlie Mallard, senior at Chamblee Charter High School, played Chief Carson in last year’s youth performance of The Potato Play. Chief Carson is a no-nonsense, dedicated police chief who has a hard time keeping his facts straight. The volume of his voice is never below a 10 and while he is usually confused, he never lets that stop his enthusiasm to get to the bottom of business.

Charlie Mallard absolutely nailed this performance. In previous years Charlie had stayed behind the scenes helping backstage or to the side of the stage in the orchestra. Charlie, and so many others in our youth program, embody this gradual blossoming. It is my absolute favorite thing to witness and it could not happen without an incredible village to support our amazing youth. Glenn Youth musicals and plays give each youth the space, encouragement, and direction to shine.

At the end of last year’s play weekend I congratulated Charlie on his performance.  He responded, “I only wish I had done this sooner.”

Come see Charlie as Captain Hook alongside our amazing senior class - Greer Moore as Peter Pan, Sam McKin as Smee, Duncan Horton as Mr. Darling, and Mary Grace Lesesne as Wendy Darling in our upcoming performance of Peter Pan.

This is sure to be a show all ages and stages will enjoy! The performances are Friday, February 24, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2:00 p.m. Purchase your tickets here.


Village credits -
Directors: Rev. Taylor Pafford and Sims Lamason
Associate Music Director and Director of Youth Choirs: Wes Griffin
Producer: Sara McKlin
AND our incredible team of parents, grandparents, youth alumni, and friends who have dedicated countless hours to making this production possible!

Use Your Words

What? Me? Write a prayer? Of course I was familiar with the concept, having said blessings before meals in my family and sung a different grace for each meal of the day for ten years at summer camp. I had memorized the Lord’s Prayer and the St. Mary’s School prayer from an early age. I regularly read and re-read the prayers in our worship bulletins each week, and found some of them speaking to me more deeply and directly than others. I had offered impromptu opening and closing prayers at various gatherings. And I had prayed informally and individually for as far back as I can remember, asking for God’s help in the face of illness and death and for guidance in everything from making personal decisions to weighing professional options.

But write a prayer? For the congregation to pray? Out loud? That seemed to be work for someone with more education and experience than I had. Yet, there I was on an October evening in the second session of Glenn’s inaugural prayer-writing workshop, thankful for handouts which gave me some security, and for a straightforward outline to follow -- address to God, attribute, petition, result, final doxology. Our group of aspiring prayer writers shared in the realization that writing prayers for a worship service was a special opportunity as well as a discipline that required thought and concentration. An example of a prayer written for worship on one of the handouts reminded us that God exists beyond our words, and that our task in crafting prayers was to point to a Truth larger and grander than the words themselves:

May the church at prayer recall
that no single, holy name
but the truth that feeds them all
is the God whom we proclaim

(written by Thomas H. Troeger)

Not long after the workshops, Pastor Alice charged a group of us (Tiffania Willets, Sara Maughan, Sara Logeman, and me) to write new liturgies for the lighting of the Advent wreath for each of the four weeks in Advent as well as for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Our working group started with the idea that we would include both the meaning of the candles and the characters of Christmas featured in the season’s sermon series. We agreed that we would write in a responsive reading format to engage the congregation and that we would close each week’s reading with a similar prayer to connect the liturgies over the weeks. Each of us took one of the four weeks in Advent and started writing. We shared ideas and encouragement in person and via e-mail, then turned our drafts over to Pastor Alice for review to ensure faithfulness to scripture and connection to the other elements of each worship service.

There was something special about hearing a liturgy you had helped create spoken aloud by the congregation. It wasn’t because it was our work individually or even collectively. It was because we had worked together prayerfully and unselfishly to contribute to the congregation’s worship of God and to their anticipation of Jesus’s birth.

Now there is a new opportunity to learn as Glenn hosts another prayer writing workshop led by Rev. Barbara Day Miller. This one will focus on Lenten texts and themes. (Learn more here.) My prayer for this group of prayer writers is that they will share meaningful experiences that will be of benefit to their spiritual growth as well as to our church community and its shared worship experiences.

Ginger Smith

Children's Sabbath

What do Hamilton, the Musical, the Apostle Paul, an 11-year-old girl, and the Glenn Church family have in common?

