Saturday, September 23, 2023

October 2023 newsletter

House to House 

Family of Hope House Church            October 2023

God’s First, Foremost And Final Focus

"The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing."   - Steven Covey

     After a lifetime of reflecting on the narrative of scripture, I've concluded that its main theme is that of God's love for enemies. In other words, God's ultimate purpose, hinted at in the Bible's beginning but becoming abundantly clear in its conclusion, is that of restoring what is broken in creation and reconciling all that has become divided and alienated.

     God's story begins with the shalom we call Eden, centers on the cross-based, enemy-loving life and resurrection of Jesus, and ends with a new heavens and a restored earth. In Christ, God comes to bring an end to all of the enmity that exists between us and our Creator and between us and our fellow creatures. All alienation is over.

    I used to wonder about the meaning of the phrase in Psalm 23, "You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies." Why not in the presence of my friends? Does God simply invite our enemies so they can look on with envy as we good people enjoy a table spread with abundance?

     No, God is inviting us to a Eucharist in which former enemies are being transformed into friends of God and friends with one another.

     Here's one of my favorite examples of this main theme, found in Paul's letter to the Ephesians (3:14-18), in which he addresses the foremost enmity of his time:  

For Christ is our living peace. He has made a unity of the conflicting elements of Jew and Gentile by breaking down the barrier which lay between us. By his sacrifice he removed the hostility of the Law, with all its commandments and rules, and made in himself out of the two, Jew and Gentile, one new humanity, thus producing peace. For he reconciled both to God by the sacrifice of one body on the cross, and by this act made utterly irrelevant the antagonism between them. Then he came and told both you who were far from God and us who were near that the war was over. And it is through him that both of us now can approach the Father in the one Spirit.  

 - J.B. Phillips translation

     This is God's dream. Let's make it ours, praying that every congregation of believers becomes a living demonstration of divided, broken and alienated human beings becoming one, truly a foretaste of the shalom to come.

Notes, Prayers and Praises

ANYONE UNABLE TO ATTEND THE VIRGINIA MENNONITE RELIEF SALE can make a contribution on the Sale website or write a check made out to Virginia Relief Sale (with SOS on the memo line).

OCTOBER BIRTHDAY BLESSINGS to Joyce Ulrich 10/14 and Elly Nelson 10/28!

FOR OUR OCTOBER BIBLE STUDIES leaders may choose a passage from the latter part of the book of Acts or one of their own choosing.

October Services, 3:30-5:00 pm 

1  Location: We'll meet in person in James Stauffer’s room at Oak Lea for an informal time of singing, sharing, praying together rather than our having our usual FOH service.

