Rev. Gerling's Page

On December 31, 2012 the Rev. W. James Gerling retired from active ministry and as pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Geneva. The articles contained in this page were written by Jim for the church newsletter in 2012.

As We Move into a New Time

We are about to enter a time when we will be relating to one another in a very different way.  Jane and I will still be living in this community that we love but I will no longer be your pastor.  It has been nearly a year since I first told about my decision to retire.  I made that announcement as early as I did because I thought it would give us the time to reflect on and celebrate our ministry together over more than three decades.

You have been so very kind and generous in the ways you have helped us feel as though our time with you truly made a difference in the life of the congregation and the community in which we live.  Jane and I appreciate the outpouring of love and gratitude that has humbled us to our toes.  We will miss the many things that made our relationship so rich and meaningful.

We also know that we have done everything we could think of to prepare ourselves for all the excitement of the new opportunities that await us all.

Just about two weeks from my last day (December 31st ) as your pastor the Transition Pastor will arrive (January15th) to begin her ministry with you.  She will be the one, along with the rest of our able staff, who will attend to your pastoral needs.

According to an addendum to the standing rules of our presbytery, “The departing pastor agrees not to provide any pastoral services to the members of the previously served congregation except by invitation of the Moderator of Session with notification to the Committee on Ministry.  This would be understood to include:

Preaching or leading worship

Conducting or participating in the leadership of funerals, weddings or baptisms of members or their extended family

Pastoral calls to members of the congregation or their extended family in an institutional setting or in a private home”

Additionally, “The departing minister agrees not to attend formal and informal church functions of the previously served congregation except by invitation of the Moderator of Session with notification to the Committee on Ministry.”

In closing, I would like to share the prayer with you that I shared with the Adult Education Forum in a recent discussion on transitions.

A Prayer for Times of Transition (Diocese of Buffalo)
O Faithful God, as your people,
we cherish our memories
and our history as a sacred gift.
We ask you to guide us in our times of transition.
We need your wisdom, that we might be receptive
to change and growth.
We need your grace to redirect our hearts
that we may be willing to offer ourselves
In joyful service.
Do not allow fear, ignorance or pride
to limit the work of your Spirit,
nor custom to prevent
the creativity within us from bearing fruit.
Open our hearts to the call of the Gospel.
Give us courage and renewed hope,
that we may meet the challenge of being
the church of our time.
We ask this in Jesus’ name.


And then, Moses Showed Up…

I hardly know where to begin in saying thank you for two amazing celebrations of our ministry together over the past 32 ½ years.  Everything about both gatherings was so perfect:

  • reveling in the fellowship of family and friends from near and far…
  • being entertained by a well-organized program…
  • listening to Wonderful words expressing appreciation for OUR ministry…
  • enjoying a delicious and well-served dinner…
  • celebrating a sampling of the musical gifts of this congregation
  • laughing hysterically last Friday night when Moses showed up!

All of it helped us do what we do best: Celebrate and express our gratitude for life as God’s gracious gift.

True to form, we had all that fun while raising a significant amount of money to continue to minister to the needs and challenges of our neighbors in Geneva.  To date you have raised nearly $13,000 to support the “Gerling Geneva Community Self Development Fund,” and its mission:

  • To invest in the success of Geneva’s children and their families
  • To encourage individual and community development
  • To partner with children and families in fostering positive outcomes
  • To be one source, among others in the community, to assist children and families with emergent needs.

You never cease to amaze me with your faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ that fuels your concern for others, your sense of mission, and your spirit of generosity.

As we move through these next few weeks and as we transition into a whole new way of relating to one another (I will have much more to say about this next month), I want you to know that having had the privilege of ministering alongside you has been one of God’s greatest gifts to me.

 With gratitude,  Jim

Yes, Again…

“Hey Gertrude, they’re doing it again.  They’re talking about money.” 

That’s right.  We are.  With an annual financial stewardship campaign theme of “Living the Faith – Gratitude and Generosity we are again asking you to support the work and ministry of this church with your tithes and offerings.

Under the capable leadership of Donna Loeb as chair, the Interpretation and Stewardship committee has sent you a mailing that contains some important information for you to prayerfully consider as you make your decision about how you will support this church in 2013.

In addition to the other pertinent information in the packet is the Narrative Budget.  It is an attempt to tell the story of how your support helps us do so many important and wonderful things in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ.  

