What’s Up in our Garden?

You may remember that when we planted our prayer garden, we took donations of plants from friends and members. That means our garden is full of history and stories and contributions from a whole cloud of witnesses. So now and then we will share some of those stories.


Here’s one donated by Ed and June. There are several throughout the garden. How many can you find?

This week, Solomon’s seal is blooming in the BLC Prayer Garden. The plants are from the garden of members Ed and June Borkhuis, who received them from the garden of deceased member, Pearl Murphy.

Solomon’s seal is a perfect fit for the Prayer Garden because it is native to North America and loves moisture and shade. According to website www.gardeningknowhow.com, “When you’re planning a garden in the shade, the Solomon’s seal plant is a must have.” In 2013 it was named Perennial Plant of the Year.


Russian Icon of King Solomon, holding a model of the Temple, which was built under his reign.

The most interesting thing about Solomon’s seal is its name. Most sources attribute it to a signet ring worn by King Solomon. The signet is a circle with a six-pointed star inside. The star is more commonly known as the star of David or the symbol of Judaism. When the leaves of the plant have dropped off they leave a scar on the rhizome that resembles this signet.

Solomon’s seal has also been used as a medicinal herb, most notably in the healing of broken bones and bruises to the body. Some sources say that the name derives from King Solomon’s knowledge in using this plant to heal. I Kings 4:33 says of Solomon: “He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall.”

solomon seal_lrg

Close up of flowers in bloom (not ours).

Stop by the garden to see this beautiful plant in bloom.

Sermon: Create in us hearts forgiven and forgiving (Mar. 22)

Forgiveness 3

God speaks of a new covenant in which the law of God will be written on our hearts, and the relationship between God and people will stand forever. This is made possible because God “remembers our sins no more.” It would seem that to live godly lives, striving for forgiveness among one another is the first step. How do we do it?

(Text: Jeremiah 31:31-34)

Lent 5B (3.22.15)

Preparing for simplicity: how cutting back on plastic is changing my life

As I have been preparing for our upcoming Lenten focus on simplicity, I have been moved toward endeavoring a bit of an anti-plastic crusade. I have to say: trying to live without plastic (or at least with less plastic, as I don’t intend to go off the deep end on this… Read: I’m not going to start brushing my teeth with baking soda. I have limits.) has actually been really fun and helpful, for at least three reasons:

1) I have to think creatively about different options. If I can’t get this item in the form I’m used to, what other form can I get it? Is there a more natural alternative? Is there another vessel I could put it in? Could I buy that food in bulk somewhere? If I need to go elsewhere to get it in bulk, what else can I get at that store to make the trip worth it? Just because I have always done something one way doesn’t mean it is the best way, and certainly doesn’t mean I have to keep doing it that way.

Albatross with plastic in belly

2) I have to constantly evaluate what is really important to me. If I can’t find other options, or am unwilling to use those other options, I think, “Okay then, how essential is this really to my life? Can I do without it?” Often the answer is yes, which then helps another aspect of the whole striving for simplicity thing I’m going for here. (But again: I’m not quitting brushing my teeth. I did buy natural toothpaste.)

3) It is a concrete activity that reminds me, on a regular basis, of the impact of my seemingly harmless actions. The women who wrote the book that got me going on this crusade (Plastic-Free: How I Kicked My Plastic Habit and You Can Too) was first moved toward this effort because she saw this picture (above right) of an albatross who had eaten plastic, thinking it was food. When the bird died, the plastic remained in his stomach, completely intact – because nothing about plastic is biodegradable and certainly not digestible. So I think, “Oh, this lighter stopped working,” and I toss it out. No biggie, right? Except it is, because now it is inside this innocent bird’s belly. That is a problem – for my faith, and for my status as a human and citizen of this planet.

The other thing I have noticed is that pretty much all of the plastic-free alternatives are actually much, much better for my personal health, and often my wallet. They avoid processed food. They encourage homegrown things and whole foods, generally bought in bulk. They result in me knowing exactly what is in things I’m putting in or on my body, because I made it myself. They involve making things (not just food!) myself because the version you can buy is not only cased in plastic, but is also loaded with chemicals. So not only am I avoiding the plastic of the store-bought laundry detergent, I am also avoiding the chemicals, AND the cost of all those chemicals that at the end of the day work just the same as something homemade. All it took was about 10 minutes of my time. Is saving 10 minutes really worth it?

The bad news, of course, is that for many people, 10 minutes saved is really worth it. And perhaps they also make enough money to buy something already made (but loaded with chemicals and packaged in plastic), so just picking this up off the shelf and saving the few minutes of hand grating bar soap is, for them, totally worth it.

