Ongoing Response to COVID-19

Weekday Email to Members and Friends – 2020-11-25

Wednesday November 25th,  2020
A weekday e-mailer from
Matt Matthews
Happy Thanksgiving (Tomorrow)
To Members and Friends of 
First Presbyterian Church
Champaign, Illinois
Dear Friends,
A Child’s View/A guest Essay from Rev. Kevin Murphy:

It’s amazing to me that every time I return to a piece of scripture I get something new out of it. It’s as if I lower my bucket into this deep and ever-renewing well and I draw up new insights and inspiration each time. This passage from Mark’s gospel is one of those amazing pieces that reveals itself to me anew each time I drop my bucket. I started with the common understanding of this passage that we are to be as innocent and trusting as little children in order to receive God’s kingdom. As true as that is, it has been stretched (abused) to mean we should not question anything about God. We should just accept what we hear and leave it at that – like good little children. Next I focused on the phrase “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child…” How do little children receive things? With great expectation and excitement and joy! That’s a great way to receive the kingdom of God! 

Now, having a one-year-old living in my house, I’m coming to a new understanding of this passage. All the world is new to him. When I take little Felix for a stroll around our neighborhood, he notices everything. He takes in all the sights and sounds and smells. He wants to touch things. He wants to examine and explore everything – from the buzzing of bees to little creepy crawling bugs. Jesus too notices the little things – mustard seeds, lilies of the field, sparrows, a bruised reed. He also notices the little people – fishermen, little children, a boy with a lunch, widows, shepherds, foreigners. And he appreciates them all for what they are and for what they can teach us. Here he notices little children and uses them to open our eyes to the newness of God’s kingdom.

When we notice the little things, we too come to a deeper appreciation, wonder and understanding of God and our neighbor. Little smiles, a gentle touch, a small gesture, a kind word softly spoken are all little things that carry with them the weight of the kingdom of God. Notice them. Appreciate them for what they are, not necessarily what they might become. It’s common to say that children are the future of the church. But, children are the church as much as you and I are. They may not have the education or sensibilities yet to serve the church in leadership roles, but the things they can show us about the kingdom of God are limitless and necessary. Receive the gifts of God like a little child. Look closely at the spots on the back of a ladybug. Admire the beauty of a butterfly’s wings. Glory in Morning Glories. Soak up the richness of a smooth creek rock. Appreciate the small kindness of a bag of groceries or baked goods on the porch. Love back, the way a little child loves – openly, without hesitation or reservation. When we do so, we are one small step further along in our journey toward God.

Let us pray. You create each little bug and slug. Help us to learn from them the lessons of your kingdom. You create each little child and they bless us with the things they teach us of your love for us. Help us to notice and appreciate the small and seemingly insignificant as each are a part of your creation, your world. We thank you that you love us so much and want the best for and from us so deeply that you give us the little things. Amen

Music lovers! Join us for a real feast tonight….We received so many compliments on Leslie Thomas’ piano playing for our services that we invited her to record a recital of sacred music for us. This will be featured TONIGHT at a service of fellowship and music at 7 PM. 

Email for the link.

Humor (Hard times really need godly laughter): 
I stepped on my scale this morning.  It said: “Please practice social distancing. Only one person at a time on scale.”
* * *
The spread of Covid-19 is based on two things:
1. How dense the population is.
2. How dense the population is.
Good Word:
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. Mark 10:13-16 

Our Father in heaven,
HOLY is your name.
Much, much love to you all.
Matt Matthews
Cell: 864.386.9138


Weekday Email to Members and Friends – 2020-11-24


  • Join us TONIGHT, November 24, at 7 pm for our second virtual dessert.  Share a preview of your Thanksgiving dessert and…

Email for the link.

* * * 

  • Music lovers! We received so many compliments on Leslie Thomas’ piano playing for our services that we invited her to record a recital of sacred music for us. This will be featured on the Wednesday night service of fellowship and music on November 25 at 7 PM. 

Email for the link.