There is also a pie chart that helps you get a graphic and straight forward picture of both the revenue and expense sides of our budget.  We are still using some of the unrestricted principal of our endowment to support our operating budget.  We continue to do that at a level that cannot be sustained in the long term.

One way of reversing this trend is for every giving unit to increase its annual giving and we are being asked to prayerfully consider doing that. 

I would like to give you something to consider.  The “Strengthening Our Foundation” campaign that we launched a little over three years ago has officially come to an end (although some are still fulfilling their pledges).  We will celebrate the completion of that campaign at both the stewardship brunch and breakfast on November 4th and 11th respectively.

Over the past three years many of us have been accustomed to making this extra financial effort to support the ongoing life and ministry of this congregation.  A way to increase our annual giving is for us to apply a portion of what were giving to the foundation campaign to our annual pledge.

Yes, we’re talking about money again.  The only thing Jesus talked about more than money in his earthly ministry was the Kingdom of Heaven.  He knew how gratitude and generosity are related.  He’s the one who said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:34)  

After two and half more months I will never bug you about money again. 

Peacemaking Offering – 2012

Jane and I had a wonderful time in Scotland. However, our sightseeing was a vivid reminder of how far we have come in many parts of this world from our very violent and brutal beginnings. Self-determination, freedom from tyranny, and a sense of national identity have been hard-won realities all over the world.

Unfortunately for many, these things are still unresolved matters and for a host of reasons violence, war and ethnic cleansing are still very big and everyday issues for many. In many instances it is the noncombatants who suffer greatly from dislocation, homelessness, poverty and malnutrition.

Christians are called as Christ’s people to be God’s peacemakers as agents of reconciliation in families, individual lives, communities, churches, the international arena, and the whole of creation. Peacemaking is the human response to the divine gift of peace-giving. The Peacemaking Offering supports the efforts of the church at every governing body level and provides an opportunity to witness to God’s gift of peace in the world.

In order to help the whole church respond to God’s peace-giving in the world, 25 percent of the Peacemaking Offering is retained by congregations for their support of their own peace-making ministry; 25 percent is used to support presbytery and synod peace-making efforts; 50 percent is forwarded to the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program of the General Assembly, so that it can continue to provide assistance and resources for congregations and other bodies of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

We have participated in this denomination-wide offering from the very beginning and I know we will again on World Communion Sunday, October 7, 2012.


I was glad when they said to me

I was glad when they said to me,
              “Let us go to the house of the Lord”
                                                        Psalm 122:1

We all know that coming to church has nothing to do with appearances.  It simply doesn’t matter if we wear the right clothes or drive the right car.  It has everything to do with why we are there and what we do together while we are there.  It isn’t a matter of how we look.

Being the church and worshiping together also has nothing to do with how the building looks.  However, having said that, I want you to know that we should be terribly proud of how our building looks right now.  But still, it’s not about how the church looks.

Being the church is not about appearances.  It is about how we feel when we are there and how we communicate that to others.  For the church to be the church – for us to be the church, there is a way of being that is far more important than how the church or we look to others.

I would like to share four rules for how we might act together so that we will be a worshipping community that is truly inviting to others:

  1. The Ten Feet Rule:  If we come within ten feet of another person at church, we should smile, make eye contact, and say, Hello, (whether we know them or not.)
  2. The Three Minute Rule:  Immediately following any service, we need to use the first three minutes to seek out someone we don’t know and introduce ourselves.  Put friendliness first.
  3. The Two Person Rule:  We should see that nobody stands alone in the narthex, hallways or fellowship hall.  Also, we should see that nobody sits alone in worship or Adult Education classes.
  4. The Front- And-Center Rule:  We should sit in the center of a pew and toward the front of the sanctuary, leaving the end and the back seats for our guests.  That is where they are the most comfortable as visitors.

It’s all about our being glad to be in the house of the Lord and hoping others will be, too.   Regular worship hours begin on September 9.  I hope to see you there.  WJG



Vacation Time

We have had such a wonderful year of program and mission as a congregation that we might very well be thinking that it is about time we took a vacation.  When I think about some of the things we have to celebrate just from this spring I think that surely there must come a time when we can just sit back on the porch swing and say, “this is good, and it is enough.”

