Reverend Debra McGuire
My Dear Bethany family,
I had a school assignment sometime during grade school where
we were asked to write a Thanksgiving story. I wrote a story
about pumpkin pie – from the point of view of the pumpkin. I
didn’t want to write about the pumpkin being cut apart and
smashed and put in the oven. I wrote about the pile of pumpkins
on display somewhere, much like the picture here. The pumpkins
always got excited around this time of year! They hoped beyond
all hope that THEY would be THE ONE to be chosen for the
family thanksgiving pie this year! They talked about it, they tried
to make themselves look big and puffed out and handsome, they
got excited when they were picked, they reminisced about other
friends who were gone because they were picked in other years,
and how happy they must be now!
We don’t know when we do something, that we’re making memories. In these days of covid we are all doing so many new things. It’s hard not to just wait until we can get back to normal again. God never said, “Behold, I am going back to the old ways!” God said, “Behold, I am doing a new thing.” November is often a month full of ways to make memories, whether it’s Thanksgiving gatherings, or even as November approaches Halloween decorations and kids in cute costumes or binging on Halloween candy, maybe even a High School prom or a Homecoming game.
I think November 2020 will be full of memories of all kinds. Where will we be five years from now, three years, one year, a week from now? One week from today our national election will be over. But the effects and the counting and the uproar will be far from over. I hope you plan to vote this year in particular. In a few days Bethany will have our second outdoor service, certainly a thing to remember. All Saints Day is usually November 1st so we do a lot of remembering of people we love who have died and joined the saints in heaven. This year the highlight of the year for many, our Thanksgiving dinner and talent show at Bethany will not happen as usual, although there’s still time to hope for celebrating in a new way. Our own family Thanksgiving holiday will not be the same. Our list of thanks will be lists different from other years.
This year of change has been difficult for so many, and yet there is always that constant reminder of God’s new thing. At the end of this month we will begin Advent, a time of looking forward. My prayer for us is that we experience the letting go that the fall season often encourages us to do, knowing that we will soon be looking forward to the celebrations to come.
Blessings, Pastor Deb
My Dear Bethany family,
Going from living in San Francisco to living in South San Francisco has been wonderful for me. Just the change in pace has been great. Having a place with a patio where I can keep some plants and flowers is such a delight. Having even a little bit of nature right outside my door feels so good. While it's not Golden Gate Park, or very large or ful of variety, it has been such a joy to see my own little bit of nature right there. I feel like my two or three flowers have turned into some kind of gateway drug leading me to seek out even more of this thing called nature.
In the midst of such an unusual and anxiety provoking world, I struggle with how to remain sane, balanced, engaged and happy. It only re-occurred to me that after I've run out of things to say, and I've run out of ways to be, there's still nature. Nature is like listening to a favorite piece of music. You can approach it just as you are and let it take you to another place without doing anything. So many times I listen to pieces of music that I know and love and have performed and it's lovely. But I find that when I listen to something new to me I have more room to enjoy it. I don't have my performer's brain on, I don't re-live that great flute solo coming up, and I don't know what mood is coming up. When I walk in amongst some giant trees, or lay in soft grass, or walk in water, I have that same sense of freedom. I know it's wonderful and don't care why. That feeling is multiplied in the fall. The brilliance of the colors always strikes me as if for the first time.
What joy surprises you these days? Where do you go to find nature? Do you prefer a body of water, or a grove of trees, or a wide plain? Sometimes just a simple walk reminds me that I want more. As we approach the season of dramatic changes in nature, I'm reminded that some changes bring great beauty.
I hope we can find ways to be that beauty for one another during these times of so much change.
Blessings, Pastor Deb
September 23, 2020
My dear Bethany family,
When I was a young flute player, I would hear professional flute players play and I alternated between being inspired and motivated, or giving up. I would see the future I wanted and think either “wow, cool! I’m going to work harder so I can do that!” or “Wow. That’s so far from me, I’ll never reach it. I should just stop now.”
I was reminded of that feeling of approaching the unreachable, this week when I heard of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
The loss of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the last straw among last straws. I thought I had reached that mark long ago. I suspect that we all have reached that mark at different points along the last four years, or six months. I’m saddened by the loss of her sense of true north, her humor, her strength, her leadership, and the mark of sanity she provided for me even though she wasn’t on my daily radar. She died on the eve of the highest holy days of Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur this week. Tradition says when someone dies at Rosh Hashanah it is a sign that they were a person of great righteousness, a tzaddik. Framed on her on a wall in her chambers at the Supreme Court, she kept a quote from Deuteronomy, three Hebrew words in beautiful calligraphy: Tzedek, tzedek tirdof - “Justice, justice, you shall pursue” (Deut 16:20).