Turns out, living simply is not the same as living easily. You’d think that simplicity might go hand-in-hand with convenience, because convenience makes our lives easier. Not so. Living simply takes a little bit of work at first (maybe even a lot), as you figure out how to change habits that have been ingrained and try to find alternatives that work for you. But aren’t most things like that? When I started cooking, I had to check a recipe five times to make sure I was doing the right thing. I had to figure it out as I went along. Recipes that allegedly took 30 minutes to prepare took me an hour, or even longer if I had to throw it out and start over because I had ruined it. But now what took me an hour only takes me 45 minutes, and I trust that if I keep cooking, then maybe next year I will actually be able to make recipes in the amount of time the recipes says it will take.

Part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Yes, learning to live simply can be difficult at first. But even at this early point in my journey, the payoffs are so, so good. I feel good about myself as I fill a fabric bag with bulk food instead of a plastic one, smiling as I notice people see me do this with a face that says, “Huh, I hadn’t thought to do that.” Local and ethically raised food is a little more expensive, it’s true, but it turns out food isn’t cheap to raise and make, and knowing I am paying what it is worth (and what the workers are worth!) makes me happy. When I pour my homemade laundry detergent in the washer, I smile knowing that, over the course of my lifetime, I will be contributing dozens upon dozens of fewerempty plastic jugs to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. To me, these joys that I find are absolutely worth the little bit of extra effort I have to make up front.

What I’ve done so far:
* I have always brought my own grocery bags, as well as bags into other stores. In addition, I have now acquired some mesh produce bags and organic cotton bulk food bags, which I dutifully bring with me to the grocery.

* I have located and gone to our local co-op, Abundance (great name, right??) and explored what they have to offer, which includes a great bulk food section where you can get pasta, nut butters, various grains and cereals, and even toiletries in bulk.

* I am trying the “No ‘Poo Method” of hair-care. Cosmetics are almost always in plastic bottles, and also almost always loaded with chemicals that are not tested or approved. (Watch this video for some horrifying truths about The Story of Cosmetics.) In fact, there are hardly anyregulations on hygiene products! So far, I am a week into either not washing my hair, or washing it with baking soda and apple cider vinegar, and the result: my hair is falling into really nice curls and isn’t frizzy at all, which is exactly what they said would happen. So far it feels a little bit heavy at the roots (my scalp is still adjusting to having to produce less oil), but it doesn’t look dirty.

* Also in the personal hygiene area, I’m going to switch to bar soap made of natural ingredients and wrapped in paper as soon as my current products are gone. Handmade soaps look, smell, and feel so
lovely anyway. (I’m stoked to go to the Lilac Festival and stock up this spring!)

* One more hygiene item: I have the ingredients to make my own deodorant. Especially as a breast cancer survivor, do I really need to be putting chemical grossness on my armpits – especially right after they have ben shaved, this seems like a terrible idea. (I had already switched to natural deodorant, but it is cased in, you guessed it, plastic.)

* I have started asking that when people ship things to me, they do it plastic free. So far, it is working! Yes, you can ask this! They may not do it, but you can always ask. The package pictured on right is from an etsy.com artist (got my love some custom-made cufflinks for Valentine’s Day!), and you’ll probably find most Etsy dealers will be happy to comply. (Plus, you’ll be supporting small business and hand crafts, and hardly anything on Etsy is plastic, so what else could you want?) In this case, the only plastic was the tape.

* I have been making my own laundry detergent for several months already with great success. I use this recipe.

* I have started refusing straws at restaurants. Someday, maybe I’ll get this straw.

As you can see, they are all pretty small steps, but I have more in mind: I’m going to try to be better about bringing empty containers to restaurants so I can put leftovers and take out in them. I will acquire a stainless steel water bottle soon, but I’m strangely attached right now to my plastic one, for some reason. I’m very interested in something like this to substitute for saran wrap and plastic baggies (which I do wash and reuse), and I’m considering buying a tiffin for my lunches.

Well, what do you think? Are you convinced to try? What small steps can you take? Come to our midweek Lenten gatherings and learn more!

Want to Simplify your Life?


We live in a culture that advocates for more, more, more: more stuff, more complex stuff, more activities… But does all this stuff finally get in the way of us appreciating what truly matters? Does it get in the way of our relationship with God? If you could simplify your life – your space, your schedule, your habits – could you be happier and more grateful for what you already have?

Our Lenten theme this year is “Walking Simply With Christ.” Together, we will explore how to simplify our lives and become better stewards of our stuff, our time, our food, our health/bodies, and our neighbors’ well-being. Of course, we will also have our Wednesday sessions, which begin with soup at 5:30, learning hour at 6:00, and Holden Evening Prayer at 7:00:

• Feb. 25 @ BLC: Where do we start? A self-assessment and initial guidelines.
• Mar 4 @ BLC: The Story of Stuff (where our stuff comes from and where it goes)
• Mar 11 @SMLC: Space for Sabbath (with spiritual director Bonnie Matthaidess)
• Mar 18 @ SMLC: De-cluttering our Homes and our Lives
• Mar 25 @ SMLC: Simple Food: Caring for our Bodies

Join us for any part of the series. We will post other resources on our websites (stmartinwebster.orgor bethlehemlutheranchurch.org), as well as several Facebook postings a week that will help you simplify your life and live more lightly in the beautiful world God has given us. We look forward to having you along for the journey!