Why do I have a bucket overflowing with colorful pom-poms all over my office (and glitter, but that was an accident...)?

How many children are working hard to memorize the words to "I Will Praise You, O Lord" before Sunday?

What are the odds that at least one of the preachers' kids will run across the chancel area on Sunday?

Which children are practicing reciting the Apostles' Creed?

Do we think any of the Joyful Noise music class toddlers will actually sing "Jesus Loves Me" with the "big kids"?

How early do grandparents need to arrive to get a seat in the front pews?

How many pancakes can your child consume in one sitting?

These questions and many more will be answered THIS SUNDAY, for MY FAVORITE SUNDAY OF THE YEAR: CHILDREN'S SABBATH & SCOUT SUNDAY!

Bring the family! Invite your neighbors and friends-you've-been-meaning-to-invite-to-Glenn!  Wear your Glenn t-shirts, Girl or Boy Scout Uniforms, or even your Falcons gear (and don't forget a canned good donation for SOUP-er Bowl of Caring!)

It's not even here yet and I am already so proud of these remarkable and inspiring children in our midst. And if you're like me, we are all in need of a vision of hope for the present and the future. By God's amazing grace, I believe we will receive that gift this Sunday morning.


Taking a Journey Flat on Your Back

To my surprise my hematologist of 13 years felt something that didn’t feel quite right. I told her, “But I just had a mammogram 2 weeks ago, and the results were normal”. She wanted me to get it checked out anyway. How inconvenient that this would happen at the end of the school year, one of teachers’ busiest times. But being the obedient patient that I am, I went to get it checked out. Low and behold, it was cancer.

I thought, so maybe I won’t join my sister hiking Machu Picchu this year, but there’ll be other times to go on this journey. I talked with God, “Okay. I am not too happy about this. Where are you taking me? I have a family who is dependent on me, students who are dependent on me.”  God didn’t answer, I was a little annoyed. I did trust wherever we (God and I) went--it would be all right. But I was still worried about my family. “Worry” is my middle name. My husband, Chuck, says that I wouldn’t be happy unless I was worrying. I tell him, “I’m just planning for what could lay ahead.” I’m sure God smiles upon me.

I rolled up my sleeves. I’m productive and happy when I have a task at hand and set out to accomplish my mission. I thought, I can handle a little pain: I’ve birthed two boys, I’m tough, and I come from a German background. And God smiled. I had two surgeries, one to remove the lump, and the other to remove the Mamosite, as we switched course of treatment from local radiation to 8 rounds of chemotherapy and 36 radiation treatments. With the surgeries came fear. “God I love my life, I am sorry I have been ungrateful, always wanting more tasks to check off to feel accomplished. I don’t want to leave my family, I’m not ready.” It was the end of May, beginning of June. All the clergy were off at conferences. Who was going to pray with me?

And then a wonderful group of Christ followers from my Glenn Church family came and prayed with me and Chuck. And through these prayers, I heard God say, “Fear not, for I am with you.” Looking back, the surgeries were a “piece of cake,” but I was so proud of myself. I was an embattled warrior, but still strong. I thought I would be able to keep our family’s normal routine going, especially since I would get a two-month break from school. I talked with women from church who had had breast cancer. They gave me emotional support and led me to a wealth of sound information. Praise God they didn’t tell be how bad I would feel once the effects of chemo set in. The “Marthas” of the church set out to make sure my family would be cared for with good meals. 

And then the chemo set in. Chemo for me felt like the worst hangover I’ve ever had combined with the bird flu; yes I’ve had both. Weakness set in. I laid on my back on the sofa. I still wanted to be in the middle of things with my family, but I wasn’t anymore. The boys brought me things to drink and kissed me on the cheek. I’m not sure they knew what else to do. Slowly, I became less and less a part of their world. I tried to be there with them, but was too weak. This is when my real journey began, flat on my back, me and God. At first I was angry, not because I had gotten cancer but because I wasn’t part of my family’s everyday life. I was weak, and up until that moment I had always thought “weak” was a dirty, four-letter word.

