Justin Weber is the pastor at Honey Creek-New Providence Friends Church, in New Providence, Iowa. That’s a long way from Harrow! Over 30 years ago, Justin and I were classmates at the Earlham School of Religion (ESR), a seminary in the Quaker tradition.
Quakers have been around since the 1650’s, and though they are relatively small in numbers, their impact on the world has been extraordinary. Quakers were very involved in the Underground Railroad, which was the route followed by escaped slaves seeking freedom and new life. Quakers have always had a strong social justice witness, rooted in their belief that each person bears something of the light of Christ within them.
I spoke recently with Justin, over ZOOM, and with his permission and encouragement, recorded almost 2 hours of video. I have edited that great, and wide-ranging conversation, and included some highlights in this week’s worship video.
Justin is recovering after spending close to 60 days in hospital. He was “patient zero” in that local health care system- their very first COVID-19 patient. He is still recovering from that ordeal. I am grateful for his friendship, and his ongoing recovery. Justin is married to Krista, and they have two adult children, Jonathon and Rachel, who are home with them now, weathering the storm of the pandemic. Justin is also a small-business owner. He runs an antique store in Eldora, Iowa, called “The Pickin’ Preacher”.
Early in our conversation, Justin reflected on his experience as a long journey, and mentioned the Exodus, the movement of the Israelite people from bondage and oppression under their Egyptian task-masters, through the wilderness, to the promised land. It is often easier for us to see God with us in the rear-view mirror, once we are looking back on where we have been.
I chose this reading from Deuteronomy, which contains a ritual prayer of thanks, that recounts God’s good works in the history of Israel:
Deuteronomy 26:1-11 (New International Version)
When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the first fruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the first fruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.
The conversation with Justin wandered almost as much as the track taken by the Israelites seeking the Promised Land! We talked about a lot of things- and I had to find a way to distill something resembling a sermon from our discussions. One section that did not, sadly, make the cut, was when I asked Justin for his prayer intentions. We were talking just a few days after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and Justin expressed deep concern for the racial injustices underlying that tragedy, and spoke about the need for followers of Jesus to be “salt and light” in the world.
Here are the Pastoral Prayers for this week, including prayers for Father’s Day. On the video, the prayers are followed by a clip of Justin Weber singing the Lord’s Prayer.
Today’s Pastoral Prayer is based on one offered at the Antler River Watershed Regional Office of the United Church of Canada
COVID-19 has infiltrated every part of our daily lives.
Family relations have been altered;
Education and employment has moved to our homes, or been put on hold; recreational and travel possibilities are limited.
The daily news is a whirlwind of statistics and new ‘best practices’.
Measures to slow the spread of the virus have left us cut off from those in long term care, and in hospital.
Around the world, people have died, some without the comfort of loved ones at their bedside.
We pause to remember all that has been lost to COVID-19.
Some changes have been positive.
Less commuting is reducing emissions and air pollution.
Families are baking and crafting and doing puzzles together.
Friends are more intentional about checking in on one another.
Neighbours are sharing what they have.
We are less inclined to take simple comforts for granted.
We pause to give thanks for the ways we continue to be blessed.
While many of us stay safe in our homes, many others are asked to sacrifice much to keep our systems functioning.
Some, because of what they do, and some simply because of who they are, work tirelessly at keeping supplies on store shelves, caring for vulnerable members of our communities, and raising morale.
With hearts full of gratitude, we remember the helpers:
Those who bring us food – the farmers and farm workers, the bakers and butchers, the burger flippers and coffee makers, the packers and shippers at warehouses, the truckers.
Those who work in the markets and grocery stores – cleaners, shelf stockers, and cashiers
Those who deliver our food, mail, and online goods
Those who share food with neighbours in need
Staff and volunteers who create safe spaces in shelters and community centres
Worker in group homes and community residences.
Retreat centres and camps who have offered sanctuary to arriving migrant workers.
Mask, scrub cap, and gown sewers working to make our communities safer
Worship leaders finding ways to connect, create meaning, celebrate, and provide care.
Funeral directors walking with grieving families
Parents and guardians caring for children, and adult children caring for parents
Teachers and those in ministry with children and youth
The children and youth who have had give up time with friends, birthday parties, and team sports to help flatten the curve
Healthcare workers in institutions and homes – respiratory therapists, nurses, doctors, pharmacists, PSWs, radiologists, technicians, dieticians, midwives, doulas, environmental service workers, porters, physical and occupational therapists.
First responders – firefighters, police, paramedics, 911 operators
Lab techs and clinicians processing tests, isolating antibodies, searching for answers
Those who pick up and haul, and sort our recycling and household waste.
Those who maintain our phone and internet, water, sewage and electrical infrastructure
Artists and entertainers sharing their talents to bring joy.
Journalists, videographers, reporters, and photographers who bring news.
Decision makers – politicians, medical officers, policy writers who shape our response to problems.
We place all these named, and those whose names are written on our hearts, in your loving hands, God.
We pray also for those we know who are having a difficult time: Bill Gorick, who asks for our prayers as he lives with cancer. We also pray for Gloria, who is taking care of him at home, their family, and all those involved in Bill’s care.
We pray for Nelda Vollans, who is in palliative care at Iler Lodge in Essex, and for her family and caregivers.
We pray for Bruce Woodiwiss, Leyland McLean, Richard Herniman, and Robert Herniman.
I also ask for continued prayers for my friend Justin, and all those who have been directly touched by the COVID-19 virus.
We pray for the congregation of Harrow United Church, and all other faith communities who are discovering new ways to live out their mission in these strange times.
This is also a day when we remember our fathers. Those who were present with us, and those who were not. Those who are still with us, and those who have died. Those who blessed us with good memories and wisdom, and those who left other legacies. We pray for all those who wished to be fathers, and were unable. We pray for those who feel overwhelmed, and who need support in the task of being a father. We make all of our prayers in the name of Jesus, who had the blessing of an earthly father, and who taught us to think of God as a loving parent. Amen
It is perhaps fitting that we end our video today with my friend Pastor Justin Weber singing the Lord’s Prayer. Justin is father to two grown children, back living with him and his wife Krista during the COVID-19 pandemic.