Hearing all of her great work, her stamina, and her always hopeful future-thinking approach, reminded me that I want to fight for justice as fully as she did. As a christian I believe that fighting for justice undergirds all other calls on our lives. And yet, her life and efforts seem so far from what I will ever be able to do, maybe I should just stop trying, just like I considered stopping flute.
At this point in my life I’m a better flute player than I am a justice warrior, but I haven’t quit either one. In the midst of all of our chaos in this country, in our states, and in our individual lives we are still always called to keep moving. What we are going through may be unreasonable, but it is happening. There are so many new opportunities to learn from and work with right now. It is more important than ever to use our faith to find hope, use our communities to listen and love, and find the best way we know how to do the work that we can do.
Diana Butler Bass reminds us that “There is so much none of us can control. What we can control is the work we have to do. Our daily work of caring and creating and doing good. Do what you are called to do, what is in your power. And do that with courage and conviction. You are not alone.”
Blessings, Pastor Deb
My dear Bethany family,
Here is a prayer that I have shared in at least five different ways over the last few months. I love the idea of being surrounded, enfolded, protected and watched over by God. Above, you can see a watercolor painting of water lilies. When I went to Filoli for the first time last month, I fell in love with the water lilies there. At the garden center, gift shop, I bought two plastic floating water lilies. One red and one purple.
They’re so relaxing. They are floating and free, and held by the water, carried along in any way the water wants to move. I am not sure that there is a way that humans can feel as relaxed as this kind of flower looks. Imagine floating along, being as submissive to what is holding you, that you give up all control and let yourself be taken along. If you’ve ever floated on a lake, or lay in a grass field looking up at clouds, you might have the feeling. I was just talking to someone today who said that he heard that the world goes by in 10 second increments. The time it takes to read a text, or 140 characters on twitter, or instagram. Think of all the things we miss if we can only hold our attention for 10 seconds. The look in your lovers eye. The fascination of a child in a sand box. The 17 things that that cloud just turned into as the wind gently took it on a journey. The world is asking a lot of us these days. Stay safe. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Don’t hug. Don’t touch. Please everybody with your choice of social justice activity. Vote for the right person. Use reusables. Don’t use water. Fire is ravishing our hillsides and homes. A pandemic is settling in for a long stay if we’re not careful.
John 14:27 says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” And Isaiah 43 says, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
We have reason to hope. Some fires have some tiny containment. Scientists are racing to find help and a vaccine for covid. Churches are active, ministries are vibrant. People find ways to sing, musicians make music, visual artists make art, thinkers think, families gather. Helpers abound. At the Presbytery meeting last night our worship service included a video of Igrejia Presbiteriana Braziliana, preaching and singing and serving communion. What a vibrant vital place that is, and we are so proud at Bethany to support them in any way that we can.
Be a water lily!
My dear Bethany family,
I hope you are all finding ways to see God’s grace in your lives these days. As we move through a summer unlike any we’ve experienced before, I find myself sometimes actually surprised when something remains the same for a while since I’m accustomed to having so many things change so fast in the last few months.
I found myself complimenting someone on their mask the other day. I laughed as I walked on, thinking how odd it was that I said “nice mask” just as naturally as if I had said, “nice earrings” or “nice tie.” I saw a video of a string ensemble playing masked and distanced, in a large open space, and they were all wearing concert black, and red masks. Usually when I’m going to perform in a concert, we’ll ask the director before the performance, “Are we wearing concert black tonight?” or “Are we wearing the gold vests?” or “Are we wearing white shirts?” Now I suppose it will be normal when asking which part of any uniform we might be expected to wear, it will be normal for someone in the group to ask, “Are we wearing the red masks tonight?”