But in that weakness, I was more open to receiving the healing balm of Jesus’ grace. I tried to come to church every Sunday for the simple comfort of hearing my church family lift me up in prayer. Up until that point in my life, I had been better at praying for others than myself. Oh how the prayers, and the meals brought in for my family filled me with God’s love and healing grace. I was especially reassured by those who visited a little and offered words of encouragement.

What gifts I had overlooked in my “get-the-task-done” life. God’s love had been there for the taking but I was too busy being strong to accept it. Lying flat on my back, I saw the beauty of the earth, the trees and the birds, and found my way back to accepting God’s love.

Suzanne Horton

Gradus ad Parnassum: Steps Toward Perfection

Gradus ad Parnassum, “Steps to Perfection,” is a 17th century manual on musical composition by German composer Johann Fux. It was used by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn, and is still used today. The Wesleyan concept of Sanctifying Grace includes the biblical idea of “moving on to perfection.” This past fall, during our worship emphasis on grace, the Chancel Choir and I discussed Gradus ad Parnassum in this context. 

We know of the Logos from the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the Word was God.” The Logos is Christ, the Word, present at creation and omni present as creation expands through time. Fux, in Gradus ad Parnassum, whether he realized it or not, discerned this in the music composed prior to his time, and provided guidance for subsequent composers to give the Logos in music further voice. In choir rehearsals, we look for this manifestation of Christ in the music we sing, and strive to bring it to life for ourselves and our congregation.

From Pope Benedict the 16th:

"Faith becoming music is part of the process of the word becoming flesh…When the word becomes music, there is involved [on the one hand] perceptible illustration, incarnation or taking on flesh, attraction of pre-rational powers, a drawing upon the hidden resonance of creation, a discovery of the song which lies at the basis of all things. And so this becoming music is itself the very turning point in the movement: it involves not only the word becoming flesh, but simultaneously the flesh becoming spirit."

Our anthems may or may not include the actual word “grace,” yet, if we rehearse properly and sing as Paul directs, with “heart and mind,” they will nevertheless manifest sanctifying grace for all present. Thus, we strive to realize God’s Logos in music for worship, with the aim of drawing us all closer to God.

Though yet unreached, we nevertheless strive toward this perfection in the service of the worship of God. May we all together climb these “Gradus ad Parnassum.”

Steven Darsey

A Year to Serve

The greatest among you will be your servant. Matthew 23:12

Now that 2017 is in full swing, if you are like me you have already forgotten that pesky New Year’s resolution list and have plowed into the new year full steam ahead (don’t worry, Lent is only a few weeks away…). Or better yet, maybe you never even made a list to begin with. Either way, consider this a last minute addition to your resolution list, a late Christmas present, and a heartfelt call to action all rolled into one.

A quick bit of background on me. I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a town that takes great pride in its blue collar work ethic. My parents embodied that to a great extent, my mother a night nurse and my father a social worker for inner city youth. Perhaps you grew up in a similar environment, where your own physical labor meant pride, respect, a sincere service provided. In communities like these, serving others is often just a part of daily life, whether it was part of your paycheck or not. In my family’s case, serving as local missionaries became our summer vacation in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware through the Children’s Sand and Surf Mission (CSSM) where we provided “on the beach” vacation bible school to vacationing families.

Serving others is a part of Glenn’s daily life as well. It’s part of our DNA. This past year alone, we built our 25th Habitat house, saw over 150 people serve throughout Atlanta on Good Neighbor Day, and provided scholarships to over 100 children in Zimbabwe, Cambodia, and Honduras. And those are the big headlines! Quietly in the background Glenn members also spent hundreds of hours packing snacks for local needy children, sorting clothes for refugees, and serving food to the homeless. Cold, dark, rainy days included. Because this is what Christ calls us to do: to serve the least of these, with humble hearts, with little fanfare. 

To kickoff 2017, the three Service teams at Glenn (Church and Society, Environmental, Missions) gathered on January 3 to discuss our wishes, hopes, and dreams. This year we are excited to roll out a monthly service activity for Glenn members to participate in, with the hope of giving everyone a chance to be the hands and feet of Christ every month. The activities will showcase the diverse relationships we have with local, global, and environmental causes here in Atlanta and abroad. From tilling the North Dekalb Mall Community Garden in February to serving at the International Rescue Committee refugee store in March, there will be great opportunities for all ages and skill sets to continue Glenn’s tradition of humble service. And this weekend you can get your year of service started with our MLK Service Day.