Think about it:

  • Over $13,000 collected for One Great Hour of Sharing (our highest total ever).
  • A large group of new members (14) that we received this spring.
  • A wonderful and completely children-led Sunday School Sunday.
  • A robust offering of adult education opportunities.
  • A Baccalaureate service where we congratulated and extended our best wishes to all our graduates.
  • The “Baby College” early literacy program graduated 10 babies and 8 moms.
  • The SERRV Shop board and volunteers have been as busy as ever.
  • Our 58th  annual Strawberry Festival about which the community is still talking
  • The Presbytery commissioned Beth Newell as she left for Colombia to work in the accompaniment program there (please read more about it inside).
  • Creation of a Transition Pastor Nominating Committee to help the session find a pastor to lead the congregation through its time of change.

The list goes on and it is easy to think that we all need a well-deserved rest!

I have good news for all of us.  The position description for our vocation as disciples of Jesus Christ includes vacation time.  Indeed, our worship of God    is our refreshment – it is the source of the life and strength we need to be the people God created us to be.  It is our Sabbath, which literally means a time to cease and rest – to regain our wholeness and well-being.

You already know this, but I will remind you again.  We will worship in our sanctuary for July and we will be at First Baptist Church for all of August and the first Sunday of September.  We will celebrate the Lord’s Supper on the first Sunday of August.  Come and join us.  Instead of taking a vacation from worship, come and see how worship is an essential part of the vacation we all need.  It is how we find refreshment for the vocation to which we each are called as disciples of Jesus Christ.


Responding with Heart and Mind

The following in an excerpt from Robert Lupton’s recent book, “Toxic Charity – How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help.” Mercy is a force that compels us to acts of compassion.  But in time mercy will collide with an ominous, opposing force, injustice.  Against this dark and overpowering force, acts of mercy can seem meager.  What good is a sandwich and a cup of soup when a severe addiction has control of a man’s life?  Or a night in a shelter for a young woman who must sell her body to feed her child?

Perhaps that is why the Bible places equal emphasis on both mercy and justice.  The ancient prophet Micah succinctly summarizes God’s design: ‘He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’

Act justly.  Justice is ‘fairness or reasonableness, especially in the way people are treated or decisions are made’

Love mercy.  Mercy is ‘compassion, kindness, or forgiveness shown especially to someone over whom a person has power.’

Twined together, these commands lead us to holistic involvement.  Divorced, they become deformed.  Mercy without justice degenerates into dependency and entitlement, preserving the power of the giver over the recipient.  Justice without mercy is cold and impersonal, more concerned about rights than relationships.  Mercy combined with justice creates:  1. immediate care with a future plan.  2. emergency relief and responsible development.  3. short-term intervention and long-term involvement.  4. heart responses and engaged minds.” (Lupton, Toxic Charity, pp 41-42)

Here are several ways in which we are combining justice and mercy as we seek to respond to human need with our hearts and our minds: SERRV, Café Justo, Working Capital for Community Need (micro loan fund in which part of our endowment is invested), One Great Hour of Sharing, Village Links, and Baby College.

Parish Health Ministry

In 2005 we surveyed the congregation regarding our need for a parish nurse and a parish health ministry.  The results of the survey clearly demonstrated that we thought we would benefit from such a program.  It is hard to believe that Parish Health Ministry in our congregation is now in its sixth year.

Our Parish Nurse, Beth Nicholas, RN, is in her fourth year of ministry with us.  Beth is supported in her work by the Parish Health Ministry Advisory Committee.  The committee is chaired by Barbara Maw, R.N.  The other members are: Heather Aten; Sandra Ditch, RN; Barb Messur; Cheryl Palmieri, RN; Jerry Rose; and Cathy Thurston.  Beth and I staff the committee.  

I would like to share the following excerpts from an article by the Rev. Dr. Deborah Patterson who is Executive Director of the International Parish Nurse Resource Center.  She writes:

“Parish Nurses are Registered Nurses who are guided by the Faith Community Nursing Scope and Standards for Practice which have been published by the American Nurses Association. There are seven roles:

  1. Health Educator
  2. Health Counselor
  3. Advocate
  4. Resource Liaison
  5. Developer of Support Groups
  6. Coordinator of Volunteers
  7. Integrator of Spirituality and Health

Spirituality has to be woven through all the other roles.

Everything the parish nurse does must be a desired intervention from the client. Unless they have a huge parish, parish nurses serve both the people in their congregation and neighbors with related needs – a service of in-reach and outreach. It is not “we only serve our own” but “we serve.” We call our client forth to articulate their own spirituality. When someone says, “Why me? Why would God do this to me?” it is about listening and asking, “Why are you asking that question?” A parish nurse finds out what is happening in the body and the spirit.

