Saturday, December 24, 2016

Blessed and Merry Christmas...

Here is our shared Christmas/New Year's letter. We're wrapping gifts today and listening to quiet Christmas CDs before heading over to worship @ 8 pm.

Merry Christmas from James and Dianne

Like many of our dear friends have said: 2016 was a challenging year! In addition to the mean-spirited politics that have dominated the US popular consciousness this year, we have both been concerned about the plight of Syrian and North African refugees, the politics of Turkey, the stalemate between Israel and Palestine, the rise of nationalist/anti-immigrant movements throughout Europe and a rising fear in people of goodwill throughout the world. If ever there was a need for a revolution of tenderness, now is the hour. To that end, our past year brought to light a few highlights:

In March, we hosted a music/poetry/prayer presentation of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” It was the 50th anniversary of this masterpiece and nothing expressed the heart of my recent sabbatical – and the hopes and fears of creation – better than this explosion of sound, rhythm, melody and improvisation. About 100 local folks joined our reflection and we raised relief funds for Syrian refugees through Church World Service.

+ Dianne and I took a few trips to Canada – for retreat and for vacation – in 2016. In March we were in Montréal to speak with the CELTA (English as a second language) administrators; in June we were in Ottawa for their Jazz Festival and a time with Jean Vanier’s L’Arche community; and then back to Le Plateau a Montréal for Labor Day. It is our hope and expectation that sometime in the next 15 months we will spend a year in Canada: James with L’Arche and their ministry to those with intellectual challenges; and Dianne helping refugees make a new home in the Americas.

+ In August, Phil and Julie arrived from San Francisco and we gathered as the Lumsden Clan to lay my parents’ and sister’s ashes to rest on Lake Chargoggago-ggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg in Webster, MA. It was a joyous time of sharing stories and songs and being with a family that sticks together through tons of hard times. As the summer unfolded, our nephew Thomas married Elana. Then Shawn married Samantha – and they were blessed with regaining custody of his son Kody.

+ In September, a new candidate for ordination to ministry from our church, Elizabeth, was taken into discernment status by both our congregation and the Berkshire Association. Then we had the honor of officiating at Christabelle and Annabelle’s wedding in Southern Kentucky. CB was one of the confirmation students Dianne mentored nearly 15 years ago; they have remained close and it was a total gas to be a part of this sacred time – and we got to reconnect with her brothers David and Nat, too!

+ In October, after nearly 15 months of prayer and discernment, James announced his retirement effective February 1, 2017. He will work part-time (20 hours a week) at First Church with an emphasis on worship and pastoral care. This change not only empowers the congregation to move towards greater financial stability and mission, but gives James the chance to do more study, writing and work on both spiritual direction and music for peace-making.

+ In January, 2017 Dianne begins her CELTA training on-line – with a Montréal intensive in late April. She has long desired to continue a passion for helping immigrants that began when her parents taught English to those without skills and then opened their home to Vietnamese refugees after the war. With James’ semi-retirement, she is now free to pursue this important calling – and was able to crowd-source the funding for this work through the generosity of friends and colleagues.

+ We were also able to spend time with our beloved and precocious grandson, Louie, in Pittsfield as well as Brooklyn. We even had the privilege of caring for him for three days so that Jesse and Mike could celebrate Jesse’s 40th birthday sans le bébé. We all came down with colds – and shared a few hard tears – but it was a grand time and we can’t wait to do more after the New Year. We also had the joy of hanging with Michal, Winton and Noah this year for various suppers – and a three-generation viewing of Hilary Clinton’s historic acceptance speech.

Advent 2016 has been all about growing closer to one another – as a couple, as a congregation, as a family – even as we all sort out how to advance the cause of tenderness and justice in the New Year. A broad association of non- partisan allies is already planning for a Freedom Rally at our church on Saturday, January 7, 2016 – so we’ll keep you posted. (check it out here:,493084) As 2017 takes shape:

+ Dianne will deepen her skills in working with non-English speaking people so that they can better assimilate and make sense of their new lives. For the time being, she will also continue to work part-time at a great local shop, Brits-R-Us, which every local person should support vigorously!

James will start a serious study of Bonhoeffer in the New Year along with Henri Nouwen’s notes on spiritual direction. It will be a huge adjustment – mostly for the better – to move into part-time work after 35 years of full-time ordained ministry, but the time is right. He will also make periodic trips to Canada to explore next steps with L’Arche.

Please know you are always welcome to join us in our small, warm and humble Berkshire home. Even with plans to spend a year in Canada sometime in the next 15 months, we plan on keeping our Pittsfield home: we love this place and cherish the community. So know the light will always be on and the doors open. Give us a buzz beforehand at 413-464-9408, or use our email:

One of our favorite artists, Carrie Newcomer, recently wrote that now more than ever is a time to ask: What sustains and connects us, where do we find help in hard times, how can I be more present in my daily life, and when I stop and pull back the layers of distraction, what is at the very heart of my life? The things that have always saved us personally and as a community are still here to save us; compassion, kindness, empathy, generosity, a sense of humor, decency, faithfulness and good parenting are all still here. Yes, the things that have always tripped us up–greed, racism, tribalism, unchecked commercialism and violence—are also still here, and so we name and contend with these things as well. But too often we look “out there” for solutions, when what we really need is right here, within us and between us.”

Joyeux Noël

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