Aaron volunteering at the IRC refugee store.

Aaron volunteering at the IRC refugee store.

As your humble brother and friend (and Service Chair), I ask you to thoughtfully consider putting Service on this year’s resolution list. Because when we serve together, we witness together, we get to know each other better, and we grow the Kingdom just a little bit more.

Aaron Hurst

2016: A Year in 12 Photos

So many wonderful and life-giving things happened at Glenn in 2016! Here are a few highlights to reflect upon as we start a new year and anticipate what 2017 has in store for us...


January - Women's Retreat

The Women's Retreat brought 2016 in with a bang! Such a close-knit and caring community of inter-generational women. And the tradition continues: this year's retreat already has over 75 women signed-up.

The Women's Retreat brought 2016 in with a bang! Such a close-knit and caring community of inter-generational women. And the tradition continues: this year's retreat already has over 75 women signed-up.


February - Children's Sabbath and Scout Sunday

Children's Sabbath and Scout Sunday is one of our most well-attended services of the year. This past February proved no different: our congregation was led by children in song, scripture, and even the message - 5th grader Carter Hales delivered a beautiful sermon.

Children's Sabbath and Scout Sunday is one of our most well-attended services of the year. This past February proved no different: our congregation was led by children in song, scripture, and even the message - 5th grader Carter Hales delivered a beautiful sermon.


March - Dancing with the Clergy Stars

Alice was one of the contestants in this conference benefit for The Matthew Initiative. And with her natural talent, weeks of practice, and support from the Glenn community, she WON!

Alice was one of the contestants in this conference benefit for The Matthew Initiative. And with her natural talent, weeks of practice, and support from the Glenn community, she WON!


April - Confirmation

Our community grew by 16 in one day - these youth were confirmed as members of Glenn Church!

Our community grew by 16 in one day - these youth were confirmed as members of Glenn Church!


May - The Return of the Family Retreat

A long-time Glenn tradition was resurrected. Over 30 families spent the weekend together in the mountains of North Carolina, enjoying nature and fellowship.

A long-time Glenn tradition was resurrected. Over 30 families spent the weekend together in the mountains of North Carolina, enjoying nature and fellowship.


June - Scaffolding Galore

Our buildings had significant work done during the summer: interior work on the sanctuary, roofing and siding on the Church School Building, and the stunning dome in the Little Chapel was restored. Up next in 2017 - THE YAAB!

Our buildings had significant work done during the summer: interior work on the sanctuary, roofing and siding on the Church School Building, and the stunning dome in the Little Chapel was restored. Up next in 2017 - THE YAAB!


July - Rev. Blair's Ordination

Many Glenn youth, congregants, and staff headed over to Athens, GA in support of Blair's gifts of ministry and calling as an ordained minister. The youth also pooled their money and gifted Blair her red ordination stole.

Many Glenn youth, congregants, and staff headed over to Athens, GA in support of Blair's gifts of ministry and calling as an ordained minister. The youth also pooled their money and gifted Blair her red ordination stole.


August - 25 years of Habitat

This year was our 25th Habitat Build! Our devoted project liaison, Jennifer Scott-Ward, hugs home owner Regina Holloway after a busy build day.

This year was our 25th Habitat Build! Our devoted project liaison, Jennifer Scott-Ward, hugs home owner Regina Holloway after a busy build day.


September - Glenn-Emory Day

We once again celebrated our connections with Emory, and were honored to be led in worship by these strong leaders in the church and the academy: Dr. Claire Sterk, Rev. Sue Haupert-Johnson, Rev. Dr. Alice Rogers, Dr. Jan Love, and Rev. Bridgette Young Ross.

We once again celebrated our connections with Emory, and were honored to be led in worship by these strong leaders in the church and the academy: Dr. Claire Sterk, Rev. Sue Haupert-Johnson, Rev. Dr. Alice Rogers, Dr. Jan Love, and Rev. Bridgette Young Ross.


October - The Return of The Gathering

Our casual and alternative evening service returned, but under the leadership of our newest clergy member - Rev. Brent Huckaby! We look forward to The Gathering offering weekly worship in 2017 and pray for the growth of this community.