* * *


The Heart of Mission
November 24, 2020

Thank you! These young men from DREAAM are grateful to FPCC for purchasing this computer cart for their virtual learning work here at the church.
Holidays, holy days, are days set apart for special focus. They pass us by on the calendar like posts fencing off time. Those of us living in learning communities and those living close to the earth feel the passage of time acutely. There is a time for all things as Ecclesiastes says. This Thanksgiving Day has unique challenges. Many schools and universities have had shortened schedules this year due to the pandemic so our students are ending their semester this week and next. Others are caught in the land of virtual learning which has no beginning and end, no physical space. Many people are not able to be with family so making a day of thanks is difficult. And, for many of us who identify as white, as our white fragility is owned (as our recent study on the subject has encouraged us to do), we realize indigenous peoples never really owned this Thanksgiving Day fence post to begin with. Do we dare celebrate? Yes, there are still things to be acknowledge and be grateful for. The psalmist urges all creatures to give thanks to their Creator. Add your thanks to the prayer from the late W. Sibley Towner in his book Prayers that Sing And Stir the Heart, Union Presbyterian Seminary, 2018.
The landscape of our lives is strewn with your blessings, O God. We acknowledge them.
            a Bible full of a rich legacy of insights about you and your work in the world;
            a whole library full of books through which we are allowed to enter into fellowship with
            our fathers and mothers in the faith;
            teachers and colleagues who push us, anger us, love us, and never leave us alone to         creep off into fruitless corners;
            fellow students in the prime of their physical and mental powers, beautiful in their
            persons, and eager for all that we can share together of our faith. 
For so remarkable a landscape in which to walk day by day, we give you our thanks, O Lord. Help us to stick together and not get lost amid the blessings.
In Jesus name we prayer. AMEN.
One last NOTE about holidays: This week listen to Pianist Leslie Thomas at our Wednesday Night Gathering Nov. 25 (tomorrow) at 7pm for a wonderful concert; a perfect prelude to Thanksgiving!
And, on Thursday Dec. 3, the Austin College A Capella Choir along with students, faculty and staff in Sherman, TX will be streaming on Facebook and YouTube at 7pm a Service of Lessons and Carols, Traditional Scripture Readings and Christmas Hymns and will be available afterward for viewing at any time. | or
Happy Thanksgiving and may your Advent Season be one of renewal and hope,
Rachel Matthews, Mission Coordinator
Our Mission Agency Announcements
Community Mission Deacons: Dec.1, 4:30pm zoom, (combined Nov/Dec meeting)
Advent Offering: World Mission has designated the Advent Offering for the month of December to go toward Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (67%) and Luyano Congregation in Cuba (33%). There will be an online giving page beginning in December.
Angel Tree: The Community Mission Deacons hosts an Angel Tree every year for our community mission agencies. Although we will not have an actual tree for you to take an angel tag off of and replace with a gift, we are going to collect $25 gift cards from Salt & Light, Target or Walmart for our mission agencies. You can identify which you would like your gift card to go to. Bring your gift cards or items to the church office Tuesday or Wednesday mornings before December 15 so we can deliver them to the agencies before Christmas.
Our agencies are
SALT & LIGHT (for their staff)
Also for CANTEEN RUN we will be collecting gift cards or in kind items: large to 3x-l winter shirts, GLOVES, socks, LARGE-2 X-L MEN’S UNDERWEAR, coats, hats.
CU at Home:

  • Would you join us in prayer for anyone in our community who is currently in quarantine due to having COVID or having been exposed to someone with COVID? We pray for health for all those affected; both for physical health but also mental health. 
  • Please pray for all of friends without an address that they would use the services available to them; including the shelters to stay out of the elements as the weather turns colder. 
  • Would you also pray for a friend who was recently arrested and will have an upcoming court date? We pray that maybe this setback will be the catalyst for change in his life!
  • BONUS PRAYER REQUEST: Please pray for our One Winter Night 2021 season which launched on October 19th, 2020! If you are interested in getting involved this year, please email me at đź™‚
  • Praise the Lord for the ability to have both the men’s and women’s shelter open for a full year (10/31/19-10/31/20)! Over 630 different men and over 130 different women came through the doors in the past year! 
  • Thank you God for our friends at Champaign Asphalt and Duce Construction who are offering to match donations dollar for dollar up to $25,000 now through December 1st! Visit and have your gift DOUBLED today!
  • Praise to Jesus for one of our ladies at the women’s shelter who, after being in the shelter for a year, is now HOUSED!!!   

ESL CafĂ© Time 
What? We miss seeing you and catching up like we did in person! This will be a monthly cafĂ© time on Zoom for us to see our friends and tutors from other classes. We will be split into small groups so that we can discuss and catch up. This is a great opportunity to practice speaking in English. Bring your favorite hot drink and a snack to cafĂ© time. 
When? Second Thursday of every month at 10 am. The first one is December 10th at 10am. The next cafĂ© times are: 

  • January 14th at 10am
  • February 11th at 10am 
  • March 11th at 10am 
  • April 8th at 10am 
  • May 13th at 10am 

Zoom Information:
Please email for the Zoom meeting information. 


