We’ve asked people to share how they live God’s love at Saint Matthew’s and in the world. These stories express how people at Saint Matthew’s are using the gifts God has given them to help transform the world.

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Thelma October 1, 2017

My faith journey began when I was a little girl.  My family went to church every Sunday and we were an integral part of a loving church family working, learning, playing, worshiping and giving our gifts to Praise God and to spread God’s Love.
I cannot imagine my life without such a church family and St. Matthew’s has been my Church home for over 45 years.

Here at St. Matthew’s I have served in many ways,  teaching Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, Chairperson of Education, leading craft groups, worship leader, etc. However, for more than 20 years I have created the worship flowers/ visuals for the Sunday worship almost every Sunday.  I began slowly with special designs like Pentecost and Thanksgiving but soon became fascinated with creating designs that I like to call “Scriptures in Bloom”. In January of 2000 the church hosted a seminar called “Treading on the Verge of the Jordan”.  The worship committee wanted an expressive design so I suggested an underwater. You can imagine the reaction!!!

I gave it my all and it was a success! People were curious so it turned into a Children’s sermon for explanation. From there I designed several Lenten and Advent series, which also served as visuals for Children’s sermons.  Many of the flowers used had liturgical meaning and symbolism.In November of 2001, St. Matthew’s hosted a liturgical art show and worship arts festival, titled “The Light of Christ: Imagination and Illumination. Expressive works for each liturgical holiday and sacrament were created by the poet, Thomas Troeger, the liturgical fabric artist, Becky Rogers Witsell and me, the floral designer. I presented a workshop to participants from all over the state on creating meaningful designs for worship. What this whole experience has done for my faith is amazing to me!It has led to more reflective Bible study, communication with church members who wish to share special occasions or memorials with the congregation through flowers, and meaningful prayer times as I create memorial arrangements.  I love nature and flowers.It is a way I spend time with God.

One of the highlights of my life was attending the Washington National Cathedral Altar Guild Flower Seminar in January of 2002. On my name tag it read, Flower Arranging in Holy Spaces. It was awesome and inspiring to design right in the beautiful cathedral and to actually create the flowers for the upcoming Sunday services. Risk, Trust and Faith took on new meaning.  I arrived at the College of Preachers where we stayed, physically all alone but with keen awareness of God’s presence.  A week later I left with an abundance of liturgical and floral inspiration and many flower friendships all across the country.  I would like to read to you excerpts from a letter from the preface of our text book ,Flowers to the Glory of God, written by Ronald H. Haines, a Bishop of Washington, DC as it expresses many of my feelings.

Excerpts from the letter:                        We read in scriptures “…let us offer to God an unending sacrifice of praise….” Those words call to mind the ministry of the Altar Guild.  The atmosphere of reverence and beauty, whether in a majestic cathedral or in a tiny mission, so often reflects the work of loving hands and devoted servants of the Lord.

                        The beauty of God’s creation is a wonder to behold.  To me the beauty of a flower reflects the glory of God.  In a world that is scarred and drab a flower is a sign of hope.  I admire the creative gift of those whose ministry it is to present to God offerings of beauty.  This book on floral arranging is designed to enrich the ministry of those who serve on altar guilds.  It has been lovingly prepared as an offering to God and for the benefit of the Church.                             Ronald H. Haines, Bishop of Washington, pro-tem

In closing, I wish to thank St. Matthew’s for the honor and opportunity to design flowers for the Glory of God most Sundays. It is a meaningful path helping me to strengthen my faith and a way I can give Praise to God. I hope the altar arrangements are meaningful to all of you and I welcome others to join me in this ministry.

Faithfully,Thelma

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Lynne, October 8, 2017

In an attempt to address my own uncertainties in teaching our high school seniors and to provide something of a measuring stick, I decided to set some goals for what I hoped we could accomplish together over the course of four years.  This was the result.  For each person, I hope they will:

  • to have a clear sense of themselves, their values as they begin to make consequential life choices.
  • to learn to value their own minds and interpretations and to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts.
  • to grow comfortable speaking out by practicing this skill in a loving, accepting community.
  • to see how a book, parts of which are over 3000 years old, still has relevance for their lives and their world; and further to see how this book urges us to reach out, to connect, to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
  • to know the many gifts that come from being part of a faith community.