At our session meeting the other night I was very moved by one thing that has not changed at Bethany. Our community has not diminished our passion for giving to others. When the Presbytery gave every church in the Presbytery money to help during the pandemic we found places to assist. Even though our Spring Tea was postponed and collecting items at church is less possible since we are not there, we have found ways to give. Both the pandemic and the social unrest have left many of us feeling the juxtaposition of competing mindsets. In some ways we do less because we need to be home or at least narrow our traveling circles, and on the other hand our hearts are full because we want to do so much more. In the past months as we at Bethany have worked our way through the whirlwind we have remained strong at heart, and have not lost our sense of compassion for our community and our wider community. The generosity of each individual as well as each committee has been remarkable. The creativity and courage that it takes to find ways to forge ahead and not give up that you have shown is inspiring.
As our baptism reminds us, we are joined together by our love of Christ, love of one another, and an undying sense of compassion.
“4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” (Eph. 4:4-7)
As of July 1, we will have been partners here at Bethany for six months! I am thoroughly enjoying being your Transitional Pastor. Thank you for my beautiful office, for laughing at my jokes, for welcoming me with open arms, for letting me comfort you and work with you and walk with you, and for helping me learn how to be your pastor.
On Jan. 31, 2020 The United States government imposed a two-week federal quarantine on 195 people who were evacuated from Wuhan, China, to a California military base. Little did we know what would happen in the next months. Today marks 13 weeks since our first shelter in place order. It’s difficult to look back over the past 13 weeks and take it all in. There have been so many challenges and we have risen to them all. From having Holy Week on zoom, and services for Easter on Facebook live (I’m not a morning person, but a pandemic is a crazy way to get out of having to do a 6am service!), to the connections we have been maintaining with each other in various ways. I am really proud of us for the tenacity we have, and the strong spirit of love with which we hold one another. We have found ways to step in and help others by giving blood, cooking meals, continuing the work with the San Bruno Shelter, running errands for our neighbors and reaching out to those who might be isolated. We are connecting through comments on Facebook during our live services on Sunday mornings. We are connecting through the zoom prayer service on Wednesdays at 6:30. We are connecting on my Patio. We are connecting through individual conversations on zoom or on the phone, and a few safe in person visits. Our deacons are keeping on top of each parishioner and helping us meet their needs. Our committee personnel are helping to keep our worship, our finances, our grounds work and cleaning, safe and up to date.
Roberta, well, Roberta just keeps us all in line!
Afer five weeks of Job, we will begin looking at 2 Corinthians for five weeks beginning July 12th. I hope to follow that with a study of the Lord’s Prayer through August and into early September. We still do not have a forecasted date for continuing in person Sunday morning services. The session will look at this issue again when we meet on July 21st. We will always be focused on safety. For now we will continue to offer our Facebook live services at 10:00 on Sundays.
I will be on vacation from July 14th – July 20th. Please continue to call the church office with any needs you may have, or contact your deacon. There will not be Facebook live on Tuesday or Friday, or a Wednesday zoom prayer service that week.
Blessing to you all, as we find ways to engage in the important work of these days,
Happy June, Bethany Family!
I just read a quote by John Kabat-Zinn that says, “We take care of the future best by taking care of the present now.”
I find that a perfect way to describe what we have been doing for the past 10 weeks. Every change in behavior, every new way of looking at things, every struggle to overcome new challenge after new challenge, have been ways of taking care of that present day. And this one, and this one. By taking care of the present each day as we have been, we are taking care of our future. Every change we make in order to be safe is an effort on behalf of the future. We need to focus our energy on staying safe ourselves, protecting others by doing our part, helping others where we can and taking care of our own mental health, all while trying to get groceries, pay bills, work, take care of health issues, be with our families, and carry on with celebrations where possible. I have been able to visit safely with a few members, and it warms my heart to hear of your hopes and worries. I have met a few people who need to stay home, and I thank you for your brave hospitality as we met in safe ways. I know that if we lead with love and prayer our hearts will tell us how to be. In Christ we pray for our struggles, our anxieties, our friends, those who need us who are too far away to reach in person, those who are ill, those who are handling some tragic events in their lives and those who are lost. We also offer prayers of thanks for the joys we are able to notice, of gratefulness for what we do have, and of love for all the ways we are loved and comforted.