Faith in Place: Just a reminder to our Green Team and all those interested in God’s Creation:

Join us at Light the Way, Faith in Place’s first ever virtual Annual Celebration and Fundraiser! Tuesday Dec. 8th | 7:00-8:00pm CT Join at 6:45pm CT for the Pre-Party with DJ Antonio Cesar

At Light the Way, we will celebrate the resilience of our Green Teams and share highlights from 2020 when we reimagined what justice-focused environmental work looks like in the midst of a pandemic. At the event, we will raise funds for 2021, and celebrate with a very special announcement about the future of Faith in Place! To register log into
Opportunity International: Here are some recent updates:

  1. Opportunity CEO Atul Tandon, recently named Transformational Leader of the Year by Life & News, offered his take on innovative solutions and leadership in the latest Authority Magazine’s “Social Impact Investors” segment.
  2. Join us on December 2nd for a lunch-and-learn to hear what’s next for children as schools start to reopen in developing countries.
  3. Our partner in Ghana, Sinapi Aba Savings and Loans, was named the “Best Bank for Women Entrepreneurs” by the International Finance Corporation!
  4. Tune in to an in-depth conversation with Opportunity leaders to hear how COVID-19 is impacting our collective progress toward the end of extreme poverty.

Friends of PEB celebrates your generosity. They shared this thanks for scholarships from students. Now is the time for the PEB Scholarship Challenge for 1000 children.

Salt & Light Ministry will be participating in GivingTuesday on December 1 and we need your help!
By joining the GivingTuesday movement, you’re proving that in times of uncertainty, generosity can bring the whole world together.
Here is how you can get ready to give:

1.  FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK AND INSTAGRAM. We will be posting updates, stories, and videos, leading up to Giving Tuesday, which is also the last day of our fall fundraising campaign.

2.  GIVE.  You don’t have to wait until Giving Tuesday to help us reach our $80,000 fall fundraising goal! Click on the donate link at the bottom of this email or HERE to donate securely.  Write “fall fundraiser” in the notes section so that we know to add your donation to this specific campaign.

3.  SPREAD THE WORD.  Encourage your friends and family to join you in creating a real impact on December 1 by sharing what our mission means to you and why you support our organization. Make sure to use hashtag #GivingTuesday and tag us so we can share!
Let us keep all our mission partners in our prayers, those who are waiting to go back to their place of ministry and those who are able to work where they are. Listen for God’s call to you in their ministry.
Our PC(USA) Mission CoWorkers:
Mark Adams and Miriam Maidonado Escobar (Mexico)
Farsijanna Adeney-Risakotta (Indonesia)
Jeff and Christi Boyd (Central Africa)
Jo Ella Holman (Caribbean and Cuba) – And, for the mission coworker you are preparing to take her place.
Bob and Kristi Rice (South Sudan)
Our regional and global mission partners:
Kemmerer Village (and Camp Carew)
Lifeline Pilots
Marion Medical Mission
Mission Aviation Fellowship
Opportunity International
Friends of Presbyterian Education Board in Pakistan Presbyterian Cuba Partnership
Special Offerings of the PC(USA)
Theological Education Fund
Young Adult Volunteers
Here in Champaign – Urbana:
CU at Home
Here at First Presbyterian Church
FPCC Amateur Preachers
FPCC Environmental Committee working with Faith in Place
FPCC Presbyterian Women
FPCC Children, Youth and Families
FPCC Mission Possible/Go and Serve

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  302 W. Church Street
  Champaign, IL 61820