Our casual and alternative evening service returned, but under the leadership of our newest clergy member - Rev. Brent Huckaby! We look forward to The Gathering offering weekly worship in 2017 and pray for the growth of this community.


November - Post-election dialogue and prayer

After a long and contentious election season, we gathered together for an evening of prayer, sharing, and support.

After a long and contentious election season, we gathered together for an evening of prayer, sharing, and support.


December - 3 Christmas Services in 2 Days

Christmas weekend was a whirlwind around here! Especially for our clergy who might as well of brought sleeping bags to their offices. But we loved seeing our sanctuary so full - so full of joy, of light, and of hope.

Christmas weekend was a whirlwind around here! Especially for our clergy who might as well of brought sleeping bags to their offices. But we loved seeing our sanctuary so full - so full of joy, of light, and of hope.


January 1, 2017 - Family Ties

To start off this year, Rev. Susan Pinson celebrated communion with her father-in-law, Rev. John Pinson. They modeled for us the importance of family, relationship, and connectedness. May Glenn Church be those things for you in 2017!

To start off this year, Rev. Susan Pinson celebrated communion with her father-in-law, Rev. John Pinson. They modeled for us the importance of family, relationship, and connectedness. May Glenn Church be those things for you in 2017!

Stories of Waiting: The Waiting Is Over

As an adoptive parent, I am drawn to Joseph in the biblical story of Jesus’s birth. He is asked to raise a child who is not biologically his own in a kind of open adoption where the biological father, God, will continue to have great influence. I can vouch for the influence of biology on children as both a welcome and puzzling feature of adoptive parenting!

Waiting for a child to be born is very different for a prospective adoptive parent than it is for a biological parent who plans to raise her/his child. Although both kinds of waiting include concerns about the baby’s and mother’s health and wellbeing, the biological parents rest assured that the baby is theirs to raise if they so choose. Adoptive parents can never be completely sure that the baby (or child) is theirs until all the legalities are in place days, months, or sometimes years after the child is born. But detachment from the process is not an option for prospective adoptive parents. A child deserves to be loved, claimed, and nurtured from the moment s/he is born – if not earlier. Still, the loving, claiming, and nurturing pre-birth comes with risks of loss and heartbreak because the biological parents can change their minds.

Back in 1999, my husband John and I decided to pursue another adoption – our 4th. We posted a letter to potential birthmothers online. We followed leads that did not pan out, including a young brother and sister of an unemployed couple in Idaho, a pregnant homeless woman who decided to keep her baby, and an older, professional woman who wanted too much money. It was confusing and emotionally draining. But, as John said, “The worst thing that can happen is that we raise three great kids.” We persisted.

Then, in mid-December, we received a call from Stacy, a 23-year-old, college educated, former Marine, and professional horseback rider who chose us to adopt her baby boy due to be born in February. Our relationship to her is a long complicated story that includes flying her to Atlanta from Texas to meet our family, an emergency trip to the ER when she started having contractions, hiring lawyers and social workers in both states, costly living expenses, and drama related to the baby’s alleged father. But we liked Stacy. She was direct, not afraid to voice her opinions, worldly, bright, and articulate. Together, we agreed to name the baby Luke, and we talked or emailed daily with Stacy while we waited for his birth. We planned what would happen in the hospital, including a ritual presided over by the chaplain, transferring the baby from Stacy to us.

In early February, two things happened. I cancelled our online adoption letter to potential birthmothers and our adoption plan with Stacy began to unravel. The latter was not clear to us until weeks later when she left us depleted of all our savings and wondering what we had done wrong. In mid-March, I wrote an email to Stacy:

I’ve been unpacking the suitcase that was packed for two months and putting away the little baby things. That’s hard. But what is harder is seeing the children struggle with the loss of ‘Luke.’ Last night I was helping K.J. undress and get ready for bed. His shirt was a little snug so I suggested it might be time to give it to someone smaller. K.J. said, “How about Luke?” I said, “K.J., do you remember that I told you Stacy has decided to keep her baby? He won’t be coming to live with us.” K.J. hung his head and said, “Then I won’t have a little brother.” That was tough to hear.