As I looked at the list I realized two things: that it also spoke to what I hope for me and that undergirding much of this, was community.

At the same time I was reading a moving, powerful and sometimes quirky book entitled Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber.  In the chapter where she is describing the ways her congregation marks the events of Holy Week I found the following:

After Peter denied Jesus, he experienced Easter, but after Judas betrayed Jesus, he bought a field, tripped and fell, and his guts burst open.  He died alone in a field of blood.  He died knowing her was a sinner and perhaps thinking that God did not want him.

There was no Easter for Judas.  There was no Resurrection.  There was no light shining which the darkness could not overcome.  Judas never got to be filled with joy and disbelief at Pentecost like those in the upper room.  He never got to stick his fingers in the wounds of God.  He never got to eat sacramental broiled fish on a beach, served to him by the resurrected Christ.  Judas never experienced the defeat of sin and death revealed in the breaking of the bread.  He chose death before seeing that death was done for.  Our brother Judas.

But was what he did so unforgivable?  How is it that Judas, who betrayed Jesus once and was filled with remorse, became the villain, while Peter, who denied Jesus three times and wept bitterly, became the rock on which the church was built?  When it comes down to it, what is the difference between Peter and Judas?  Well, maybe nothing.  And maybe there’s not a whole lot of difference between us and them too.

But we get to share something with Peter that Judas never got to experience and it’s the thing that could have made all the difference.  In Judas’s isolation, he never availed himself to the means of grace.  Judas carried with him into that field the burden of not experiencing God’s grace because he was removed from the community in which he could hear it.  In Judas’s ears there never was placed a word of grace.  And let me tell you, that’s not something the sinner can create for him or herself.  It is next to impossible in isolation to manufacture the beautiful, radical grace that flows from the heart of God to God’s broken and blessed humanity.  As human beings, there are many things we can create for ourselves :entertainment, stories, pain, toothpaste, maybe even positive self-talk.  But it is difficult to create this thing that frees us from the bondage of self.  We cannot create for ourselves God’s work of grace.  We must tell it to each other.  It’s a terribly inconvenient and oftentimes uncomfortable way for things to happen.  Were we able to receive the word of God through pious, private devotion – through quiet personal time with God – the Christian life would be far less messy.  But, as Paul tells us, faith comes through hearing, and hearing implies someone right there doing the telling.

And that, for me, is the St. Matthew’s community: welcoming, challenging, forgiving and utterly precious.  And I will support this community fully and to the greatest extent I am able.

Lynne O.

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Peggy October 15, 2017

My name is Peggy and I have been a member of St. Matthew’s for about 28 years. I would say St. Matthew’s has been a big part in my growth as a person. I’ve been involved in various activities along the way. I would say that my faith leads me to step up and do something when I am able. I think way back to when I was involved in teaching Sunday School for years, and how I became Superintendent for a year and how I was not 100% enthusiastic about taking on that particular role. But the sky never fell in, and I actually learned a few things about myself. One was that being involved was rewarding, both in the relationships developed and in the work itself and even the support in the struggles. Being involved and seeing the energies of people at St. Matthew’s coming together and making good things happen serves to strengthen my faith all the time. I see it happen over and over again.
In the past few years I’ve been involved with the Missions, Outreach and Advocacy committee and also a group of us working on immigration issues. My interest in immigration issues was strengthened in a group called Faith Circle, which was a group of women in this church who got together and focused on certain issues in depth. One of the issues was Immigration. We each took a piece of it and presented it. I took the piece on history of the laws on immigration. I’m a law abiding citizen and this part interested me.  I also looked at these laws in the context of the UMC Social Principles and Jesus’s teachings.
I developed a greater understanding of how laws are sometimes flawed and my deepening personal take away from this study was that my lens went from a focused law view to a wider angle Christian view. I saw some overriding guidelines from Jesus’s teachings. Love your neighbor, include not exclude, welcome the sojourner. He says it over and over. I believe this is an overriding guiding directive, and I saw and see that some laws do more harm than good. At the beginning of this year I felt a strong need to act on my faith in a meaningful way, and so became much more involved with Immigration. Everything that we have organized has led me deeper into the issues and reaffirms for me the trueness of these teachings. It just feels right.
That Faith Circle study was a bit of an “Aha” moment for me. All of the classes and groups that I have been part of at St. Matthew’s since then have strengthened me in these guiding principles and not just applying to immigration. This informs my wanting to help those who do not have love, support, acceptance and inclusion because we all feel better and live better when we have these things. St. Matthew’s continuously helps my faith grow through groups and classes and relationships, and gives me many opportunities to put it into action with others. This is why I keep coming to St. Matthew’s and give to St. Matthew’s.
Peggy P.
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Marilyn October 22, 2017

Why do I give to St. Matthew’s? What motivates me to give my time and my money to St. Matthew’s?