8 Location: online

Worship and sharing: Lois Rivera-Wenger

Bible Study: Dick Dumas

15 Location: 

Worship and Sharing: Harvey Yoder

Bible Study:Kent Palmer

22 Location: online

Worship and Sharing, Ellie Nelson

Study: Harvey Yoder 

29 Location: online 

Worship and Sharing, Lois Rivera-Wenger

Bible Study: Ellie Nelson

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

September 2023 newsletter

House to House 
Family of Hope House Church            September 2023
A Spirit-Driven Church Becomes Amazingly Diverse
The God-movement unleashed on the day of Pentecost was revolutionary in the way it brought diverse and disparate people together. Quoting from the prophet Joel, the apostle Peter noted that young and old,  men and women, slave and free were are to be formed together into one living, loving community. 
     But that was just a start, the coming together of Jews of different languages and cultures from all over the then known world--Parthians, Medes, Elamites, citizens of Mesopotamia, Judaea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya and Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians. From there the circle of inclusiveness continues to expand at a breathtaking rate.
     Philip, one of the Greek speaking Jews appointed to oversee the daily distribution of food among needy followers of the Way in Jerusalem, goes on a preaching mission to despised half-breed Samaritans, baptizing scores of them into the new movement. Immediately afterwards, he is led to speak to a eunuch who is a Jewish court official on the road to his home in Ethiopia from Jerusalem, where he would have been excluded from access to temple worship due to his status as an emasculated male. The eunuch is baptized and "goes on his way rejoicing." 
     It is soon thereafter that the most dramatic kind of inclusion imaginable takes place. The apostle Peter is called to visit and to baptize the household of Cornelius, an uncircumcised Roman occupier who is a "God-fearing and upright" Gentile. This represented the crossing of the most fundamental of all barriers, an act which would have been anathema to a devout Jew like Peter. But according to the text, God's Spirit gave him no choice but to fully embrace a hated and uncircumcised oppressor whom God had declared "clean." 
     Meanwhile, new believers who were scattered all over the empire after the wave of persecution that took place after the stoning of Stephen, carried the inclusionary message of the Way to places like Antioch of Syria, which became a northern hub of the Christian movement, one that openly incorporated both Jews and Gentiles into the church.
     Soon thereafter, Paul, once a terrorist prosecutor of followers of the Way, with his companion Barnabas, went on a 500 mile preaching tour in which they baptize Jews and Gentiles alike into the movement. This creates major problems on the part of believers in the mother church in Jerusalem, and results in a summit of church leaders being called to resolve the rift created by the inclusion of uncircumcised Gentiles. 
     It is hard to overestimate the gravity of this question among early believers. It could not have been more abundantly clear, in the only Bible Jesus and the early apostles knew, that God had initiated this special rite of inclusion as mandatory, first to Abraham, at age 90, and then 400 years later, to the lawgiver Moses. There were to be no exceptions. 
    So for people whose faith was deeply rooted in Judaism, any thought of being a part of God's covenant people without that kind of sacred initiation was nearly unthinkable. Clearly the first century church could have easily divided over this issue, but instead felt led to draw the circle of welcome wider rather than to exclude those being drawn into it. That appears to be the trajectory in which God is forever moving.

Notes, Prayers and Praises
SEPTEMBER BIRTHDAY BLESSINGS Lewis Overholt (9/5) and David Weaver (9/23)!
THANKS FOR YOUR PRAYERS for those overcoming Covid!

September Study Theme: “Paul, a master communicator”
3   Paul addressing members of Jewish synagogues Acts 13-14:7
10 Paul shares good news with pagan and mixed audiences Acts14:8-28, 16:11-34
17 Paul adapts his message in addressing Athenian philosophers Acts 17:6-34
24 Paul addresses Governors Felix and Festus and King Agrippa Acts 24:1-26:32

September Services, 3:30-5:00 pm 

3  Location: online 
Worship and sharing: Lois Rivera-Wenger
Bible Study: Dick Dumas
10 Location: online
Worship and Sharing: Harvey Yoder
Bible Study:Kent Palmer
17 Location: online
Worship and Sharing, Ellie Nelson
Study: Harvey Yoder 
24 Location: online 
Worship and Sharing, Lois Rivera-Wenger
Bible Study: Ellie Nelson

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

August 2023 newsletter

Family of Hope House Church                             August 2023

Three and a Half Decades Of A Lived Dream

This month marks 35 years since Alma Jean and I transitioned from a 20 year period during which I was pastor of the Zion Mennonite Church south of Broadway to the beginning of what became Family of Hope House Church. The Zion congregation had been experiencing significant growth and was in need of either planting another church or expanding its meeting space. 
     At this point, some of us, with the blessing of the congregation, began having some prayer and discernment meetings with a few like minded persons who were, like us, more interested in the former than spending nearly a half million on the latter, noting that most of Zion's members commuted there for Sunday services from outside our rural community.
     Over time, after becoming involved in ministry to homeless and transient people in the run down former Star Gables Motel, we evolved into Virginia Mennonite Conference's first and only house church. Some Eastern Mennonite Seminary couples, including Ron and Laurie Czecholinski and Guy and Margie Vlasits helped the congregation grow into two separate but affiliated living room size  groups who formed one unified congregation. 
     When a significant number from the second group affiliated with the Twelve Tribes movement in the 90's we became just one group again, and have remained so in the years since. 
     Our aim has been to provide an alternative kind of New Testament-based church family for those who are less comfortable with traditional forms of church life that require paid staff and the maintenance of real estate used primarily for only a fews hours a week. A house church model utilizing the gifts of its own members was seen as one where participants' spiritual and other needs could receive attention at every gathering, and where all would be focused on being God's people in training to minister to people wherever we live and work, and not simply a group primarily inviting others to well planned inspirational services.
     Judging by our numbers, we haven't been very successful in attracting new people or in recruiting and training new leaders devoted to keeping the dream of that kind of missional church alive. Thus we are at a place where we are are asking whether God will create new wine and raise up new models of church life where existing churches are in decline.