The last Sunday in May is Pentecost Sunday. This is the day when the church year celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit. For the next 25 weeks, we will walk with the historical church through many biblical stories and settings, all as reminders of the work of the Spirit. This year, like no other, we need to be reminded of exactly what we were given when we received the Holy Spirit. As promised during the last day of the Resurrected Jesus we have received the Spirit of Truth. We received the Advocate, Comforter, Counselor and Helper that Jesus promised us. This advocate brings the bible into our everyday lives so that we can have experiences of the Risen Christ. This Spirit cannot be denied. It is a gift beyond anything we can imagine. It is with that gift that we will have the strength to weather our days to come in refreshing and new ways. I invite you to recognize joy where you can. It's still out there. Often it comes out of us and pours out onto someone without our recognizing it. Stay kind. Look for the good. Help where we can. Love. And then love some more. We are here together, holding each other up, celebrating retirements and graduations and new jobs and positive health changes. And we are here together to share in the suffering of our world, to lighten the load and have an impact.
Life is constantly happening. The future is always right around the corner. We are the church and we are not closed. Our work continues with joy!
Hello Bethany friends,
As I write this on April 28th the local news has just told us that the Shelter in Place order will extend through the month of May. This means that by the next time I write a letter for this monthly page, we will have been quarantined, locked down, staying at home, not gathering for 30 more days.
I can’t say that I like this news. But I can say that I think this is the right news.
As we all try to find ways to cope these days I want to remind us that we are children of God and therefore are born with inherent worth. It may be that the changes we have had to make while we shelter in place have affected us in more than one way. We may have made changes to our lives that affect our finances, our work, our daily activities, and all of these things may make us doubt our own self worth or value. Our very identity is being changed by what we are being asked to do. Some of us thrive with such a challenge, and find new ways to be our best selves and meet the daily ever changing routines of our days. We love to engage with our families and our friends in new ways and we love to find new opportunities to find meaning with those that we love and the things that we do. We constantly find ways to contribute. Others of us go into a panic at the first sign of change and if a great deal of our lives changes all at once it’s beyond our ability to cope. Wherever we fall on that spectrum there is no denying the fact that we are social creatures. Without our usual methods of meeting our social needs much of what we do to take care of ourselves is not available.
There’s no doubt that much has changed. I want to remind us of what is the same. God will never stop finding new ways to get our attention. God will never stop living in our hearts. God will never stop listening to our greatest joys and our greatest fears. We believe in God of the trinity, whose three persons are our constant companions. As comforting as it is to know that God is right here on earth with us, it is equally comforting to know that nothing on earth that may limit us, can limit God.
continued 1 God will never stop calling us no matter how our daily lives and activities change. There are no limits or boundaries to how God values us and uses us. If we are not able to live our lives the way we have in the past – if our employment changes, our families change, we are not able to connect to others in person, we are not able to offer ourselves to help in the same ways anymore, God will still work with what we can do. Our limits given to us by laws, rules, safety choices, pandemic stresses and required behaviors, are not limiting to God .
As we wonder what we are being called to in these times, I invite you to print the page attached to this W@B email titled “God Calls Me", and use some time to be creative and color the words.
Please stay safe, stay home, and ask for help. As always, I want to learn more about how I and/or Bethany can meet your needs and bring you joy. I encourage you to call the office at 650-589- 3711 or reach out to me at email@example.com for any reason.
Blessings, Pastor Deb
Warm greetings to all of you,
Did you know that you can purchase caterpillar kits on Amazon? I’m banging my hand against my head in disbelief. A pastor I know did this and almost everyone in her congregation is watching a caterpillar grow during Lent and it’s a big hit, and a fabulous hands on way to experience all of lent and waiting, and the emergence of a new life.
I wonder what would happen if the caterpillar needed to remain in the chrysalis longer than usual? Waiting and reflecting on the inner life is great in theory, and certainly even something to do more often than most of us do. But when waiting goes beyond theory and we are forced to rely on within longer than usual, it is disorienting and can be scary.
I am very lucky. I have the perfect job. I am not only allowed, but encouraged to reach out to people, stick my nose in their business, because in my role as your pastor I may have something to give. I am lucky because I have someplace to focus all of my helpless feelings. I am staying home except for essential services. But part of my essential work is you, and for that I am blessed. Sometimes after a pastoral call, I realize that the person has been a huge gift to me with their presence and with their stories of how you care for one another. I was recently checking on several folks to be sure they were connected. The first person I called had already been in regular recent contact with a few of the people on my list. I left the call reminded that the Church is one body. I am the pastor but we are all ministers. I give thanks for you.