…But do know this: If, after some time passes, you begin to think you’ve made the wrong decision–we are still here. The Falcos will not pursue another adoption. This is the end of the line for us. For financial and emotional reasons we can’t start over again. But we are here for your child. Remember that if you ever need us.

Surprising us, Stacy changed her mind again, and we took another roller coaster ride up toward adoption and then down into despair. I know you will understand what I mean when I say: There are times when the darkness seems to engulf you. Hopes and dreams are shattered. It is the blackest of blacks… But then you look up and see the stars and remember that there is something more, something greater than the darkness. Although the starlight does not obliterate the darkness, it offers a different perspective on it.

And so it was that in the midst of this last chaotic ride with Stacy, I got a voicemail from a pregnant woman in North Carolina named Teri who said she had seen our adoption letter on the Internet. This seemed strange to me because it had been over a month since our letter had been posted. Nonetheless, I called Teri the next day.

Teri told me that she was 32-years-old and having a baby due on May 12th. She found out she was pregnant five months earlier, but had been afraid of adoption because she thought the homes were unsafe - until she read our letter. She loved our letter and had been carrying it around in her car for a couple of months (which explained why she had a letter that was no longer online.) Her friends had encouraged her to call us.

How was I feeling? How could I consider making a new adoption plan with someone else so soon after Luke was gone, before I was done grieving? We didn’t have the money to start over. We were not sure we had the emotional strength to trust again.

But there was Teri, innocent and unknowing of all we had been through, telling me the Falcos were the family she wanted, sharing details that demonstrated how much attention she paid to our relationships to each of our children.

I went to Cannon Chapel, where John and I had been married, thinking I needed to fall apart enough to make room for a new spirit to enter. It didn’t happen exactly as I’d imagined, but I did hear two things that stayed with me: To love God, we have to love our brothers and sisters… God does not leave broken what God has made.

We took a leap of faith. Longer story short - baby Journey Leigh Falco was born on May 18, 2000 in Wilmington, NC and returned home with me to Atlanta on May 30th. The waiting was over.

Rebecca, Teri, and Journey

Rebecca, Teri, and Journey

John and Journey

John and Journey

I think about how Joseph might have felt while waiting for Jesus’s birth. He told God he would accept the role of father, but the days preceding the Son’s birth were bleak. He must have been feeling the shame of marrying a woman who was pregnant by another. He was poor. It was cold. And he couldn’t even find a decent room for his laboring wife to give birth. Nothing was going right… And then it did. God’s child was born. The star shone in the darkness. The whole of the circumstances – angels, shepherds, wise persons – let Joseph know it would be alright.

Sometimes things don’t work out the way we envision or plan, and it feels very, very dark. But what I think I’ve learned – and continue to learn again and again – is that if we allow ourselves to see the light in the darkness and trust the waiting, miracles can happen.

Before Journey was born, when I asked Teri about her reasons for making an adoption plan, she said this: “So that my baby can have the most healthy, balanced, and unconditional loving home possible. So he/she has the chance to know how to make it in this world. Every child deserves and has the right to be safe and feel safe and have unconditional love.”

Now that the miracle of God’s son has arrived, all that God asks from each of us, every day, is unconditional love. It is both the challenge and the promise of all that is yet to come.

Rebecca Patton Falco

Stories of Waiting: One Door for Each Day

Waiting can be hard, it can be long, it can be exciting. Every year, my kids excitedly await their Advent calendars. The calendars always appear at their respective places at the dining room table on the morning of December 1. I make each calendar by hand. Working with Photoshop, I arrange 25 pictures on an 11x17 page. Then I create a Christmas themed cover page with the numbers 1-25 that align to the photos. I cut 25 doors using a ruler and an X-Acto knife and then glue the 2 layers together.  This is not something that can easily be whipped out on November 30, although that has happened more than once.  

The three calendars are uniquely crafted as a chronicle of each child’s year, starting from the previous December. Each of the 25 doors open to reveal a picture of something special that occurred during the year, like a ride on a rollercoaster, running through a sprinkler with your two best friends or playing a concert at the Schwartz Center. Many times when I take a photo, I’ll think, “This would make a great Advent calendar shot.” I also include photos of things the kids enjoy, like homemade pancakes and strawberries doused in thick syrup. There are also Christmassy pictures; one morning, you might discover images of Santa, or a regal Glenn pageant, Jesus in a manger, or reindeer flying through the night. The last image is always about the birth of Jesus.  