Weekday Email to Members and Friends – 2020-11-23

Monday, November 23rd,  2020
A weekday e-mailer from
Matt Matthews
To Members and Friends of 
First Presbyterian Church
Champaign, Illinois
Dear Friends,
I’ve been writing short stories about a teenager named Charles Wesley Bartlett for years. I began writing them for my oldest son when we moved to a new neighborhood, new school, new church. As a sixth-grader that was a scary move. I wanted him to be comforted to know other kids had faced difficult moves and survived. Thus, Charles Wesley Bartlett was born to be a friend for my son Joseph.
I shared a version of this story in my sermon yesterday. If you’d like to hear me read it, go to FirstPres.Live. You’ll find a line about archived worship services. Follow that link to find yesterday’s service. This story is there. For the archive of previous worship services, click here
Thanksgiving is around the corner, and the season of Advent is close behind. Taken together, it’s a season of gratitude. At the peak of this season is Christmas, when we are invited to a manger to give thanks for the greatest gift of all. 
I hope you enjoy this story.
* * *
Charles Wesley Bartlett’s Texas-sized 
Thanksgiving with the Admiral
A Thanksgiving Story by Matt Matthews
           The Admiral told everybody to take what he called their pier assignments and Charles Wesley Bartlett and eleven other members of the family sat down at their places at the dining room table. Charles’ grandfather remained standing and intoned a prayer in a deeper than usual voice, as if to say, “Listen up, God, this is the Admiral speaking.”
            Charles’ Grandmother was strapped in her special padded chair next to her husband of nearly 60-years. She had a proper place setting of a china plate and polished silver utensils even though the people at the nursing home had fed her that morning through a tube in her stomach and she no longer appeared to recognize her hands as belonging to her. 
            Charles was expected to hug and kiss his grandmother during these annual visits, but he had avoided this duty once he became a teenager. His parents pretended not to notice.
            The Admiral ended his prayer, as he did all his prayers, with “God bless America.” Everyone said amen. No one dare cross the Admiral, except for Charles’ Uncle Alan.
            â€śYou know,” Alan said, “I don’t even know why we’re having turkey. It’s not like we don’t have other things to eat.”          
            That was true. The table could hardly contain the bowls and platters of food, the string beans, the sweet potato casserole, the black-eyed peas, the cornbread, the rolls, the cranberry, and all the rest.
            â€śWe have turkey,” the Admiral snapped, “because that’s what Americans eat at Thanksgiving.”
            â€śI see,” Alan said. “Well, we wouldn’t want to be unpatriotic.”
            Uncle Alan was a folksinger which, according to the Admiral, was another way of saying he was unemployed. He lived in an apartment off of Guadelupe in Austin, but he spent 200 days a year living in his 1999 Astro van crisscrossing the country from gig to gig.
            The turkeys in question looked like a science experiment. The Admiral had forgotten to buy the several gallons of peanut oil necessary for the turkey fryers. When he had gone out late the night before, the three local grocery stores had run out. But the Admiral had committed to his plan of deep-frying two fifteen-pound birds, and what the Admiral set out to do, he did. 
            When it came to cooking, the Admiral knew what he wanted, but he didn’t know how to get there. That’s where Charles’ mom came in: she had done the thanksgiving cooking since Grandmother had forgotten how to turn on the stove. The one thing the Admiral had contributed to the meal each year was deep-frying the turkeys. This year was to be no exception.
            Lacking oil, the Admiral fired up the fryers at 1100 hours, filled them with water, and cooked the turkeys for 90-minutes at a rigorous boil. The birds were steaming hot, but boiled turkey made for an awful smell, and an even more awful sight. The wrecked birds had come apart in the fryer, of course, and had to be scooped out with a slotted spoon and the parts arranged precariously on the platters. The flesh was pimply and white. The meat fell off the bone.
            Uncle Alan clanked the carving knife and fork together with a flourish. “Okay, citizens,” he said, “who wants some boiled bird?”
            Grandmother had no short-term memory. She lived in a nursing home in Austin not far from her only son and was on what the Admiral called shore leave for the day so she could spend time in the house that she had helped him build by hand when he retired from the Navy Shipyard at Norfolk. She had become hunched and docile over the years, rocking contentedly back and forth; they hoped she was contented. They hoped she didn’t feel the same loss and sorrow they felt. 
            She no longer made sense on the rare occasions when she’d speak. But she had an uncanny way of reciting things she had heard from all her years of faithful church attendance. Even now, long after she had forgotten who everyone was, she could say the Lord’s Prayer, parts of the Apostle’s Creed, and the whole King James Version of the 23rd Psalm. She sometimes mumbled other theological words one would hear in church, “incarnation,” for example, and “potluck.” She had become like a ghost. She was there, but she wasn’t there.        
            There was enough food to feed the whole Atlantic fleet. Charles’ mom never cooked like this at home back in Greenville. There were homemade rolls and Sally Lunn bread, watermelon rind pickles, okra gumbo, oyster stuffing, gravy, Virginia ham biscuits. The big meal began decades ago when Grandmother had insisted that the Admiral invite every lonely sailor home from the shipyard for her cooking. Charles had heard about Grandmother’s Thanksgivings for as long as he could remember. They ate in shifts, some years as many as a hundred men who had no home except for the United States Navy or who didn’t have the leave to make the trek all the way back to Montana, Chicago, or Lake Ponchartrain. Thanksgiving was a feast then, and as long as the Admiral was in charge, it would remain that way.
            The southerly wall of the great-room in which they sat was lined with floor-to-ceiling windows. When there was a lull in the eating, everyone gazed out onto the miles of vast hill country: cedar, buffalo grass, and Texas sky. It was so warm they had opened the doublewide glass doors that led out onto the back porch. Sparrows flitted onto the birdfeeder that sat on a pole set into the ground just outside the spotless windows. 
             â€śLooky there,” the Admiral said in an almost child-like way.
            A family of five deer had emerged from the not-so-distant tree line. The buck with an eight-point rack approached the dining room tentatively.
            â€śThey do this all the time,” the Admiral said. “They’re hardly afraid of a thing.”