Jill Westberg McNamara (daughter of pioneering parish health ministry advocate Granger Westberg) had this vision: every home has a medicine cabinet, so every faith community should have a health cabinet with resources for those with a health need. We found that a parish nursing ministry is not a ministry of one person; it is a ministry of the congregation. The health cabinet is responsible for making this visible to the congregation. The health cabinet helps do the initial health survey of the congregation to find out the health needs and interests. It also interprets parish nursing to the congregation – developing its form and function.”

Beth Nicholas fulfills all the roles of a parish nurse.  In addition to ongoing home and hospital visitation, Beth, with the support and input of the Parish Health Ministry Committee, has also created several programs and services that have promoted our individual and corporate health and well being.

The most recent project has been a series of helpful discussions about the plans and decisions that we all need to make about important life and health issues as we move through the various stages of our lives. 

As you know, we call the series “Passages.”  It has been very successful and continues to draw 30 to 40 people who want to discuss important quality of life issues in order to make critical and timely decisions about healthy futures.

Information about these sessions is always in the newsletter and on our website.  I hope you will take advantage of these opportunities.

Be well,


A Meditation from the Retreat

It has been suggested that I share this meditation with you.  I offered it as part of the opening worship service at the Transition planning Retreat held on Saturday, February 11, 2012. 

It Is as thoughMatthew 25:14-30

“It is as if, or it is as though a man were going on a journey…”

In grammar, the subjunctive mood is a verb mood typically used in subordinate clauses to express various states of irreality such as wish, emotion, possibility, judgment, opinion, necessity, or action that has not yet occurred. In the sixth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans, he writes: “The death (Jesus) died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life Jesus lives, he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:10-11)

“Consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ.”  In other words, we must live as though we are free to live a life unburdened by the past, ready to move forward and able to live as fully as possible into the person God created us to be, indeed as one created in the very image of God.  We are not yet in that state of perfection, but enjoy the freedom to continually live into it.

Jane Parker Huber, who has lent new words to old hymn tunes, 
implores us to:
Live into hope of captives freed,
 of sight regained, the end of greed.
 The oppressed shall be the first to see
 the year of God's own jubilee!”

Let us look at this parable again, “It is as if (not it will be as if, but it is as if) a man, going on a journey, called his servants together and put them in charge…”  In other words, we are to live as though we are in charge of the vast resources of the One to whom “all of this” belongs.  This is a powerful and challenging parable for what it says about our discipleship in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ.  In no uncertain terms we are told that we are to risk the adventure of living as though there is nothing to lose when it comes to the business of establishing God’s reign, right here, right now. St. Augustine once said, “You should pray as if everything depended on God, and work as if everything depended on you.”  What a simple but powerful reminder both of God’s power and goodness which are for us and with us in life, but also of the sobering reality that God calls us to live as though God has left us in charge.  Here is why I am sharing this stuff with you about “It is as though…”  In the ways that truly matter, my retirement will not suddenly trigger something new.  It will not usher in a new way of living and being as the manifestation of the Body of Christ that calls itself the Presbyterian Church in Geneva.  Individually and corporately we all live as caretakers of God’s rich resources and we will continue to do that.  We will simply do that, and because Jane and I intend to live here we will at times still do it side by side, but in a different relationship to one another. 

“Pastor” is a title and role that the church defines, and then bestows on someone with God’s and with a congregation’s blessing.  It is a role and a title that is time-limited.  Hopefully, it also comes to an end with God’s and a congregation’s blessing. “Friend,” on the other hand, is a role that we define, and one in which we cast each other.  It is a role not limited by time or distance or circumstance.  You know me.  I will not let you stop being my friends.  For better or for worse, you are stuck with me.  I apologize to those of you who may hear that as a threat.

It is my hope and my ardent prayer that you will use this retreat as a first step on a short and intentional transitional journey towards finding the next person who will meet this congregation’s definition of the role of pastor – the one on whom God and you will then bestow that title. In the meantime, we need to remember that through it all, it is as though God in Jesus Christ has left us in charge. As I move into a new phase of my life, I do so confidently, knowing that these words will never be spoken of you: “That’s a terrible way to live!  It’s criminal to live cautiously like that!  If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least?  …Take this church and give it to the ones who risked the most.  And get rid of these ‘play-it-safes’ who won’t go out on a limb.  Throw them out into utter darkness.” No, that indictment will never be ringing in your ears because God will continue to bless this ministry and the word you will hear will be, “Good work! You did your job well.  For you are indeed my partners.”   Amen.    Jim

A Letter from the Pastor

January 18, 2012

Dear members and friends,

I have some important and perhaps anticipated news to share with you.