The answer to that question is YOU – each and every one of you. There is a warmth and an energy here because of YOU. We are surrounded by talented, kind, caring, prayerful, people.

We are truly blessed as a congregation, to have so many people showing God’s love by giving a piece of themselves and sharing their talents with each other and with the greater community. In fact, everyone seems to do something in some way or another. It might be a mission trip, or advocating for those who are food challenged, ororganizing and running a Boston outreach group,or providing music for worship, or creating beautiful flower arrangements for Sunday, or leading an education class, or taking freshly baked cookies to someone just home from the hospital, or lingering after worship and lending a listening ear to someone in need of an extra prayeror a chat – the list goes on and on. Big things and little things – all making a difference in people’s lives. We are surrounded by thoughtful, caring people going that extra mile for others in true Christian spirit. It is amazing what this congregation does for each other and for the greater community.

In addition to the energy of the members of the congregation, over the years, we have been blessed to have some amazing pastors minister to us. Each one has had a slightly different style – all have shared their talents with us. Pastor Steve is a perfect example with his music, his writings, his eloquence, his rapport with the kids, his prayerful support of us all – again the list is long. We are so very fortunate that over the years we have had pastors who inspire us and care for us and challenge us.

For all of these things I am very grateful. I give to St. Matthew’s so that we as a congregation can continue to grow, to serve, to thrive, and to be challenged. I give in the hopes that even more people will come to St. Matthew’s to share their talents and caring spirit. I give because I am so very thankful for the warmth of this congregation.

St. Matthew’s has been an integral part of my life for more than 40 years and I give because I’m up for another 40!