            Charles’ grandmother perked up, leaned slightly forward, cleared her throat and said, “Let us now receive our tithes and our offerings.”  Her dentures clicked when she spoke. “From those to whom much is given,” she said, “much is required.” She scanned the room and looked as astonished as everyone else, then tucked her chin to her chest and gently resumed rocking. 
            Charles’ mom fought back tears and excused herself to the bathroom.
            By now the buck had walked to the bird feeder not ten feet from the windows. He bowed his head and lightly tapped the pole with his rack. Bird feed rained down. The does nibbled at the grass and the seed. It was a relief to see such peaceful animals up close. It made Charles think of the lion lying down with the lamb.
            â€śI tell you,” the Admiral said quietly, “the things are practically tame. Nothing fazes them.”
            â€śLet’s feed them some turkey,” Uncle Alan said. “That’ll faze them.” 
            The Admiral glared at Alan.
            â€śLook at the time,” Alan said, looking at his bare wrist. “I’ll pull the truck around to the porch so we can go get the tree.” 
            Alan got the keys from the nail by the refrigerator, and whistled through the garage to the driveway.
            The protocol, and the Admiral always had a protocol, was the same every year. When dinner was over, some would climb into the flat bed of his neglected red Dodge pickup that he hardly ever used and drive out into the back meadow to cut down a Christmas tree; others would stay behind and clean up the table. When lunch was out of the way and the tree was gotten, the Admiral put on the Navy Band’s Christmas CD, and everyone would decorate the tree.
            Charles scraped the last bit of turkey off his plate into his napkin and squeezed it into a tight, greasy wad. He heard Alan from the driveway around the side of the house trying to crank the reluctant truck engine. 
            â€śI didn’t tell that boy that the clutch has gotten real tricky,” the Admiral said. “But I guess he’s smart enough to figure that out.” He shook his head sternly. “I guess.”
            The moment the Admiral stood up the truck roared to life. The deer stood stock still in their circle around the bird feeder and cocked their heads. The engine sputtered, backfired, then revved up again as Alan pounded the gas. Tires screeched and they could hear Alan screaming out “Whoa, Nelly” in the split second before a blur of red shot into the back meadow from the driveway. Alan gripped the wheel with both hands and was bouncing along in a supersonic arc towards the porch. The deer scattered except for the stag that had stalled too long. There was nowhere for him to run except onto the porch. Alan was howling. The truck honed in on the house like a torpedo, plowing ahead over rough ground and snapping the bird feeder in two. Seed stung the windows. The stag was doing an jittery tap dance on the wooden porch. He was frantically looking for a way to escape. Alan jerked the wheel and slammed on the brakes grinding to a stop at the bottom of the porch stairs.  
            Sand and dust rose up in a plume. There was a nano-second of silence. Charles thought he could hear Uncle Alan sigh. The engine rattled back to life and gasped, then violently backfired twice Pop! Pop! before wheezing out.
            The stag couldn’t stand it. He twisted in a frenzied, tight circle, looked left and right and left again, and then, to everyone’s complete surprise, he ran right into the dining room through the open porch doors.
            The deer slipped on the slick, hardwood floor. As he got his feet, his legs were churning cartoonishly, but he wasn’t able to get traction on the floor. When he finally did, he lurched forward, shattered a lamp, and careened off the piano. Charles instinctively threw his turkey wad at the animal, and the Admiral stood between his wife and the deer jabbing the air with his dinner fork.
            Charles’ two grown sisters who had been silent the whole morning bolted out of their chairs and knocked over gravy and a full pitcher of unsweet iced tea. Oyster stuffing became airborne. They were screaming madly like the end of the world was close enough to reach out and touch.
            The deer bounded towards the bedrooms about the time Charles’ mom emerged from behind the bathroom door. Her eyes went wide one second, and the next they narrowed to slits, she leaned back like a pitcher in a wind up, and she did something Charles couldn’t fathom: she roared. This would have stopped the pitiful animal in its tracks, but he was on tile now and had even less traction than he had on the wood floor. He slid onto the floor and slammed into the wall of bookshelves. The house shuttered. Charles’ mom took another long breath and roared again. Books rained down like hams. In that moment Charles could tell that his mild-mannered mother was, after all, an Admiral’s daughter.
            The deer staggered up, shot back into the great room, jumped over the couch, knocked over the Norfolk Pine, and flew out the doors onto the porch, over the rail, and into the meadow. On solid ground he regained his grace and strength and disappeared into the cedars.
            Uncle Alan trudged up the steps of the porch. He warily leaned into the doorway and looked around at the wreckage.
            â€śWhile ya’ll clean up,” Alan said slowly, “I’ll be glad to go get the Christmas tree.” He had a wry smile on his face. “Would anybody like to come with me?” 
            Charles immediately stood up and thanked the Admiral for a nice dinner, stepped over a broken chair into the warm afternoon, got into the cab of the truck, and counted the seconds for Uncle Alan to take him away.
* * *
            The cedar was trimmed to stand exactly 9 feet tall. A place had been cleared for it near the piano. A live tree in the great-room fit decidedly better than a crazed deer or, for that matter, a boiled turkey.
            Charles’ dad had helped the Admiral in from the garage with the footlocker that held the ornaments. Charles’ grown sisters and their husbands had begun putting them on: 12 gold balls, 12 green, 12 silver, 12 red. Charles saw that his grandmother had awakened from a nap and was watching the activity. Lights from the tree shone in her eyes and it almost looked like she wore a knowing smile. 
            Charles’ mom gently set the cardboard box containing the crèche on her mother’s lap. It was her way of trying to include her. Grandmother looked at her own helpless hands, and then into her daughter’s unfamiliar face. After a moment, she locked a blank gaze back on the tree. 
            Carol Bartlett took out the manger-scene figures one by one and set them on the upright piano. Baby Jesus lay rigidly in the ceramic hay.
            Charles stood on the other side of the Christmas tree, watching his mother trying to engage her mother. If love were a picture, this would be it. He absently hung the chrismons on the tree; he carefully hung the manger, a shepherd’s crook, a scallop shell, an angel. Mainly he watched his grandmother through the branches of pungent cedar. And he wished he could do what his mother was doing.