I want to remind you that your love and care for others is still alive and well, and you too have a role where you have something unique to give. Think about who you love and where they are, and if they are far, recognize the heartache of being away. And if the people in your life are near, I give thanks. I hope with you that all of this restraint from contact is temporary. God is a life-giving creative God who will help us through this. God will put people and ideas in our life that will work for good through all of us. Lazarus was raised from the dead, into the abundance of his life. But with the resurrection of Jesus, new life was to a completely new way of being. We will be raised from our current worries and anxieties into a new world with new ways of being together, and new ways to care for others, and with any luck, a more gentle world. It’s up to us.
Please stay safe, stay home, and ask for help.
As always, I want to learn more about how I and/or Bethany can meet your needs and bring you joy. I encourage you to call the office at (650) 589-3711 or reach out to me at for any reason.
Blessings, Pastor Deb
As I head into my third month here at Bethany, I’m looking forward to sharing the season of Lent with you. I’ve enjoyed getting to know some of you more and more. I’m hoping to continue to meet folks I’ve never met before and discover who you are. I want to learn more about how I and/or Bethany can meet your needs and bring you joy. I encourage you to call the office or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org for any reason.
While Lent is not one of the most upbeat seasons of the church year it can be one of the richest. Lent has been described as one giant waiting period. Lent is traditionally a time when people of faith remember the suffering of Jesus. We’re reminded that we came from dust and we will return to dust, and that Jesus died for us. Many people spend the season of Lent in long periods of self- flagellation and misery. I would suggest that we buck that tradition, and look instead to the suffering of Jesus as a sign of hope for us, that Jesus shared what happens in our lives. Jesus died for us but it is not our fault or our sin that caused Jesus to die. Lent is not a time for guilt and more suffering. It’s a time to be aware that our suffering happened even to Jesus. It’s a time for self reflection and reflection as a community to possibly discover where we can do more, or where we can do something different. It’s always a good thing to look for ways to give up bad habits, or stop doing something you love for a time to see how it feels to do without. But rather than make Lent something that we only do for a season, let’s look for what can we do in Lent that becomes a part of our new way of life. Lent as a period of waiting can lead to heartfelt generosity toward ourselves and others for a lifetime.
Contemplation of suffering is not a bad thing or a sad thing necessarily. Suffering happens all the time, and I would hope that we wouldn’t look for ways to add to that part of our lives. But rather, find a depth to ourselves that only comes from serious tugs at our hearts. I once had a caterpillar in my room in college that I kept in a round globe-like dish with a stick and milkweed. I loved to watch it crawling on the stick, or see that it had eaten some greens. I watched it all the way through the cocoon time and it was amazing to see the butterfly wings unfold and watch it take off! What was equally amazing was just before the cocoon was being built, everything was so still. The caterpillar didn’t move for days. Then he hung from the middle of the stick and was still for days. It was if there was silence before the silence. That’s Lent to me. It’s the opportunity to prepare. We can even prepare to wait.
I hope you find your way through the season of Lent with your Bethany community; beginning with Ash Sunday on March 1st, through every Tuesday night Lenten study on the Lord’s Prayer, and continuing into April as we get closer and closer to Easter. Let us live these pre-Easter days with each other, and with a deep search for our own Lenten story.
Blessings, Pastor Deb
“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” – Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
My Dear Bethany family,
Welcome to December! As much as it saddens me to know we are still living in a COVID world, I also want to celebrate that we made it! There have been so many times this year when we have had to do things a different way or not do them at all. I can appreciate any exhaustion you may be feeling. During this month of Advent and Christmas I hope we can experience the waiting for the birth of Christ as the Light of the World that it was and still is. As I type, there are Bethany elves in the sanctuary hanging decorations, the banners went up earlier this week, and preparations are being made for the season. Each Sunday we will light the advent candles of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.
While we will not be gathering in person each Sunday morning, you may find it nice to light your own candles at home and focus on each word as it comes by. Maybe use the word hope once a day for the whole first week. Then the word peace, etc. Or write a poem or paint something. Contact me if there is anything I can do to help you experience the season in a way that will be meaningful for you. I hope you were able to have a unique Thanksgiving experience that was satisfying. With the possibility of a vaccine on the way, the election over, there is a hopefulness in the air. Not the kind of hopefulness that is untrue, but the kind of hope that undergirds every part of life for people of faith. May your December be full of the Light that is Christ and the joy of the Christmas Season!
Blessings, Pastor Deb