Allow me to begin by recalling that in his book “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” Robert Fulghum reminded us that some of life’s most important lessons come very early on and form the foundation upon which our lives are built.  Among those things learned in our most formative years, according to Fulghum, are these: “Share everything.  Play fair.  Don’t hit people.  Put things back where you found them.  Clean up your own mess.  Don’t take things that aren’t yours.  Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.  Wash your hands before you eat.  Flush.  Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.  Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.”

Experts have confirmed that it is indeed in our first few years of life that we are being shaped in body, mind, and spirit by the people and events around us.  Hopefully, in those critical, early times, we are blessed by having the best people and most appropriate experiences helping to shape our healthiest possible sense of self and molding us into the people God intends us to be.

I think you will agree that there are also certain contexts or environments that are formative for us as well – our families; our social circles of friends, classmates, and colleagues; and the communities of which we are a part.

I came to Geneva as a very young (“still wet behind the ears”) pastor and I want you to know that it has been one of the greatest blessings of my life to have learned everything I need to know for ministry in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ from you.  It was in the context of the loving, caring, compassionate, and joyful community that is this congregation that I best learned what it is to be his disciple.

Some things I’ve learned:

Worship is a joyful, inclusive, participatory experience with lots of lay leadership and participation by people of all ages.  Music in worship should be appropriate to the liturgical seasons, diverse, engaging, participatory, but most of all, dripping with theological integrity.

Learning is a life-long endeavor in the church and an informed faith is a stronger faith.   There are still many caring adults who want to tell the story and share their faith with our children.  There are still mature Christians who refuse to check their brains at the door and who are not seeking easy answers but covet the opportunity to wrestle with the tough questions of life and faith.

Mission can and should be at the very heart of who a congregation is and what it does.  Outreach, locally and globally, is what flows naturally from letting the gospel of Jesus Christ inform everything that a community of faith does.

Fellowship and a sense of community are vital to the life and health of a congregation.  Enjoying one another and savoring opportunities to simply be together says a lot about who a congregation is as an extension of God’s holy family in a particular place.  If it is good for a family to sit down and eat together as often as possible, than you are family at its best.

Pastoral Care is something that is best done by all.  Bearing each other’s burdens and sharing each other’s joys are not things for which only the clergy and deacons are responsible.  Praying for and being with one another, in the good times and the bad, is a holy task in which everyone shares.

Leadership is most effective when shared in the spirit of a sacred partnership as people gladly and graciously take turns leading and following.  It is good to be a congregation full of people who minister to one another and  where one or two just happen to be professional clergy.

Another thing for which I am most grateful is that you were generous, gracious, and forgiving enough to have afforded me thirty-two years to learn all of this.  Indeed, you have allowed me to make a career of living and learning in your midst and I have been honored beyond words by the way you have entrusted me for so long with the pastoral leadership of this community of faith.

I share all of this in order to tell you that I am about to join Jane as we move into a new phase of life.  I have informed the Session, Board of Deacons, and the Presbytery that it is my intention to retire from active ministry as of December 31, 2012.

I do this with a strong sense that together for more than thirty-two years we have been faithful to our calling prescribed by the Six Great Ends of the Church (and symbolized in the elegant banners that adorn the walls of our sanctuary), which are: proclaiming the gospel for the salvation of humankind; providing the shelter, nurture, and fellowship of the children of God; maintaining divine worship; preserving the truth; promoting social righteousness; and exhibiting the Kingdom of God to the world.

A committee has been meeting to design a planning retreat to be held on Saturday, February 11, 2012 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church in Geneva.  The main purpose of this retreat is to give the congregation and its leaders the opportunity to plan for this transition in leadership while maintaining the wonderful momentum for ministry that has characterized this congregation for so long.  The retreat is open to all and you are urged to attend.  I will be present for the opening worship only.

As we get closer to the end of 2012, I will be writing to you again about the rules that shape the relationship between a congregation and a retired pastor who intends, as I do, to continue to live in the community.  It is my intent to carry it off as well as Dick Hart did before me.

You have been great teachers, leaders, guides, and friends on my own journey of faith.  It has been one of my greatest joys to have sojourned for so long among you as your pastor.  I can only hope that it has been half as good for you as it has been for me.

Grace and Peace,