Notes, Prayers and Praises
IN OUR AUGUST 6 SERVICE we will be hearing what the Spirit is saying about our future, and about whatever we may have experienced in our church visits July 23 and 30.
AUGUST BIRTHDAY BLESSINGS  to Kent Palmer, 8/10. Also, Alma Jean and Harvey Yoder’s anniversary is August 8, and James and Ruth Stauffer’s is August 30. Blessings to all!
AUGUST STUDY THEMES (below) are only suggested texts, not a part of the lectionary, and whether or where we meet is up to the group. If we choose to use these texts, each participant should come prepared to respond to the question for that Sunday and reflect on how the passage might apply to us today.

Proposed August Study Questions 

6   "What kind of house does God need?" Stephen affirms a revolutionary, tent-dwelling God in Acts 6:8-53
13 "Who is welcome in God's household?" Philip baptizes former outcasts and outsiders in Acts 8:4-40, 10:1-48
20 "What kind of church leaders does God choose?" A former persecutor becomes the church's lead evangelist in Acts 9:1-31
27 "What should God's people require of new members?" A summit at Jerusalem comes to a dramatic, Spirit-driven consensus in Acts 15:1-35

Proposed August Services, 3:30-5:00 pm 
6  Location: online 
Worship and sharing: Elly Nelson
Bible Study: c/o Harvey Yoder
13 Location: TBD 
Worship and Sharing: Lois Rivera Wenger
 Bible Study: c/o Dick Dumas
20 Location: TBD
Worship and Sharing: Kent Palmer
Bible Study: c/o Elly Nelson
27 Location: TBD 
Worship and Sharing: everyone brings a hymn, a scripture, a word of testimony
Bible Study: Harvey Yoder

Sunday, July 2, 2023

July 2023 newsletter

Family of Hope House Church                            July 2023

From Richard Stearns' The Hole In Our Gospel

"For the past two thousand years, "loving our neighbors as ourselves" has meant exactly that--loving our immediate neighbors, those people we encounter daily in our communities... That one's neighbors might include those living on another continent was ludicrous until recent times. In fact the great disparity between rich nations and poor nations... largely didn't even exist... Prior to 1800, disease and inadequate health care were facts of life that affected all people. Lack of clean water and sanitation would have been virtually universal. Droughts, crop failures, famines and epidemics would have periodically devastated almost all countries. Illiteracy was common everywhere. It was the legacy of colonialism combined with the advances of the Industrial Revolution that ultimately resulted in the rapid development of some economies over another." (p. 100)

"Only about 4% of all U.S. charitable giving goes to international causes of any kind." (p. 102)

"If your income is $25,000 a year, you are wealthier than approximately 90 percent of the world's population. If you make $50,000 a year, you are wealthier than 99% of the world's people." (p. 215)

Notes, Prayers and Praises
BIRTHDAY BLESSINGS TO Lois Rivera-Wenger July 30!
OUR NEXT IN-PERSON SERVICE is planned for July 23.
VIRGINIA CONFERENCE ASSEMBLY meets at the Park View Mennonite Church July 14-15. Everyone is welcome to a public Assembly worship service at 7 pm Friday July 14.
LEWIS AND MARY ELLEN OVERHOLT will be leaving July 18 for an extended time with family in Germany.
WE ARE ENCOURAGING EVERYONE to visit other churches July 23 and 30, then report back in an August 6 Zoom service.

July Study Themes (or study leaders may choose their own passage)
2   2 Peter 1:1-11 (Matt 13:44-46)
9   2 Peter 1:16—2:2, 15-19 (Mark 13:5-7)
16 2 Peter 3:1-10, 17-18 (Matt 24:42-44)
23 Proverbs 1:1-7; 3:1-8 (Matt 13:34-35)
30 Proverbs 8:1-11, 22-36 (John 8:56-58)

July Services, 3:30-5:00 pm 
2  Location: online 
Worship and sharing: Harvey Yoder
Bible Study: Elly Nelson
9 Location: online
Worship and Sharing: Lois Rivera-Wenger
Bible Study: Dick Dumas
16 Location: VMRC Village Hall
Worship and Sharing at 3:30
Jamaican guests Sister Yvonne McDonald and Sister Regina Taylor at 4 pm
23 Location: No service, visit another church
30 Location: No service, visit another church

Thursday, June 1, 2023

June 2023 newsletter


Family of Hope House Church                             June 2023

Some Family of Hope Alumni 

Here is a list of some past members and active attenders of our House Church:

Ametsreiter, Sue                                                   Morlan, Becky          
Blackburn, Gail                                                    Moyers, John      
Bontrager, Sherry                                                Nafziger, Dave and Marj
Brainard, Kate                                                      Patterson, Audrey                                           
Czecholinski, Laurie and Ron                         Rossen, Judy
Dumas, Cande, Josiah                                       See, David, Adela and family
Glunt, Mark and Donna                                    Soich, Karen
Good, Dorothy, Ronnie and Jason                 Sottolano, Chris
Gottfried, Eric and Rosella                               Sottolano, Craig and Jenn
Greenawalt, Ted and Kimberlee                     Stoltzfus, Rachel
Gullman, Dave and Debbie                              Weaver, Karen
Hairston, Will and Susie                                    Weaver, Shari
Harrelson, Charles                                               Westfall, Michael and Julie
Horton, Heather                                                   Underwood, Donnie and Jeanine
Ivanitsky, Serge and Dora                                  Zhou, Jack and Bo, Emily, Elianah
Johnson, Bruce and Ann, Dylan, Erin
Kanagy, David
Kreider, Barry and Erika
Lenker, Mark and Marie
Levesque, Trish

FOH Covenanting Statement:
"I support the goals, vision and faith of Family of Hope, will attend weekly services as regularly as I am able, and will use my gifts and offer my encouragement to this church family to the best of my ability. I invite other members to support me--and to confront me  as needed--in being faithful to this commitment."  

Notes, Prayers and Praises

OUR NEXT IN-PERSON SERVICE is tentatively planned for June 18 at Heritage Haven.
GUY AND MARGIE VLASITS will be traveling to Budapest, Prague,Vienna and Salzburg June 2-15.
KENT PALMER will be taking a well deserved two-week vacation this month.

June Study Themes

4   Isaiah 6:1-8 (Luke 5:8-10)
11 Isaiah 9:1-7 (John 8:12)
18 Isaiah 55:1-13 (John 4:13-14)
25 Isaiah 61:1-11 (Luke 4:16-21)

June Services, 3:30-5:00 pm 

4  Location: online 
Worship and sharing: Harvey Yoder
Bible Study: Elly Nelson
11 Location: online: Kent Palmer
Worship and Sharing: Bible Study: Lois Rivera Wenger
18 Location: Heritage Haven Conference Room?
Worship and Sharing: Guy Vlasits
Bible Study: Dick Dumas
25 Location: online 
Worship and Sharing: Lois Rivera Wenger
Bible Study: Harvey Yoder 

Monday, April 24, 2023

May 2023 newsletter

Family of Hope House Church                                 May 2023

Christ Died To Save Us From Our Selfishness  - Harvey Yoder

Christians agree that Christ's death saves the repentant from the consequences of their sin and gives them an undeserved pass to Paradise. However, they haven't all agreed on just what that means, or on how that happens. 

One of the church's oldest theories of atonement was that of Christ's death and resurrection demonstrating God’s victory over the effects of sin and death, a victory and deliverance we can claim and celebrate by faith. Some, including St. Augustine in the fourth century, believed that Jesus's life of complete obedience to God, even to the point of death, was meant to influence us to repent of our sinning and to live that same kind of life   by the grace and power of God.   

Some later theologians believed Christ's death represented a kind of ransom paid, either to the devil or to God, one that paid the debt we owed and the guilt we incurred because of our transgressions, and which granted us our full pardon and deliverance. Or according to other scholars, Jesus became our substitute, taking the just  punishment we deserved, suffering and dying on our behalf, so we wouldn't need to bear the eternal consequence of out sins.

I'm inclined toward a view of Christ's life and death that doesn't have him saving us from a wrathful God, but that the same God who "so loved the world" entered a hostile, God-hating world in order to save us from ourselves and from the consequences of the world's self-centered way of life--and to enable us to live and love in the way Jesus did and the way God does. 

As an example, here is one of my favorite passages: 

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.  Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.         

Notes, Prayers and Praises

BIRTHDAY BLESSINGS TO Margie Vlasits, 5/1, and Alma Jean Yoder 5/15!
OUR NEXT IN-PERSON SERVICE is planned for May 21at Heritage Haven.
WE WILL HAVE OUR ANNUAL RECOVENANTING SERVICE on Pentecost Sunday, May 28, where we spend some time discerning future direction for Family of Hope as we had agreed to do at our business meeting in January.
LOIS RIVERA-WENGER is planning a move to Kentucky to live with her daughter Lorna and family. She anticipates continuing to be a part of our Zoom church meetings and being in touch by phone.