Ian's Advent calendar.

Ian's Advent calendar.

The kids are on the honor system. The rule is you only open the door for that day.  This rule has been broken by at least two of the three children. Personally, I think that sort of ruins the surprise when you have all your surprises in one day while nobody is looking.

About three years ago, I decided the calendars were becoming too predictable. They needed to be enhanced. I initiated a star reward system. Each calendar would have four images with stars. When one of the kids opens a door revealing an image with a star, they get some sort of reward. Each calendar has one image of a candy cane with a star; on that morning that child receives a candy cane. There is an image of a gift-wrapped present with a star, so that morning they receive a small gift. There could be an image of a favorite restaurant with a star. That’s where we will be having breakfast that morning. The last star is on a mystery image.

The mystery image is usually a hyper close-up photo of some obscure place around the house. The photos are typically challenging to decipher. Some of the shots I’ve taken include a photo of the space between a seat cushion and a chair, a shot of the inside of a glasses case, and a windowsill. You can see the kids searching the house; all three of them huddled up trying to guess what the image is and where the next clue is hidden. Once they find the mystery location, there is another mystery image, and the search continues until they find the third location where their prize is hidden.

The calendars are highly anticipated each year. Some favorite images from this year: a perfect dive into the Emory pool, our dog Otis giving wet licks to the ear, and shooting a bb gun at Girl Scout camp. The calendars give us a view on all the gifts God has given us in the past year. Such great memories are just waiting to be revealed, loved and shared again. Now we await a new year, a new reminder of God’s love and the promise of tomorrow as we celebrate the birth of Christ.

Karen Kersting

Stories of Waiting: Life is Full of Waiting

Growing up on a farm in east middle Georgia during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s did not offer a lot of entertainment alternatives for a child. My family were members of a small Methodist church in a small town. The church had a tradition of the members drawing names in early January and you became the “secret pal” of the person whose name you drew. "Secret pal” then would give small gifts at various times during the year such as birthdays, holidays, or special occasions. As a young child, one looked forward to Christmas each year as a Christmas party was held the last Sunday before Christmas Day. Under the Christmas tree would be the final gift from your “secret pal” and with their name on the gift. I can remember the excitement of waiting for the Christmas party to find out who my “secret pal” was.

In my senior year in high school, one day in the spring -  I don’t remember the exact month -  my math teacher, who was very strict, stopped me on the way out of her class and told me to have my father come see her on Saturday. That is all she said. I was almost shaking in my shoes trying to figure out why she wanted to see my father. I told my father and was a nervous wreck waiting for Saturday morning. When the time arrived my father took me to see her, and she looked at him and said “Luther, this boy needs to go to college.” Nothing had been said about college in my family, and I was shocked. Well, I did go to the University of Georgia that fall.

The Saturday before Easter, 1965, I was sitting in a small room on the lower level of the First Methodist Church in Newnan, Georgia, waiting to go up to the sanctuary. You talk about being nervous, I was. My bride-to-be was somewhere getting ready to walk down the aisle, and we were to start our new life together. My cousin, who was to be best man, was sick and his brother was standing in for him. He was not much help. I will not forget that time.

A snowy night in January, 1968, I was at Emory University Hospital sitting in a room all by myself waiting for our first child to come into the world. What do you do for several hours but think of all the things that can go wrong? Finally I got up and walked out into the hall and saw our doctor come down the hall holding a bundle in his arms. He stopped and said “Do you want to see your daughter?” That is excitement.

One Saturday morning, I was at home when the telephone rang. I answered and a voice said “The Governor wants to talk to you.” I knew something was not right when the Governor called on Saturday morning. Waiting for him to come on the line was heart stopping. I had been named “Acting Director” of the Georgia Building Authority at the end of the previous Governor’s term, and the current Governor, after about two years, still had not had me confirmed as Director. The Governor came on the line and told me that he had just walked around the Governor’s Mansion grounds and they were in terrible shape. There was to be a birthday party that afternoon for a previous Governor. He wanted the grounds cleaned up. I called the Grounds Supervisor and we got a crew out there right away. We picked up the limbs and leaves from a storm the night before and planted all the flower beds that were at the end of the winter season. On the way to work Monday morning, I got a call telling me that the Governor wanted to see me in his office. I went straight there and sat in his reception room waiting for the news that I was out of a job - I just knew it. When I was finally invited into his office, he was smiling and told me the grounds were beautiful for the party. Then he told me that he had been derelict in not making me Director and he planned to at the next Authority meeting.