            Charles had only begun to admit this to himself, but his grandmother had always frightened him. He knew he should feel differently, and he wanted to, but he didn’t. 
            Charles didn’t remember the intelligent, vital woman everyone said she once was. His older sisters who had been married off for years now, had fond memories of their grandmother, but he had none. She had never baked cookies for him or read him a story or tucked him into bed. As far as he knew, she had never called him by name. About the time he started remembering things, she began forgetting. And for reasons he did not understand, he always tried to keep his distance, to keep somebody or something—like a cedar tree—between him and her. 
            By now, Uncle Alan had gotten into the Admiral’s special eggnog and was purposefully singing off key with the Navy Band. He made no bones about despising the Navy Band. Charles’ two brothers-in-law were flaked out on the couch. Charles always felt sorry for them; who would want to volunteer to spend their whole lives with either of his sisters?
            â€śThe crèche is missing a sheep,” the Admiral said to Charles’ mom. He stood at the piano looking at the manger scene. That was the kind of detail the Admiral would never miss: four sheep, one cow, one manger, one Jesus, three kings, five shepherds, an angel, a star, Mary, and Joseph. Everybody present and accounted for, sir. A single sheep, however, had gone AWOL.
            Carol Bartlett unfolded and refolded the tissue from the open box that sat on Grandmother’s lap. No sign of the lost sheep. She took the box under her arm and said to her mother, “The manger is out, the tree is up, and your good Thanksgiving meal is over.” She kissed her mom on the cheek. “Now, Momma, we’re ready for Christmas.”
            Grandmother’s head was cocked down in a disinterested way, her hands were balled up in her lap, and she was rocking again. Behind where she was sitting, a Texas sunset had set fire to the sky, and early stars shone like cat eyes.
            Nightfall would mean that the big view outside would disappear, and the big house inside would begin to feel small. One sister and her husband opted for a movie in Round Rock, and were giggling in the bedroom supposedly “getting their coats.” It was only 78-degrees outside. The other sister retired to the other guestroom with her husband and their new baby. Uncle Alan was sitting cross-legged on the porch now with his guitar. The Admiral and Charles’ parents, who were in the study looking over some papers, would take grandmother back to the nursing home soon.
            The great room was empty except for Charles and his grandmother. She was across the room, eyes closed now, a little fidgety, drawn up into a ball, and he was still standing across the room behind the cedar. Somebody had dismissed the Navy Band, thank goodness. Alan’s easy voice floated in from the porch mingling with the smell of cedar and the still-warm evening air. The last colors of sunset were melting into a clear, starry night.     
            Charles decided he would go to the movie with his sister and brother-in-law. But he decided he’d go to his grandmother first and give her a hug, or pat her on the head, or touch her somehow, and tell her goodnight. How difficult could that be? What harm could that do—to her or to himself?
            He walked over, stood by her, and touched her boney shoulder. He had not noticed how thin she was, swallowed in that awkward chair of hers. She didn’t acknowledge his presence. He knelt down beside her, much like one of the magi in the manger scene. She smelled of her favorite Noxzema face cream. 
            Hugging her was difficult for lots of reasons, not the least of which was her chair that got in the way. But he tried. With all of his might Charles tried. He didn’t have a clue what to say. Maybe he didn’t need to say anything. There was so much he wanted to say, to tell her, the her she once was, the her he never knew. He thought about saying what his church said at the greeting, “The peace of Christ be with you.” It was a little formal, perhaps, and it didn’t convey anything of what he thought he felt, anything of what he wanted to say, but she wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. He had said the words enough in church to know that he could actually get them out. If he tried to say something else, he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to finish.
            So he did. He said, “The Peace of Christ be with you, Grandmother.”
            When he said it, she lifted her head. A flash of warmth crossed her face, and in the instant before it was gone, she spoke. “And also with you,” she whispered. “And also with you.” These were among her deeply remembered words, emerging from beyond the place of mere language, floating along the pathways of things last forgotten.
            She drew her chin into her chest again and gazed in the direction of her knotted hands. Charles awkwardly, carefully took her brittle hands in his and massaged them lightly. She opened her fist and in her right palm sat the missing ceramic sheep. It had a chip off one of its black ears. Its white body had yellowed slightly over the many years. A single lamb. 
            Jesus was the great shepherd of the flock, the keeper of many, but Grandmother Simons was the shepherd of one. She clung to it. Charles weighed the bones of her hands in the cupped palms of his. He wanted to kiss her fingers, to feel them on his cheek, but he didn’t dare such extravagance. He did pause, however, holding her hands for a long moment like rare china. He gave them a soft squeeze before returning them gently to the folds of her lap.
* * *
            Charles skipped the movie. He strolled around the back meadow instead. From outside, the house shone like a golden star lightly kissing the earth. Uncle Alan was playing snippets of songs on his six string.
            They had come from fields and far-away places to gather at the manger. They were a hodgepodge group: royalty, shepherds, an unwed mother, four sheep, one cow, one manger. God met them there.
            Charles looked back at the house, into the wall of windows. The Admiral in the kitchen washed a serving platter in the sink. David Bartlett read the newspaper on the couch. Carol Bartlett was brushing her mother’s hair. His family was a hodgepodge, too, and they had come from such distances to gather for Thanksgiving, from north and south and east and west. Sixteen hours from Atlanta. Fifteen from Denver. 
            God’s love had, also, come a long way, from heaven’s high to earth’s low. A great chasm spanned.
            You never know what you’ll find in the stable. The smell of Noxzema face cream and the frail grip of an old woman’s hand. That flicker of warmth that flashes in somebody’s face that lasts only a second. Sometimes, though, one second is enough, and in that second the heavens open and the angels singAnd love, which for so long had seemed so far away, has come near. We need not be so sorry and so afraid, after all.
            â€śThe peace of Christ be with you,” Charles said to the stoic cedars. “And also with you,” he said to the stars. 
* * *