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Amy October 29, 2017

As many of you know, I have a long history with this church. I grew up in Acton and came to Sunday school and church here with my older sister, Jennifer, and my mother, Jane Griffith. I attended until I was old enough to tell my mom that I’d rather stay in bed. But my mother remained an active member right up until she died at the age of 60. Her funeral was held here in August of 1987. I married my husband, Kevin, here in October of 1993. My four children, Jane, John, Jason, and Julia, were all baptized here. And my husband and I renewed our vows here. During those years I would sporadically come to church, trying to like it and wanting to feel like something spoke to me. But I never felt any of those things, so I never stayed.
The Summer of 2015, when I was already in the midst of a very emotional and troubling time of my own, my husband and I suffered the tremendous loss of a very close friend. But it wasn’t until I heard one very profound statement spoken at his funeral that a piece of me suddenly woke up with enormous gusto and started to incessantly nag at me. It became clear to me that I needed something “more.” I started speaking with a very close friend who is deeply devoted to her faith, and I began reading a little bit; nothing too heavy, just some daily devotional books at first, until I bought myself a bible. I couldn’t get enough of all this “new-to-me stuff.” I couldn’t wait to read more and talk about it more and ask a million very basic and elementary questions about everything. I felt a change happening within me. A good change. In the Fall of 2016, I began wanting more. I wanted to begin attending church; but I wanted to try different churches so I could find one that was exactly right for me. I was fairly certain that St. Matthews would not become “my” church since I was never drawn to it in the past, but I didn’t know where to start, and I really had know idea what it was that I was looking for. So I thought starting somewhere familiar would be best.
I came to St. Matthews on Sunday, October 23 last year. I feel I need to describe this day because it was so profound for me and led to my being here today.
I walked in and was immediately greeted by Pastor Steve, who made me feel like he was genuinely glad to meet me and more importantly, he made me feel like he was interested in me as a person and not as just another potential new member. While talking with him, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a friendly and familiar face, my second grade teacher, Charlene Twenty. As a little girl it was always a big thrill to see my teacher out of the classroom and at church. I sat with Charlene that day. It felt good. Looking around I saw some other familiar faces from way-back-when. One person in particular warmed my heart like no other. He was a couple of rows ahead of me but he happened to turn around and his sparkling eyes met mine. He instantly recognized me and he flashed his big infectious smile. Of course that was Gary Lawton. He was a very special guy, as most of us know. He was my dance partner a good many times at the square dances that we had here back in the 70’s. He was one of the last people to spend time with my mother before she died, and he was a pall bearer at her funeral. It felt very comforting to see him that first day back at church, and it continued to feel that way every time I saw him and Bunny after that. I can’t really put into words why I felt that way. It was as if just seeing him there made me feel like I was protected somehow and that everything would be ok. That’s the only way I can think of to describe it.
During the “peace sharing” portion of the service, I saw Dot Werst, another familiar face from not only my childhood days at church, but also from my high school days as she was my musical theater teacher. I went over to her and tapped her on the shoulder and she turned around, her lower jaw briefly dropped before a huge smile spread across her face and she opened her arms to envelope me in a hug.
Those instances few instances, before the service was even over, was when I began to feel that in St. Matthews, I found my home.
Everything about the service that day spoke to me and touched me. It was as if everything was scripted and choreographed just for me. I never wanted the sermon, the singing choir, or the service to end. When I was little, I loved watching the choir stand on the stage in Campbell Hall and sing in their fancy robes. And there they were again, in full dress and singing brilliantly! As I looked at them, I recognized a few more familiar faces. But I kept focusing on one face I hadn’t seen before. I don’t know why I was so drawn to her, other than she sort of reminded me of an angel with her long hair and how she showed so much emotion when she sang. After the service, this “angel,” whom I had never met before, cheerfully introduced herself to me and talked with me in her extremely kind and very personable way. Her name was Beth Bennet. She, along with so many others, made me feel almost overcome with a sense welcomeness, belonging, and love.
Everything about that day, from the moment I walked in until the moment I left, was exactly what I needed. I was home. I never tried out any other churches.
Upon joining St Matthew’s I quickly began to participate in some study groups, then I became a member of the SPRC, and soon I will be sharing the job of Financial Secretary. I also try to help out with other committees, Sunday School, and other endeavors and activities when I can. I spend a lot more time at church than I ever could have dreamed I would actually eagerly want to. And I love every minute of it. Obviously, I also give what I can monetarily, which isn’t as much as I’d like to, but it’s the best we can do for now.
All of that sounds, great, right? So here’s a slight twist. It will all come together at the end, trust me. My husband and a friend of his started an advertising agency, just the two of them, from the ground up, in 1999 and it quickly became very successful. A few years ago, after being in business for 16 years, Kevin’s partner wanted out to pursue a different career path and it just so happened that at about that time, a large, privately-owned agency based in NY wanted to acquire, but not buy, their company. After seeking professional advice from their Board of Advisors and many other experienced professionals, their lawyers carefully negotiated a contract and it was eventually signed. Kevin’s business partner was free to pursue his new career, and Kevin would be employed for 5 years in a high-level vice-president position. Everything was great, until a few months went by and it began to feel like a bait and switch. I’ll spare you the details, but here’s what the owner of the company, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, did to Kevin and my family this past June. Despite Kevin’s stellar performance and being held in high-regard by virtually everyone he comes in contact with at the company, the owner blatantly ignored what was agreed upon in the contract, and without justification or any warning, he told Kevin his salary was being cut by 25 percent effective immediately. But he didn’t just stop there. He had to go even further and twist the knife to make sure it really hurt. So he also blatantly broke MA and NY state employment laws, in a few different ways actually, but one way he did so was by making that 25 percent pay cut retroactive to January, which means Kevin’s salary would be, and has been, cut in half for the remaining six months of the year.
I can’t even begin to tell you how incredibly hard it has been to come to terms with this. It has been a huge financial and emotional blow to us, and it is particularly hard for Kevin in ways I can’t even imagine. But just financially speaking, it’s devastating to a family of 6 with two kids in college and 2 others that are in outrageously expensive braces and have yet to go to college. And of course, Christmas is coming up.
Now here’s why I told you that whole piece.
Because of our new financial situation, we were looking to see where we can make some cuts in our spending, and my husband mentioned my pledge to St Matthew’s as one place where we could cut back. He said “I think you should cut back to $20.”  I said “a week?” thinking that was too extreme. And he said “No, a month.” Despite our dire financial situation, that was just absurd to me. So I told him I couldn’t do that. At first he didn’t get it. But then I explained it like this: “I might give more money than you would like me to give right now; and I might volunteer for more things and spend more time than you wish I did doing “church” things; and I know you think that St. Matthew’s should be paying me; but what I get from St. Matthew’s is immeasurable and invaluable to me. The church gives me far more than I could ever give back, but I really need and want to try.” I went on to say “when I first went back to St. Matthew’s last year, I was still pretty broken. But ever since I started exploring my faith and what it means to me, and ever since I’ve been going to church and participating, I can feel the broken pieces of me finding their way back together again. I can feel myself becoming whole and who I’m meant to be.”
 A friend of mine, who I met here at church, summed up how I feel perfectly when she said “I feel like my soul is being fed.”
Well, obviously he couldn’t argue with any of that; and he is happy for me and very supportive of me. So despite our financial situation, I continue to give what I originally pledged because I feel it’s the least I can do for a place and a community that does so much for me. And I still wish I could give more, and I’m hopeful that someday I can.
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Nick November 5, 2017