Bethlehem Lutheran Church (BLC) is located at 1767 Plank Rd. Webster
St. Martin Lutheran Church (SMLC) is located at 813 Bay Rd. Webster

Some resources:

Simplicity Calendar (Lent 2015) – Daily and weekly practices to help you practice some of the different aspects of simplicity at home with your family.

Resources to Help You Live More Simply – Websites and books you can explore to help you learn more deeply on the topics that interest you most.

Facebook Event – engage in the conversation and see the latest resources here.

Sermon: “Star gifts” (Epiphany reflections)


The wise men followed a star and brought gifts to the Christ child, but first, they received that wonderful gift of God. We, too, receive innumerable gifts from God, but we do not always notice them. Last Epiphany (sermon here), we each received a “star gift” to focus on for the year, and today, we shared some of what we noticed about how God is made known in our daily lives through a variety of gifts.

Epiphany 2014 (BLC)

Organ dedication

A few weeks ago we dedication our newly restored organ – what an exciting day! Here are some pictures from the occasion, as well as the write up of the history of this wonderful instrument. Many thanks to Parsons for the work they did, and to our organist Joyce for making our new-and-improved organ sing!

In the beginning…

In her early years, Bethlehem made do with a small reed organ. But in 1905, about 20 years after her founding, Bethlehem purchased an organ from Hinners Organ Co. Hinners was an Illinois-based company that sold organs by mail order catalogue; organs were delivered by train, and assembled on site by the purchaser (IKEA-style!). Most orders were sent to the Midwest, so our Hinners organ is fairly rare in New York State. Ours was likely brought to Fairport or Webster by train, then by horse and wagon to Penfield. Because of this unusual mail-order sales method, Hinners organs were engineered as simply as possible, and were solidly built with decent tone for the day. The idea of mail order pipe organs was innovative for the time, but was never utilized as a sales method by anyone else. Originally, our organ’s façade pipes had stenciling, which complemented the stenciling on the walls and ceiling of the sanctuary. With this renovation, we have restored this original stenciling the best we can. (So now, how about that ceiling?)

At first, our organ was powered by a foot pump – you can still see the hole on the east side of the organ where the pump was attached. In 1911, the organ pumper’s salary was $12.90 a year. In 1925, the church was wired for electricity, and the pumper was out of a job. Now, an electric blower provides the tone. 

Nuts and bolts…

The organ has one keyboard with five octaves. The pedal board (played with the feet) has an additional 2 ½ octaves. There are 24 stops (the knobs the organist pulls out) – each stop makes a different sound or color, which aim to imitate different instruments like flute, oboe, or trumpet, etc. A trumpet stop might be used for a more exuberant sound, reeds (like oboe) for a more distant sound (like “We Three Kings”), or a flute stop for a more subdued sound. Usually, the organ is played with a combination of these stops pulled to make different colors that enhance different kinds of hymns or liturgy. When we “pull all the stops,” we get the biggest sound of all!

Who has played it?

Doris Bach was a descendant of a founding member of Bethlehem, and began serving as Bethlehem’s organist in 1933. She retired in 2000, an event covered by the Democrat and Chronicle. For a few years, organ music was provided by Mindy Zajac, wife of former pastor Greg Zajac. In 2006, Joyce Stanzel joined the ranks of Bethlehem organists, and still serves today in this role.


The prelude


The dedication


Prayers for the way we will use this instrument


Children’s sermon










Recessional hymn


A very happy Bethlehem family!


Joyce goes to town on the postlude (“The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba,” for our regal organ!)


The restored stenciling



Sermon: When parents leave their children in the wilderness

Mark’s Gospel begins the story of Jesus out in the wilderness, which is appropriate because to understand Jesus as good news, the story must begin in the wilderness. Haven’t you ever noticed that when we are in the metaphorical wilderness, that’s when God does God’s best work? Perhaps the way we can “prepare the way of the Lord” is to remember God’s presence in these wilderness times, and to share that story with others.


New sign is here!

After years of waiting and planning and designing and redesigning, today our NEW SIGN was finally put in! This sign is internally lit so it will be able to be seen at night, and has changeable letters to advertise our various events. Thank you to the property committee and council for working so diligently on this process. We are so grateful that it has finally come to fruition! Let the communicating-with-passing-traffic begin!