  • Join us Tuesday, November 24, at 7 pm for our second virtual dessert. 
  • Email for the link.


Weekday Email to Members and Friends – 2020-11-20

Friday November 20th, 2020
A weekday e-mailer from
Matt Matthews
To Members and Friends of 
First Presbyterian Church
Champaign, Illinois
Dear Friends,
On Sunday I’m going to tell a story about what I’m thankful for. I’ll bet you will resonate. Be there or be square.
* * *
Pay attention to God’s activity in the world around you. Be amazed. Tell somebody.
See you on Sunday, FirstPres.Live
Matt Matthews
* * *
PHOTO Challenge! 

From your Nurture Team — Judi Geistlinger was the first to recognize last week’s photo of Dave McNattin.  There were several correct guesses.  The only guesses that were not correct were of “Buddy Holly” and “Clark Kent.”  🙂   

Here’s this week’s photo. 

Visit to make your guesses, or email them to  
Please join in the fun!  We would like you to select a photo from your younger years (grade school, high school or early adulthood). Photos need not be professional. Candid shots are welcome. Please send your photos to

* * *

  • Sunday in the Park for this week Sunday, November 22, is CANCELLED due to new Covid restrictions…the weather also does not look that great.  Have a great weekend and a good Thanksgiving!!!

* * *

  • Join us Tuesday, November 24, at 7 pm for our second virtual dessert.  (We promise the link works this time!)

Email for the link.

* * * 

  • Music lovers! We received so many compliments on Leslie Thomas’ piano playing for our services that we invited her to record a recital of sacred music for us. This will be featured on the Wednesday night service of fellowship and music on November 25 at 7 PM. 
for the link.* * *
From Interfaith Alliance of Champaign County…

Dear Friends,

Like many of you, we are pivoting our Thanksgiving Celebration plans to an all online format for obvious safety reasons. I have updated the flyers and hope that you will help get the word out so that we can still come together in gratitude, solidarity and love. You can also find all of this on our Facebook page. Please let me know if you have any questions. Special thanks to all who have helped us pivot so quickly. Blessings and please stay safe!