Good morning. My name is Nick, and I’m here with my family David, Susan, and Lena and we moved to this area back in 2013. We started looking for a church after more than 10 years of going to 2 different Presbyterian churches, both of which we were very comfortable with and were very hard for us to leave each time. So, we started visiting churches in the area and realized very quickly that there aren’t very many Presbyterian churches around here.  So we started looking at other denominations; we visited an Episcopalian church in Westford. We visited a Methodist church also in Westford and neither of those churches really captured us.  We weren’t really quite sure why but in both cases we were not in a rush to go back to either Church.  A smarter person might have thought we were making excuses and what not but it was difficult for us.

So we started looking for Presbyterian churches in the area and there is one in Sudbury, which is a bit far for us.  When we were talking about visiting this church, I was doing a crossword puzzle in the Pennysaver magazine and I saw a write-up about a pancake dinner at Saint Matthew’s before Lent and I said, “well we could go to this place that has pancakes”.

We visited Saint Matthew’s  one Sunday, not really optimistic, you know maybe we’d get some more good cake or something like that.  Once we arrived we were immediately drawn in by the love that just comes out of this place. By Pastor Steve, Beth, and everybody here and this is easy to recognize when you come in the doors here, not only by how people behave and act and that they are welcoming to you, but by all of the Outreach missions that emanate from the people here and extend around the world.

Now most importantly, I think that this church is our family.  We’re both from Ohio and we don’t have immediate family in the area and that’s another really important thing we found here, and it starts with the dedicated Sunday School teachers extends into the office staff and all of the generally outstanding people here.  So in short, we are pleased to give because this place brings together everybody here and I think this place serves as a shining light to the world.

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Betsy November 12, 2017

Good morning.  My name is Betsy.  Today it’s my turn to talk about giving.

When I first came to St. Matthew’s,I was not a healthy person. My once-happy marriage had become source of deep anguish for me, and I had trouble seeing any meaning in my life.For some reason, I made a New Year’s resolution to see what it would be like to return to church after an absence of 40 years. You could say “I decided” or you could say “God led me,” but the result was that on the first Sunday of 2007, I walked through those doors.

And here you all were!

You welcomed, nurtured, and befriended me.  You gave me the space to find God in my life.  With you, I have been striving, as Steve puts it, “to live in harmony with God’s grace.”  We play and pray, sing and worship, study and reflect.  We love and help each other.  And we work on making our church and the world better places.

As I traveled the country with my sister on our hunger project, I worshiped at dozens of churches. Some were huge and impersonal and felt like social clubs.  Some were old and dusty and felt like they were stuck or in decline.  Some were preaching something that didn’t sound to me like the way of Jesus.  In the end, only a handful felt as loving, inclusive, alive, and Christian as St. Matthew’s.

So with enormous gratitudeand eagerness,I give.

·      I offer my prayers, my presence, and my witness.

·      I offer my service in areas like ushering, collecting food, and chairing MOA and the Festival of Sharing.

·      And I offer my gifts by helping where I might be particularly useful and by making sure that my monetary pledge is generous and increasing every year.

Now my son, my in-laws, and I are mourning the death of my ex-husband.
I know you will help us through that process,  just as I know you will do your part to keep our beloved church vibrant and healthy.