May Study Themes

7   Fifth Sunday of Easter Romans 1:1-17 Gospel as power of God for salvation to all, both Jews and Greeks (Matt 9:10-13)
14   Sixth Sunday of Easter Romans 3:28-30 5:1-11 God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Spirit; Christ died for the ungodly (Matt 11:28-30)
21 Seventh Sunday of Easter Romans 6:1-14 We were buried with him by baptism into death, so that we might walk in newness of life.  (Matt 6:24)
28 Pentecost Acts 2:1-4 Romans 8:14-39 The groaning of creation, Spirit helps us in our weakness, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Matt 28:16-20)

May Services, 3:30-5:00 pm  

7  Location: online 
Worship and sharing: Elly Nelson
Bible Study: Roy Hange, District Overseer
14 Location: online
Worship and Sharing: Lois Rivera-Wenger
Bible Study: Dick Dumas
21 Location: Heritage Haven Conference Room
Worship and Sharing: Guy Vlasits
Bible Study: Kent Palmer
28 Location: online (Pentecost Sunday)
Worship and Sharing, Bible Study and Recovenanting: 
c/o Harvey Yoder

Friday, March 31, 2023

 Family of Hope House Church              __                April 2023

My Lord, What a Morning! (a reprint from our May 2012 newsletter)

On Easter Sunday morning (2012), those of us who gathered to celebrate our annual sunrise service met as usual at the entrance of what was once known as Massanutten Caverns, next to the home of Guy and Margie Vlasits. We assembled around the locked steel door of the cave at our usual 8 am time. Since this is right against the west side of Masssanutten Peak, the sun actually just comes up over the ridge at about that time.

In fact, the sun made its appearance right at the moment our speaker Elly Nelson spoke the words “He is risen!” as a part of her Easter homily. Elly inspired us to reflect on what the resurrection story means to all of us, that light is replacing darkness, life is replacing death. That’s what we celebrate. That’s what the Easter story is all about.

It seemed fitting that we had a woman bear this witness, since it was Mary, the mother of Jesus, and other women, not our Lord’s male followers, according to the gospel texts, who first arrived on the scene. It was women who exercised the courage to bring spices to apply to the body of their recently buried loved one. No one knows how they expected to enter a guarded cave with a large stone rolled in front of it, not unlike the barred steel door of our cave, marked with the words, “This Cave is Protected by Virginia Law.” Perhaps they simply trusted God to take care of that detail. Sabbath being over, love must find a way.

In the words of the 17th century poet George Herbert:

Can there be any day but this, 
Though many suns to shine endeavor?  
We count three hundred, but we miss:  
There is but one, and that one ever. 
      - Harvey Yoder             

Notes, Prayers and Praises

LEWIS AND MARY ELLEN attended the funeral of a beloved cousin and brother-in-law in South Carolina set for April 2. We continue to offer prayers for those grieving losses and experiencing difficult life challenges.
BIRTHDAY BLESSINGS TO to Mary Ellen Overholt 4/5 and Cathy Atwell 4/19!
OUR NEXT IN-PERSON SERVICE is planned for April 16 at Heritage Haven.

April Study Themes

2   Triumphal Entry Palm Sunday Matthew 21:1-17 cleansing the temple crucifixion, Good Friday Matthew 27:27-61 (Psalm 118:25-29)
9   Easter Matthew 28:1-10 Resurrection, empty tomb, women encounter the risen Jesus (Psalm 118:19-24)
16 Second Sunday of Easter Matthew 28:16-20 Great commission (Psalm 40:9-10)
23 Third Sunday of Easter Acts 10:1-48 Peter’s vision (Matt 9:36-37)
30 Fourth Sunday of Easter Acts 13:1-3; 14:8-18 Beginning of Paul’s mission. Healing at Lystra, gospel to the Gentile world (Matt 10:40-42)

April Services, 3:30-5:00 pm 

2  Location: online
Sharing and prayer: Elly Nelson
Scriptures and songs for Holy Week: c/o Harvey Yoder
9 Location: online
Worship and Sharing: Lois Rivera-Wenger
Bible Study: Dick Dumas
16 Location: Heritage Haven Conference Room
Worship and Sharing: Harvey Yoder
Bible Study: Kent Palmer
23 Location: online
Worship and Sharing: Kent Palmer
Bible Study: Lois Rivera-Wenger
30 Location: online
Worship and Sharing: Lois Rivera-Wenger
Bible Study: Elly Nelson