Sheryl Palmer

 * * * 



Weekday Email to Members and Friends – 2020-11-19

Thursday November 19th,  2020
A weekday e-mailer from
Matt Matthews
To Members and Friends of 
First Presbyterian Church
Champaign, Illinois
Dear Friends,
An Essay from Nancy Whitford 
One of my favorite songs is “Look for the Silver Lining.”  In truth, I consider it my personal theme song.  It reminds me of how we should always look on the bright side – always see the glass more than half full, and never see it half empty. 
We all know that clouds do appear in the sky throughout our lives.   That’s why we need to see the blue sky above us.  My grandmother always said that even when there were dark, thunderstorm clouds in the sky, there was always a patch of blue.  She called it enough to make a sailor a pair of pants.  This always made me laugh, but I came to realize that it was her way of telling me that no matter what happens there is always a reason to be optimistic.  
That optimism comes from faith.  The blue sky is God’s promise to us for a better life ahead.  But while we’re here, that optimism tells me that we have to do all we can to spread a message of goodness and kindness, and always remind ourselves,  our family, our friends and everyone we come in contact with that there is indeed a silver lining ahead.
Look for the silver lining
When ere a cloud appears in the blue
Remember somewhere the sun is shining 
And so the right thing to do is make it shine for you.
A heart full of joy and gladness 
Will always banish sadness and strife
So always look for the silver lining
And try to find the sunny side of life.
Words by Buddy De Silva 
Music by Jerome Kern
* * *
John Milton—Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.

Sunday in the Park for this week Sunday, November 22, is CANCELLED due to new Covid restrictions…the weather also does not look that great.  Have a great weekend and a good Thanksgiving!!!

* * *

From Interfaith Alliance of Champaign County…

Dear Friends,

Like many of you, we are pivoting our Thanksgiving Celebration plans to an all online format for obvious safety reasons. I have updated the flyers and hope that you will help get the word out so that we can still come together in gratitude, solidarity and love. You can also find all of this on our Facebook page. Please let me know if you have any questions. Special thanks to all who have helped us pivot so quickly. Blessings and please stay safe!

Sheryl Palmer

 * * * 
Our book study on White Fragility concluded this fall. One of the things we agreed we could “do” to build a less racist world is to share great books that dealt directly or indirectly with race with our children. Don Pippin pulled these titles together for us to consider. Books make great gifts to our kids and grandkids. The authors that are starred have several books published and almost anything by them would be good. What children’s books do you recommend? Let me know, and I’ll publish the titles here. (New titles are at the bottom of the list.)
The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander*
Holes in the Sky by Patricia Polacco*
The Old Truck by Jarrett Phumphrey
Goggles by Ezra Jack Keats*
The Girl with a Mind for Math: the Story of Raye Montague by Julia Finley Mosca*
The Forgotten Girl by India Hill Brown
Rebound by Kwame Alexander*
As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds*
Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson*
Words with Wings (20 works of art paired with poems by African Americans)
The Port Chicago 50: disaster, mutiny and the fight for civil rights by Steve Sheinken
Black Panther/Shuri 
March, (3 volumes) by John Lewis
The Twenty-Third Psalm by Tim Ladwig
The Lord’s Prayer by Tim Ladwig
For Beautiful Black Boys Who Believe in a Better World by Michael W. Water
White Flour by David LaMotte
Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie
Always Room For One More by Nonnie Hogrogian
Making Friends by Fred Rogers
Who Counts? by Levine/Sasso
Down the Road by Alice Schertle
Let It Shine by Asley Bryan
Class Act by Jerry Craft
New Kid by Jerry Craft
All because you matter by Tami Charles
Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Flournoy
God bless this child by Billie Holliday
When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz
The Old African by Julius Lester/Jerry Pinkney
Circle Unbroken by Margot Raven
More Than Anything Else by Marie Breadby
Moses by Boston Weatherford
Of thee I sing by Barak O’bama by Loren Long
A Chair for my Mother by Vera Williams
If a Bus Could Talk by Faith Ringgold
* * *
Humor (Hard times really need godly laughter): 
A woman was teaching a writing lesson and asked the children to think if they had one thing to trade, what would they trade it for. Following what she had learned in my class, she was having her students tell their thoughts before they wrote to get feedback from their writing groups. One little girl loves unicorns, so she would trade her Barbie for 100 unicorns. Not to be outdone, a little boy next to her wanted to trade his bicycle for 1,000 motorcycles. The third child said, “I’d like to trade 2020 for ANYTHING!” 
The wisdom of children. No wonder Jesus said, “Bring the little ones to me… .” 
Nancy MacGregor

* * *
Good Word:
Psalm 118:29 Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His steadfast love endures forever.
Let us pray: 
We ask, Holy God, that you not 
only hear our prayer, but that
you help us to pray, that we 
might learn to pray 
more and more
as Jesus

* * *

An Apache Blessing (from Betty Hollister):
May the sun bring you new energy by day
May the moon softly restore you by night
May the rain wash away your worries
May the breeze blow new strength into your being
May you walk gently through the world and know its beauty
All the days of your life.

Much, much love to you all.
Matt Matthews
Cell: 864.386.9138