In 2000, I attended the Prayer and Bible Conference at Lake Junaluska and went to a workshop on Centering Prayer. This was my first time hearing the term. The speaker told of her practice and how it had impacted her life. She pointed to a friend in the back of the room and asked her to tell what changes she had seen in the speaker’s life. The friend told us that there had been a significant change in her friend’s life after she started practicing Centering Prayer. I learned that there was a group at a local Episcopal church and went to join them. So, what does this have to do with waiting? The prayer practice calls for one to sit in silence for twenty minutes, to give your intent and your consent for God to work within, to wait as thoughts come and go without becoming involved. It is a practice of letting go and letting God that will carry over into your daily life. And then you wait for the changes that will come by letting God become part of your life.

So Advent is a period of waiting. Waiting for what? It depends on whether one is Mary, Joseph, the babe in the womb (Elizabeth’s), an angel, a shepherd, a Magi, a king, or one waiting to be part of the mystery.


Luther Lewis

Stories of Waiting: Waiting to Be Prepared

I have heard this saying countless times: “God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called.” I hear it most when churches are looking for volunteers and want to battle against the "I don’t feel capable/suitable/prepared do to that” excuse. And I have to say I don’t disagree. If God calls you to do something, get going. But what if the thing you are called to do takes a lot of preparation?     

My husband, Joel, and I feel called to serve God abroad. While we were in college, we had the opportunity to travel to Ghana for two months with 13 friends and get a feel for what that would be like. We have wanted to get back ever since. We have friends who since finishing college live all over the world serving God in various ways. And while they didn’t just pack up and go, they got prepared a lot quicker than us. I have to admit that we feel a sense of jealousy as we get their post cards and read their blogs highlighting the things they are doing. We are so proud of their work, but have that itch of wishing we were there, too.

But Joel and I are waiting, waiting because the service that God has called us to takes a lot of preparation. Joel is preparing to be a Pediatric Infectious Disease Physician; that takes 10 years! 10 years of waiting to be prepared! I am working on my PhD in bioengineering with an emphasis in prosthetics so I can teach others how to best use these restorative devices. As anyone who has chased getting to add those fancy letters after their name can tell you, it takes a long time, too.

It is easy to feel unfulfilled during the waiting, to feel a sense of inaction when the days and weeks don’t feel like they are getting you closer to your ultimate goal. It is easy to focus on the end of the tunnel and all the waiting left to get there and forget to appreciate the preparation. But the waiting serves a purpose. We need to be prepared.

I think Advent serves as a great reminder to appreciate and even enjoy the preparation. I love preparing for Christmas, getting out the tree, buying presents, placing the Christmas cards on the fridge. We are waiting for this big day to celebrate and rejoice but everything we do to prepare can make that day a little better, a little brighter, and a little more joyous.  

But Advent isn’t just a time to prepare our homes for friends and family but to also prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord. Christmas Day can be a whirlwind of family and food; it can come and go without recognizing the birth of Christ. If we don’t use the time of waiting Advent brings to prepare our hearts, it is hard to expect to be ready to remember Him come Christmas Day. The waiting gives us time to prepare and the preparation makes the end result better.

I try to remember that as we continue to wait to be prepared. Every day that we study and learn something new is one more problem we will be better able to solve when the time comes. The only way for us to serve God well in our calling is to be prepared, so we should find the joy in the waiting, knowing that someone’s life will be all the more blessed because we made sure to be prepared.

We have all had a time of waiting to be finish school, to learn a skill, to prepare our hearts. Let's not get dragged down in the waiting but find joy in the preparation. God has called us all to prepare and we and those we serve will be all the more blessed because of it.

Charla Howard

Joel and Charla celebrating a big milestone in their time of waiting to be prepared.

Joel and Charla celebrating a big milestone in their time of waiting to be prepared.